I was production manager for a community theatre show, and at the end of a long day of watching countless young and hopeful performers do everything they were asked, come up with new ways of portraying a song or scene based on direction, and spending eight hours doing so it was time to turn our minds to casting.
“After dinner”, said the director. I expressed that these people will be waiting near their phones, anxious and wishing they’d receive a call from us tonight, as we told them we would if successful. He was unmoved, and the producer backed his assertion (she was not part of the process, but desired to be liked by this director). So I sat through a long dinner at a fancy restaurant while everyone made small talk, knowing how many people are sitting waiting as we indulge.
While this example isn’t true for all theatre companies, it is reflective of an endemic issue within the industry that stems from the power imbalance between auditionees and production teams.
Why are you taking so long?
Actors, traditionally, have to manage without steady incomes. Nothing much has changed throughout the last few decades and uncertainty is a major obstacle for anyone who treads the boards. Showing empathy for a performer who is looking to your production as their next secure work is to give them certainty. Certainty in how long the process will take, as well as confidence that they have a job to plan for, too often organise and pack up their whole lives to head to another city to accept.
Empathy. It’s what’s lacking when producers drag out this process.
There are plenty of articles on how long to wait for a non-performing (muggle) job, however many of these tips are useless to a performer in the small Australian industry:
Performers can’t burn bridges, as they’re worried that their actions could compromise further opportunities with these producers.
Multiple opportunities are rarely available at the same time, therefore the mantra of ‘don’t wait, continue applying elsewhere’ is much easier said than done.
Unlike standard job applicants, performers don’t have the leverage of other offers to exert pressure back on the producers.
Not everyone has an agent that is able to apply this pressure, so pressuring producers on your own behalf can be daunting. See point 1.
Of course, there may be legitimate reasons as to why companies need more time to come back to auditionees. If this is the case, then communication is key; be transparent about these delays and be sensitive to what auditionees are going through.It is valuable to keep in mind that the longest wait time for a ‘muggle’ job offer after application is 60.3 days.
If there is a good reason for a delay, it shouldn’t require secrecy. Modern technology (emails) actually make this process very simple.
It’s called Mail Merge
The fact Be You is praised for keeping applicants informed throughout the process, regardless of the outcome, is shocking.It’s as simple as collecting everyone’s email addresses and copy-pasting them in the BCC field of an email.
It’s easy, it doesn’t take long, and it relieves worry and anxiety.
We understand that auditions can be long and exhausting for production teams, but this small act of decency takes such minimal effort. It’s ridiculous that major production companies still allow auditionees to find out they weren’t successful through hearsay or a cast list being announced. You wouldn’t want to learn you didn’t receive any other job in the same fashion, so why subject performers to something you would personally find unacceptable?
It’s time Music Theatre caught up with other industries
We know producers and directors hold all the power in auditions.
We know people will apply for roles again and again regardless of how bad their experience of the process was.
We know there isn’t a legal requirement to let auditionees know what to expect, even when every other industry has the ability to manage it ethically, regardless of their level of busyness or fear of unwanted communication. The reason is that the Musical Theatre industry hasn’t caught up in properly allocating Human Resources capabilities the same way other industries have. Having a Producer act as an HR Manager is a conflict of interest in a structure where the producer holds all the power.
Unsurprisingly, happy and safe people create better work, and audiences can feel it, which leads to profit without much effort. Ultimately it comes down to Producers and Companies setting a better standard for the way they treat their auditionees. These small gestures make a meaningful difference to the way performers are prioritised in the industry, and gives actors the choice to work with companies that treat them differently. Eventually, with talent and audiences choosing companies who are ethically-minded, there will no longer be room for organisations that leave performers ‘on the hook’.
Hold yourself and producers accountable, and please, send an email before you indulge in small talk over dinner.