Lights up on…. An agent showcase. Over the next hour or so, fifteen scenes will be performed, about 3 minutes each. Almost all will be glib comedies with glib acting, no one giving a shit about anything other than whether this so-called ‘work’ will please… them. THEY. The all-powerful THEY, who will assess your talent, your look, and then hopefully represent you and get you auditions.
Recently a scene was performed in class. It was a two-and-a-half-minute rather glib comedically-tilted fight between a young couple at a party – an awkward compliment he had previously paid her anatomy was received poorly, she was still stewing on it, and that was the premise. Banter was exchanged, actress walks off in a huff, actor follows, exasperated, and…… scene.
Turns out one of the actors had written the scene, because they were performing in an agent showcase a couple nights later, and they couldn’t find something that would suffice for the three-minute limit. In addition, the omniscient, all-mighty THEY say it’s good to do comedy in these workshops. It’s what THEY want to see.
How does this situation make me vomit? Let me count the ways:
By trying to reduce your talent to a workshop-digestible three-minute piece of junk food, I believe you are sacrificing integrity vital to your survival. If someone asked me to play piano for three minutes, or teach for three minutes, or write something in three minutes…. It’s just awful. Fuck off. That’s my answer. You want me to prove my talent to you in three minutes? “Fuck you. There. How long did that take?” I think it might be handy for the actor to know that this would be a very nice start point for all issues related to “prove to me you are talented in three minutes.” (I’m not being literal. Don’t tell potential agents to fuck off. I’m just trying to instill a viewpoint.) The only form of art where I think this three-minute thing works is singing – because three minutes is just about the average length of a song, and so you truly are showing off your talent in the manner and form that will occur if you make it big. But great acting doesn’t happen in 3 minute chunks – you may get costars and 5-and-unders to start your career, but this is rarely an actual demonstration of your talent.
Now, I get it: People want to work. Actors want to impress Mr./Ms. Casting Person and Mr./Ms. Agent, they have paid $___ to attend this workshop/showcase, and in so doing they have agreed to submit to certain processes, which may include a three-minute time limit on your work. I get it. But I’m sorry, you have never agreed to prostitute yourself during the three minutes. (Paid showcases and workshops have detractors in those who say it’s automatic prostitution for the actor. But they are an admin tool, and we can’t pretend that many don’t take advantage of the opportunity, and some do well with them.)
So when they say the three minutes is up to you, you get to choose what you perform… Well. Fucking kill it. Don’t bring in a piece of cheese you think the omniscient, all-mighty THEY will like. Bring in three minutes of the best work you can possibly bring. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it isn’t. One of the actors in the scene I saw has 10 scenes to his credit over the last 18 months that blew people out of the water. I told him he should do one of those pieces, a stunning piece of character work about a guy with a mental disability, and dare them to cut him off. If they cut him off dismissively at 3 minutes, then he knows they are NOT the person to represent him. The person he wants to represent him ideally will be moved by his work, as we all were, and would never cut him off.
Bottom line: this is about your integrity. The business has all sorts of necessary constructs that force the actor – in showcases, workshops, auditions – to cram their talent into a small room, little time, standing on a spot, looking at a camera, looking at a bored evaluator, working with strangers, working on material that isn’t so great, etc. This is all part of the journey, and a professional actor learns to bring their talent to whatever party has been set up for them. Often you don’t have much choice in the matter.
But sometimes you do have the choice. And when you have the choice, usually via a monologue or scene that you select to present in any of these settings, or in your demo reel, go for the best you’ve got in you. Even if it doesn’t work out, you go home knowing you put your best out there. Don’t bring a piece of cheese just because THEY say that particular cheese is what another THEY want to see. No matter what THEY say about what THEY want, I think what is wanted is talent.
We all go into dark theaters dozens of times a year, each time hoping we will not be betrayed, and that will be moved, dazzled, entertained by what occurs. We keep going, again and again, even though we’ve been burned far more often than not. Such is the power of the desire to be transported. I don’t care how cynical we can become about the business, about agents and casting directors – I believe they all want talent. (See the documentary Casting By…) They want someone to blow them away. So blow them away with the best you’ve got. Do not lower your level of ability to serve up material you think they want to see, which for some reason ends up being a lot of glib sketch comedy. Serve up some passion, some humor, some depth – whatever it is, but serve up your best.