Think Directors Are Biased? Well, They Might Be and Here’s How We Deal With it

Amanda Mills

  • Washington Columnist

Do you ever feel like you just cannot catch a break, no matter what you audition for?
Have you ever gone in to an audition expecting at the very least to get a callback, after months of preparing for this dream role, to not only to not even get a callback but find that the same names you’ve seen in listed under casts all year happily listed as the cast for this one, too? If you have then you’re preaching to the choir. It makes you feel certain that the company or school you auditioned for is bias and plays favoritism, well, they just might be.

Now, I am not saying that these directors go out of their way to deliberately to be unfair or that the actors chosen are not that talented (though in some cases we may personally feel this is), however, after having been at college for this last year and auditioning for seven different shows that required callbacks and not even getting a second glance, I can understand why it might be easy for one to become bitter. It makes someone question if they should even keep trying. I know personally that in our momentarily-bitter minds it’s easy to think, “Well, I just won’t try out for you stupid productions any more, ha ha!” However, then I remember that since I’m still pretty new at all of this they don’t all really know who I am or care if I audition for their shows, which in-turn makes me even sadder. Eventually though, once the day passes, I break away from my self-pitying cycle and move on.

Since I realize that I am not the only one who feels this way, this is my attempt to put things in perspective and hopefully humorously aid my fellow bruised egos. So, I want to offer some perspectives that may take the sting out of what feels like a rejection that only happened so the director could play favorites.

1.    You Probably Did Earn It

Now, you’re probably wondering how this could possibly be a comfort knowing you earned something, yet you are sitting at home while some lucky whatever is reading from your script and trying feebly to memorize your lines. Well, it’s not the greatest knowing someone who didn’t work as hard as you or didn’t read for the part as great as you could have gets the chance to be in the spotlight, but believing that you are perfect for a role is a good mindset for the future. If you believe that you are the character in every way your confidence will hopefully shine through in other auditions. At the very least, imagining that a perfectly capable actor cannot memorize and do them like you do, can get you through a hard time.

2.    You Are Not Alone

I know from my own experience it seems like everyone else gets more chances than to either fight for a part or flat out be on stage but really there are many people in this field that face rejection every day. Some of them are trying to be professionals while others are trying to pursue their passions in a more low-key way through community theatre. No matter how good they are, unless you are in a high school drama club, nobody gets into every play they audition for. My experience is perhaps a little unorthodox: I went to a K-8 school with about 200 students; every other year we had an all-school musical. Participation was mandatory: if you were in K-5 you were in the chorus and dressed up according to the songs you sang, but if you were a middle-schooler you had the choice of being in sets, props, production, or drama. The middle-schoolers signed up for a class corresponding with these choices because the play took up class time. Therefore, if anyone chose to be in drama they automatically were in the play. However, you still had to audition for the part you wanted. The only musical I got to do in middle-school was The Jungle Book, Jr. This was a play in which I so badly wanted to play Bagheera.

During my audition some factors out of my control, including the people I was assigned to read with, caused things to not go my way. Despite this, I believe that there was already a pre-conceived idea of who would be playing the parts in the directors’ heads anyway and the roles went to the students who had more popular families in town. However, I still got to be in the play and had a line. Fast-forward five years later and my next audition was for my school district’s production of The Wizard of Oz which had the traditional sing a song, maybe do some cold reads, then maybe get a call back with cold reads, and then cast type audition. Now, the director did know me from two previous shows where I painted sets and moved them around but could it be said he was playing favorites with me when I got a callback based off a horrible singing audition? I don’t really think so. He had not talked to me much and had not really gotten that great a sense of whether I could act or not, but he had seen someone with a work ethic who was willing to put herself out there. Once, I did a cold-read I made it clear I was the best one there for the part so he gave it to me.

What’s my point? Well, since I guess I should have one, my point is that my experience with real auditions didn’t truly start until high school, while some of my peers had already been doing work with theatre companies since they were 6 years-old. I have to keep it in perspective of how many auditions I have really done in my life, thus the amount of rejections I have truly had in comparison to others I know. If you think everyone’s acting is valued but yours, you are wrong. All of us feel rejected probably more often than not. I have even heard people at my college, who I have seen in a several departmental productions, say “I never get anything…”

3.    Maybe They Thought You Have Enough Potential to Get Into Many Things So You Did Not Need to be in this One

You probably think I am reaching with this one but I have heard professors in my theatre department say that when they have cast a show, there are some that truly deserved to get in but they knew probably had a chance to get into another project occurring around that time. They didn’t feel that their own show would be make or break for the particular actor’s resume. Keep it in mind, just because they didn’t give you a role doesn’t mean they don’t think you’re a worthwhile performer.

4.    Maybe They Just Know Others Better

I feel like often directors that are professors forget that there was a time that they didn’t know certain students and don’t think about letting a new person prove themselves. They know certain people can deliver, others, that they have not met before can be a crap shoot. Maybe they are caught between a rock and a hard place, consider that may they want to see fresh faces but are being pressured to use the same people to avoid conflict. A predominate problem in youth and school theatre, at least where I am from. In some cases the directors may not know the actors or have worked with them personally, but they might have watched them deliver a spectacular performance somewhere else. A way to attempt to remedy this frustrating circumstance, at least as much as you can, is by involving yourself in theatre projects with the company outside the acting realm. Maybe you have only ever acted but it never hurts to become acquainted with other aspects of theatre, it also shows that you are committed to the craft, not just trying to be a “star”. Through, this they see your commitment and work-ethic, just as my director saw in me from that earlier story.

No matter what, not getting into a show, especially when you weren’t considered for a callback, hurts badly. It is easy for me to come up perspectives that are comforting now, but when they initial sting of rejection first sets in, it’s hard not to be disappointed in myself or angry with the people in charge of casting. However, I try to remember the reasons why they might have chosen the route they did and do the only thing within my control: work hard. I cannot use mind-control to get them to cast me but I can continue to work on my techniques and pursue my own version of perfection. I do believe that good things happen to those who wait, therefore, if I continue to work hard I will be greatly rewarded. I have seen this happen for many of my most dedicated actor friends and acquaintances, so I think it will likely happen for me and many others who truly want to perform.

Photo: Elmira College