The Sweet Humiliation of Open Calls

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Photo Credit: Jeff Kubina via cc
About Sanna Haynes – I’m an actress and I teach acting. I write screenplays. I paint, draw, dance ballet, I sing, I am horrible at tap dance (trying to work on that one), I visualize films in my brain, I yoga it up most mornings, I like to organize.
In addition to acting, I private coach, and I also teach acting. I am a screenwriter, and I am now in the production side of filmmaking. In addition, I am also a blogger, and a YouTuber. I used the word “I” a lot in this paragraph. I apologize. I.
There have been a few times in my life that I have attended an open call.
Contrary to popular belief, as an actor, you can’t just audition for anything. Nope. For any given role that is released to be cast – often called a “breakdown”, actors have to be invited to audition.
The audition process is where having an agent comes in pretty handy. Nay, having representation is absolutely necessary. Agents hold the keys to submitting you, your pictures, and any of your previous tape to be screened by casting directors. The casting directors will then invite you to audition for the specific role for which you were submitted.
I can count three times I have attended an open call.
I tend to never say “never,” however, I have not been to one of these casting monstrosities in a long time, and I don’t care to try to go to one ever again.

Open Casting #1

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Some good things were really starting to happen career-wise in LA. I decided to do everything I could to keep the momentum going. Why not attend an open call? Oh wait… none of the other young women I work with do this… but, it can’t be that bad, right?
I waited in line for guess what — a television co-star – aka, probably only a few lines. The people in line with me were anywhere from very experienced talent to straight off the train from Nevada. Several young women had their Moms with them. I heard chatter with their parents all day — “hopefully it will be you, honey. They would be nuts not to pick you.”
After four hours of waiting in a warehouse on the CBS Radford lot, I met with the casting director. After 3.5 minutes of the CD barely looking at me, she said, “thank you.” That was that.
To be very honest with you, I felt very free walking off the CBS lot. I could go home to my cozy apartment and put that ridiculous day behind me.

Open Casting #2

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You might think I learned my lesson about open calls from my first experience.
No. I did not, apparently.
I went to an actor conference in Los Angeles. I had a free ticket to attend, so why not, right? At this conference, casting directors were “seeing” talent. Instead of gleaning everything I could from the vendor tables and hitting the road, I decided to stick around for the long line filled with hopes and dreams. At this point, I knew nothing would come out of this particular open call. However, it couldn’t hurt, right?
From my view, I saw a tall woman with a big personality try to draw (humorous) attention to herself in line. I watched a transgendered woman wander around the room, trying to figure out which casting director might offer her the best chance at a potential job for her type. I noticed many of the other actors trying not to make eye contact with each other. It was a hostile environment, fluorescent lights, off-white ceiling tiles, and all.
It was my turn, finally. I opted to see a top soap opera casting director. At the time, a manager had counseled me to try to take a stab at soaps.
While he was very nice, he told me to get a Los Angeles area code for my cell phone. “Nobody will believe you are an LA resident with this phone number on your submissions.”
I left.

Open Casting #3

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I decided to go to an Equity open call. These things can be “hit or miss.” For me, it was a miss.
When I arrived at the call, I realized that most of the people auditioning had already worked with this particular theater. Additionally, most of the people auditioning had also done the musical for which we trying to get a spot within. I had neither of the former criteria.
Everyone knew each other, made jokes together, and were enjoying each other’s company. It was like there was an invisible line in the sand. Them, and us — i.e. we who were unknown to this theater.
Regardless, I decided to perform well.
While I was waiting for my turn, the girl who auditioned before me had the producers laughing. I heard them chatting through the wall. Sounds like they are old friends, I thought.
I went in, gave my music to the accompanist, introduced myself, introduced my song, nodded to the accompanist, and off I went. I hit every note. My voice did well, that particular day. The accompanist hit her last note, after I hit mine.
“Nice cut.” said one producer.
“Thanks!” said the other.
and that was it.
Since there was a separate dance call, I decided to stick around. However, once I realized the familiar crowd showed up for the dance call, I opted to leave.
Although, before I did, another performer came up to me to sweetly debrief me on how that particular theater worked, in regards to the rest of the audition. I think she saw how frustrating it was to be vying for a spot in the presence of that theater’s favorites. Her kindness helped me feel slightly less alienated, even though I did not want to stay, anymore.

Sweet humiliation…

…is part of being an actor. However, open calls allow for a distinctly special brand of embarrassment. I advise against them, for the most part.
I stick to invite-onlys. Thankyouverymuch.