Longtime theatrical casting director Jackie Briskey has had a fantastic run of enviable assignments over the years, but like most casting people, she didn’t begin her career in that particular end of the business. Jackie spent several of her early showbiz years performing management and public relations duties for (are you ready for this?!) the Smothers Brothers, Kenny Rogers And The First Edition, and many others.
Jackie segued into casting when she was hired by MTM Productions, in the 1970s. Her very first show was “WKRP In Cincinnati”! From that auspicious beginning, she went on to cast the pilot for “The Bob Newhart Show”; “Gloria”, starring Sally Struthers, for the great Norman Lear; “Valerie”, starring Valerie Harper; “The Hogan Family”; “Perfect Strangers”; “Midnight Caller”; 5, count ’em, five Danielle Steele Movies of the Week; and countless other pilots and episodics. In 1999, she took the plunge into daytime television as the casting director of NBC’s wild and crazy soap opera, “Passions”, where she has remained ever since. (This candid shot was taken on the “Passions” set. You’ll just have to guess which actor has his arms around Jackie.)
Needless to say, Jackie has witnessed both the sublime and the terrible in her casting offices over the years. When asked to share some of her thoughts on the dos and don’ts of auditioning, she didn’t hesitate.
At the top of her list of don’ts…too much perfume or cologne. In fact, like most of her fellow CDs, Jackie would really prefer it if no one ever entered her office smelling of anything but fresh air! Even after an actor is hired, the problem can persist. Many a time she has had to go to a set and as diplomatically as possible request that an actor refrain from wearing any more of his or her way-too-potent cologne, because it was giving everyone else a headache.
Chewing gum during an audition. Don’t.
Props are never necessary during a cold reading. They make the actor look amateurish and they distract from the performance. She said that the same applies to “indicating” with one’s hands. The moment an actor starts using a prop or his hands to indicate something, the casting director, the director, and the producers will all find themselves looking at the prop or the hands, instead of where they should be looking: The actor’s eyes.
As a matter of fact, Jackie emphasized several times that in her opinion, the eyes are the most important tools that an actor has at his disposal. The people who will decide whether an actor is hired or not – the casting directors and the people who hire them – want to see what’s going on behind and through those eyes. She also noted that if a “reader” has been provided at the audition (someone who is there to feed the cues to the one who’s auditioning), the actor should make eye contact with him or her.
Another distraction for both men and women is too much or just plain unusual jewelry. Ditto clothing that’s so eye-catching it almost forces the viewer’s attention away from the performance. Never wear clothing that has words or logos written on it; even a pro like Jackie has found herself more interested in interpreting what’s written across an actor’s chest than in how he is interpreting his scene!
Actors should always have their sides in their hands during their auditions and should be turning the pages as they proceed. There’s nothing more embarrassing than going up on the lines and not being able to locate them on the page, as well.
Ask questions before you start the audition – that is, of course, if you have any. Jackie knows that not every single casting director will offer to answer questions, but the actor should take the initiative if it’s a pertinent, serious question.
Always be on time. If you know you’re going to be delayed, have your agent call the casting office and let them know. Or rather, ask if that’s going to be all right. If you were scheduled for the last slot of the day, guess what: It will NOT be all right to arrive late.
Remember to always take a headshot and resume with you, even if you think the CD already has one. Do not put your home address on the resume – it’s dangerous. If you don’t have representation, just put your cell phone number (not the home phone) on there; otherwise, you should have your reps listed.
Now, here’s a suggestion that a lot of actors, both young and old, should take to heart: Stop talking so much. A lot of actors, perhaps out of nerves or perhaps in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the CD, rattle on about totally inconsequential things that have nothing to do with the task at hand, which is their audition. Nobody really cares if there was a lot of traffic on the way over, or that you had to take your cat to the vet this morning, or how tough it is to be…an actor! Just enter, be polite and warm, do your job and try to exit gracefully. If the CD wants more conversation or to ask questions, let him or her take the lead, not the other way around.
Jackie says that most actors are good judges of how they did in an audition, be it good, bad or indifferent. “Over the years, I’ve had many agents call to tell me how well their client thought he did and how excited they were. That is, until I had to tell him how awful his client was. On the other hand, I’ve had agents call to apologize for a client who was sure he’d done horribly in the reading and I had to interrupt to tell the agent that I was just about to call to hire that client!”
Jackie’s advice is to simply do your best, say “thank you” and move on.