|Joe Mazza is currently running the San Francisco Acting Academy and has been acting and teaching the art of acting for over 20 years. He spent ten years in Los Angeles before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area nine years ago. Joe has appeared on many national television shows like Judging Amy, Nash Bridges, General Hospital, Eight is Enough and the syndicated WCTV Comedy Show. Most recently, he has appeared in the feature films, Speed Racer, Sincerely Yours, Loose Ends, Ed TV, directed by Ron Howard, Playing Mona Lisa where he stars opposite Elliot Gould, Marlo Thomas and Harvey Feinstein, and High Crimes starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. Joe is also a veteran of dozens of stage productions and over 40 television commercials. While living in LA he studied at UCLA and spent six years with the renowned Estelle Harman at the Estelle Harman Actors Studio where he also taught classes in camera acting, cold reading and audition techniques. Joe studied improvisation with The Groundlings in Hollywood, and as a founding member of the Gateway Repertory Theater, he taught improvisation classes. While working behind the camera with casting directors in LA and San Francisco Joe has been able to gain valuable insight into the audition process and works with actors to instill confidence in their ability to get the job.|
The Art of the “Under Five” Audition
By Joe Mazza
We've all watched them on television shows; from half hour comedies to one hour crime dramas, the bit players, the “under-five” (five lines or less) actors flash across the screen helping to move the story along. They are not extras or background players, they are accomplished actors, many classically trained, who bring rich and interesting choices to those small roles.
I believe that those roles are some of the most challenging to audition for. Lead actors get the whole script, which provides them with enough information and back-story to make their choices. Under-Five actors just get the sides. They have very little information and even fewer lines to bring a fully fleshed out character to life. These auditions are tricky. It's all too easy to sit back and bring a simple one dimensional performance to your audition, but the truth is, the director sees hundreds of these performances every casting day. How do you stand out from the rest with out making choices that are WAY out of the box for your role? I want to talk about how to prepare for those auditions, both when you have time with the script, and when you don't.
Telling the story:
With all the nerves you have in your head about your audition, it's easy to loose sight of the fact that you are there to help tell a story. So, before I start I want to address story structure. Any actor would benefit from understanding the basics of story structure, how TV scripts are written and what purpose the characters (specifically under-five roles) play in telling that story. If you have never read a book on writing, or the work of Joseph Campbell I recommend that you do. There's a great book called, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – written by Christopher Vogler that can explain it much better than I, but the basic premise is – all stories chronicle the journey of a Hero, or Heroes, and every character in that story plays a part in that “Hero's journey”. Some characters are mentors, some are gate keepers, some are heralds but all characters serve the purpose of moving the story of the Hero to its conclusion. So, knowing which character you are and what your purpose is in the story will help you to begin making smart choices on how the scene should be played. It'll also help you realize when the scene is about you…and more often than not, when it's not about you.
Prepared Readings and Memorizing:
If you have time with the script, don't be in such a hurry to memorize your lines. Here's what I mean by that: For most actors, their greatest fear is forgetting their lines and looking stupid. It is fear that causes most actors to just cram those lines into their heads so they don't forget them. The problem is that most actors memorize before they fully understand what's underneath those lines. (They may understand them in their heads, but acting is not an exercise of the head it comes from the heart.) The result: they start to memorize the lines exactly how they first read them, which cements the lines in their heads phonetically before they have a chance to find them in their hearts. If you have time to work on your sides, your time is much better spent playing with different choices until you are able to connect to your script rather than cramming lines into your head. Once you are sure of your choices, THEN you can make sure you are perfect with the lines. You may find that you have them pretty much memorized already; but now you remember them because you are connected to the idea behind the words and not just the words.
Cold Reading :
If you have limited time with your script, if it's a true “cold reading”, then prioritize your choices; make them simple so you can connect easily to the material. Here are some quick choices which you can play with to help you find a deeper connection to the material before you start memorizing. Because you don't have the benefit of being able to read the entire script, your imagination will have to do most of the work in both answering the questions, and making the choices your own.
1. Style or Genre:
3. Antecedent events:
4. Playable action:
Along with Relationship, Playable Action is one of the most important choices you can make. Find one that you can connect to easily before your scene starts and it will have focus and direction.
6. Beat Changes:
Preparing to get direction:
You will get direction in half of the auditions you go on so be ready for it. Try working on your scene using a few different choices; go with your strongest choices first and if they ask you to try something different, you'll be ready. Welcome direction, take it this way: they see something in you worth working with.
A few random tips:
And finally, make sure your skills are sharp. If you are already out there auditioning and booking work then you're doing great – keep it up the good work! But, if you walk out of that casting room feeling you could have done better, then get yourself into a class and brush up on your cold reading and camera skills.
There is so much about the business of acting that is out of your control, but one thing you can control is how well you do on each audition. The simple truth is: If you aren't right for a role you are not going to get it.
But you can walk out of that room with the director saying:
“Wow, she was amazing! She's not right for this role but I have the perfect role for her in next week's episode…….
I look forward to seeing you in the class room and the casting room!