Written by Sean Pratt
One good way to explain the casting process to actors is the concept of GOOD vs. USEFUL
This a process a director uses to see if the “good” actor can be “useful” for their project. Understanding the difference between being “good” and “useful”, and how it relates to whether or not you get the part, is one of the most important ideas you can grasp, as it relates to auditioning. Let’s explore it in a more detail.
Good vs. Bad
To start with, children are rewarded for being good and an adult is rewarded for being useful. What this means is, if a child follows the rules and does what they are told, they will usually be rewarded. The child learns that this can be relied upon in most situations dealing with an authority figure. Generally speaking, until you leave school for the working world, you have been functioning under this system.
Good vs. Useful
However, in the BIZ, you will get hired only if the director and/or producer deem you “useful” no matter how “good” you are. Yes, you must be “good.” That is, you must have talent and be able to show it in the audition, but that’s merely the beginning. You will be hired on the merits of how useful you are to the project; i.e., she handles verse well, he’s the right age, she’s got the right feel for this character. Many actors don’t want to hear this. They say, “Why am I not being rewarded with the part; at the audition I was ‘good’.” (Meaning they were prepared, on time, and professional). To illustrate this mind set, here’s a little story.
Once, back in 1995, there was a young actor in named…Shane. He got an excited call from his agent, Louie, telling him he had his first Broadway audition. It was for a comedy set in the 1950’s and Shane was to read for a part that Louie said he was perfect for. Naturally, he grabbed the sides and started feverishly working on his audition scene, all the while hearing Ethel Merman sing…There’s No Business like Show Business in his head.
When he walked into the audition room on the big day, Shane was a bit taken aback; he had never seen so many people on the other side of the table before. The director was there, the producers were there, the costume people, the choreographer…and all their minions. It was a little off-putting to say the least, but Shane was ready and when the director said, “Go ahead”, he jumped right in. Now, you know that feeling when you’re auditioning for a comedy and they’re actually laughing at all your stuff? Well, Shane’s timing was really on the mark that day because they were hooting it up and with every guffaw, Ethel Merman’s dulcet voice got a little louder…Next day on your dressing room they’ve hung a star!
That Was Great…But
When Shane finished the scene the director got up and came over to talk to him. He thought, “Great! He’s going to give me some direction and I’ll have another chance to wow them!” He put his hand on Shane’s shoulder and said, “Shane, you’re a very funny actor and I know you’ll do well in this business, but unfortunately there’s only going to be one redhead in this show. Thank you for your time.” Ethel’s voice was replaced by the sound of the record needle scratching across the LP. Now being a redheaded had never been easy for Shane. He’d grown up looking like an orange on a toothpick and was teased mercilessly for it. But to find out that that was the only reason he was being shown the door, really stung.
You see, the play Shane was auditioning for was MOON OVER BUFFALO which was to be Carol Burnett’s comeback vehicle for Broadway and of course she would be sporting her famous strawberry blonde hair. So, though he did a “good” job at the audition, Shane just wasn’t “useful” to the director.
The Moral of the Story
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, they could have dyed his hair or wigged him!” This is true, but they didn’t have to. They knew that there would be another actor out there who would be “good” and, because he wouldn’t have red hair, would also be “useful.” It was a tough lesson to learn, but one Shane never forgot.
Sean Pratt, (AEA / SAG / AFTRA), has been a working actor for over 20 years. Sean was a member of the resident acting company at The Pearl Theatre, an Off-Broadway classical repertory theatre and has also performed at numerous regional theatres around the country. Major films include – Gods and Generals, Tuck Everlasting and Iron Jawed Angels. Television work includes – The host of HGTV’s, Old Homes Restored, and supporting roles on Homicide, The District and America’s Most Wanted. Audiobooks – He’s narrated for 15 years and has recorded nearly 550 books in just about every genre. He also teaches classes on and writes articles about the business of the Biz.