How Auditioning is like Jury Duty

Ah, jury duty. A service all responsible American adults face and many fear. Sitting around a crowded room waiting for your name to be called, waiting to find out if the next few weeks of your life will be overtaken by a new role. Wait. This sounds vaguely familiar…

Recently I noticed a strange sensation when I sat in the jury lounge waiting to be called. I had flashbacks of being at EPAs with performers names being announced to stay for callbacks. I sat there thinking, “Call my name! Pick me!” which was odd, since most people would clearly prefer NOT to be picked for a jury.

Some people get called for jury duty but never end up seeing the inside a courtroom. But would you believe that I’ve been called three times and all three times I was chosen as a juror?

Now, I actually like jury duty. I’m one of those rare folks who are fascinated by the system and would love nothing better than to sit on a trial. I started to wonder- what is it about me that makes me an ideal pick? And then a question hit me so sharply that I was taken aback:

If we loved auditions instead of finding them grueling, would actors get callbacks more often?

My name was called to go to our courtroom and I, along with 49 others, were asked to sit in the gallery. By a random drawing my name was selected 8th and I was seated with 19 other jurors in the actual jury box. They then begin “voir dire” – the questioning process. We were questioned on a few things: our ability to be fair and impartial, about our backgrounds, our current jobs and hobbies, etc. (When I said I was an actor and a coach, the judge joked, “Do you have time for hobbies?” I answered, “I get to live my hobby!”) By the end of voir dire 25 people had been excused for conflicts of interest or biases. At the end of it all only 5 people were selected out of our group of 50 to join the other 10 jurors who had been selected the previous day. Guess who got chosen? That’s right, me.

So how can I relate this to my acting so that I can get similar results in the audition room? I have some theories:

Confidence: I’d been through the jury selection process twice before and knew what I was doing. I knew exactly what voir dire was and what results they wanted. I knew I’d be an excellent juror and they’d be lucky to have me, but I also knew I’d be perfectly fine if they didn’t select me. In other words- I had no vested interest in one outcome over another. Perhaps they were attracted to that natural confidence?

Likability: Because I was confident, I was able to really let my personality out. From the comment, “I get to live my hobby” to my willingness to smile and laugh through the questioning process, I imagine that I had an air of relaxed friendliness. When you are relaxed and friendly, it can encourage others to be relaxed and friendly. People like being around those who create ease in the room – what a difference that can make when so many people are afraid to be themselves. Maybe they thought I would bring an air of levity to the courtroom?

Honesty: I got asked some very tough questions and I answered them calmly and succinctly, which could have made me seem honest and trustworthy. Of all three attributes, I imagine this would be the most important.

I know what you’re thinking: What do Confidence, Likability and Honesty have to do with being a good actor? After going through this process I am starting to see that these are all part of the intangibles of human bonding: Will the person be reliable and fun to work with under duress? Will they contribute positively to the mood in the room, especially when working in difficult circumstances? And, let’s face it, likable people are more likely to get ahead than unlikable folks.

So if we can find a way to do THAT in the audition room, wouldn’t we be more likely to succeed?

I always tell my students, “When you audition, don’t go in trying to prove you’re the only person for that role. That isn’t in your control. Go in showing them that you would be an excellent choice for the role. Aim to get into the “yes pile” of headshots that the casting director deems, ‘These actors were very good, and I would like to work with them…today or someday.’ Remember that when you audition you’re not only auditioning for today’s role, but every other role that this casting office has on their radar. If you bring confidence, likability and honesty to your auditions you’ll see your callback ratio start to rise, and you’ll feel so much better in the process.

A portion of this article was published by Backstage.

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Erin Cronican’s career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

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