Why we’re making a new audition pledge to actors

Our Joint AD James explains our thinking behind our new audition pledge.

Back in 2010 when I first joined Paines Plough we started Open Auditions as a direct response to actors telling us they were frustrated at the Catch-22 of needing to be seen to be in something, and needing to be in something to be seen. Our answer was to hold genuinely open calls across the country so everyone had the same chance of securing a slot. We’ve since met 2030 amazing actors we might never have met otherwise. Several of them have gone on to star in PP productions.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been fortunate to spend time with some great groups of Actors’ Guild members in workshops on auditioning for new plays. It’s been fascinating to hear their audition experiences from the other side of the door, and the other side of the table to me.

What becomes quickly and starkly apparent when you do a 360° evaluation of auditions is how often the process is stacked against the actor. For any normal job interview there’s a job description, you’ll get sent some information about the company, you’ll be told who you’ll be meeting, you’ll have time to prepare to present the very best version of yourself.

But for auditions, actors often find themselves sitting in waiting rooms with nothing but some pages of text and with no idea who is on the other side of the door or what they’re looking for. Will someone be reading with me? Should I be off-book? Will I be sitting or standing? Should I try a Scottish accent?

How can you possibly do your best work with so many unknowns?

For my Actors’ Guild workshops I drew up lists of practical tips for auditions, and some of my pet hates. Once I’d given them to the actors, they gave me great auditions. It dawned on me that I’d get much better auditions across the board if I just let actors know what to expect, and what I was looking for. Not exactly rocket science.

So last year we started sending advance emails to every actor who came to audition for us. The email said how much we were looking forward to meeting them, and gave them some basic information about the format of the meeting, the people they would be meeting, and what we’d like to see from them. So I had the chance to let people know they would be sitting around the table, I didn’t expect them to learn the text, I wanted to hear them read in their own accent and they’d be meeting the playwright and producer as well as me.

Armed with some prior knowledge, actors came in more confident and less liable to be thrown. I got to see more of the real them because we’d already established some simple parameters.

From now we promise to always provide actors with the information they need to best prepare for their audition with us, and what to expect from us. We’re making it a formal pledge partly to hold ourselves to account, and partly because we hope it might encourage others to follow suit. We think it will make for better auditions for everyone.

The other thing actors tell us frustrates them is they often only find out about parts when the cast is announced. So from now on, when we announce new productions, we’ll publish breakdowns on our website and we’ll accept and consider CVs from anyone who thinks they’re right for the role.

Read the full pledge here.

Let us know what you think of our pledge and what else we could do better. We’re always keen to hear from you and happy to take your feedback on board. Tweet at us on @painesplough or leave a comment below.