Crisis in American Acting

Jon Ciccarelli

 The “Actoid”

There have been a lot of Facebook postings recently and links to articles about a “crisis in American acting”, mostly referring to the fact that many high profile movie roles of distinctly American characters now routinely go to British actors. Quite frankly, I’m not interested in stories that essentially amount to sour grapes of losing an audition. One would hope that the BEST actor gets the role although castings are usually politically or nepotistically motivated. So if American actors are falling short in getting American roles that just up your game, its really not that hard. You blew the audition, get back in the classroom and work, its what actors from Shakespeare to Vaudeville to the old movie studio system have done to hone their craft.

This is to me is not a crisis it simply a wake-up call that auditioning is competitive and you better up your game. Is this article I want to bring up something that I TRULY feel is a crisis in American acting, the serious lack of a work ethic and entitlement that seems to pervade acting programs from around the country producing an elitist, passive aggressive and ultimately untalented actor that I like to call – “The Actoid”.

Actoid was a term that was coined by the accomplished theater producer, L. Robert Johnson in the 1990s. This type of actor is the opposite of stage diva who swings their proverbial penis over other actors and doesn’t care who knows it. No, “The Actoid” is much more subtle and insidious. They come into your auditions under the radar and appear to be fully invested in your production, however, they very often are already committed to another show and have no intention of ever participating in your production even if they are cast. To them, all auditions are “open mic nights”. Theater companies RENT studio space, they BUY casting ads, they sometimes PAY casting directors, door monitors, and email responders for one purpose: to cast their productions, movies, etc., not as open mic nights. On good faith producers accept submissions from potential actors thinking that they these people can potentially be in their production. Any producer fully understands that they are competing with other groups for the same talent pool and that same actor auditioning for you may accept something else. However, the auditioning company NEVER expects that someone is openly wasting their time and money in an audition. The moral of this is if you can’t do the show than DON’T AUDITION for it.

Of course the Actoid isn’t just about the audition room. No, no they can get into your show and when they do you wish for divas instead because at the very least divas are up front about their disdain. The Actoid will never openly bring something to a director’s or producer’s attention, they will drop little passive aggressive jabs about their dislike for rehearsal facilities, costumes, production concept, compensation, theater personnel, etc. Open communication between actor and director and producer is the foundation of the performing arts. A novelist can work alone however, drama by its nature is a collaborative medium that requires that the people involved are on the same page and work cohesively towards the goal as set by the director. However, does the Actoid seek to work with a group or constructively seek to address actual issues? No, they seek to sow discord for the pure enjoyment of being the center of attention. These drama queens may hate a particular aspect of a production but will never seek to get it addressed in any meaningful way because this would take away their soap box. Or if they do actually bring something to a director’s attention it will be in the most graphic and public forum possible. Get something addressed is not their intention, drama for drama’s sake is their intention.

Now with this love of drama in real life you would think that The Actoid would actually make a great actor. After all, if they put that much effort and thought into acting like an ass, then that energy and commitment that will come across on stage. Sadly, NO! The other hallmark of an Actoid is how ultimately awful they are on stage. Any actor can polish an audition and as producers we take a gamble that who we hire will come through for us, however, it really is just a gamble. A director can give notes until they are blue in the face but when the lights come up the Actoid could just simply walk out on stage and pick their nose and there is nothing you can do about this. More often, they can’t remember their lines or they get off book after you open, they forget props, destroy costumes, and do not care or take professional responsibility for any of this. You try to address these short comings but nothing changes their behavior or attitude. Very often, when you discover that you have cast an Actoid it is too late to find a replacement and firing them would cause you to take time away from actual last minute detailing that is required in any production. This either leaves you with a half baked show or a toxic experience that you can’t wait to be over.

Think about that for a second, as a director or theater producer you have a dream to do a production, you sink your money and sweat into something striving for the best you can make it and along comes the Actoid, who doesn’t respect you, doesn’t respect the people they are working with, doesn’t respect the play, musical, movie, etc. you are trying to produce and only are out to gratify their own personal sense of ego. This person or sometimes click of people turn what started out as your dream into your nightmare. So what is a producer/director to do against the scum of the performing arts? Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Screening auditioners is one thing and that can filter out potential problem people but its never full proof. The only remedy that I see is calling these people out and putting the onus on acting schools that produce them.

It all starts in the classroom, conservatory, undergrad/grad program or private tutor. The Actoid and its more famous sibling the Diva have always been with us. Ego drives many of us but ultimately its counter-intuitive to any performing art. As I said earlier we work in a collaborative medium and this should be stressed in any program. Along with teaching how to hit your mark or giving that killer audition, acting programs need to start giving lessons in how to work with other and treating ANYONE you work with from techies to co-stars to the second spear carrier from the left with RESPECT. You can have all the talent in the world but if you’re stage hand doesn’t leave you the needed prop, you’re going to look like a fool if you don’t have it for your big scene.

Work ethic is showing up on time, knowing your lines, doing your homework and making the best of any production that you are in. For any classes on the business end of acting such as getting your Equity card, there should be classes on

·         Not ticking people off as theater is a small world and you could be screwing yourself out of future work

·         Treating theater property with respect

·         Honing your craft even in productions you may not want to be in

·         Researching the company that you are auditioning for so you know what you’re getting into

·         Not auditioning for things you can’t do

·         Not over committing yourself and then having to back out of a production

·         Being grateful that you actually have a role

·         Sticking to a rehearsal schedule

·         Being on time

·         Constructively addressing issues

·         Know you are not the center of attention and that you are part of a team regardless of what part you have

·         Always look to learn something new from someone new, you never stop being an acting student

Training people with these ethics to value and respect the work, people, time and property would go a long way to curb the sense of entitlement and ego that pervades the Actoid.