All actors must have a high tolerance for the absurd. It’s part of our job to accept ridiculous requests and demands. I’ve had acting classes where it seems like the teacher’s just messing with you, playing with her position of authority. I once pretended to be a sea lion for two hours, so that I could better understand my character. As a class, we slithered, crawled, and hopped around, running lines in our new animal voices.
I’m not sure what I learned about Gwendolyn from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by being a sea lion, but that’s the animal that came to me, and so I mangled Oscar Wilde’s perfect words with my sea lion bark. Maybe the purpose of this exercise is to teach actors to obey without question, explore without hesitation or analysis. This might come in handy when working with directors. Directors need you to push boundaries and flirt with insanity, so they can see what works and what doesn’t. A good actor shuts up and listens. But you also have to know when to say no.
It’s harder to say no when you don’t even have the job. A director in an audition has absolute power. I once did a monologue in a Southern accent, but then they saw on my resume that I speak some Italian. They wanted me to do a Southern accent and then pause and say a couple things in Italian before continuing with the monologue. In rehearsal I might have said, “Why?”, but because it was an audition, I didn’t hesitate. “Y’all pass the gravy? Si certo, bambino.” What kind of a director asks for something this absurd and doesn’t justify his request?
Sometimes it’s easy to avoid fools like that director. I submit myself for acting jobs on three websites: LA Casting, Actors Access, and Backstage. Each website filters character descriptions, called breakdowns, and sends you notices for different available roles that fit your profile. I refuse to submit to breakdowns with prolific spelling errors, and many of the breakdowns are unintentionally hilarious. They make ridiculous demands or describe the impossible. Below is a collection of some of my favorite breakdowns. All of them are real.
- “Vampire Empress—18-25. Any ethnicity, slim, witch look. Topless.” What exactly is a witch look?
- “Lead female—Strong actress. Must be able to portray a wide range of emotion and be comfortable in fetish clothing.”
- “Young, slim and attractive. Must be comfortable covered in silver body paint.
- “Bitchy and Beautiful.”
- “The actress must not be afraid to eat a donut and be able to do a Southern Accent.
- “We’re looking for actors to play Vampires, if you truly believe that you are a Vampire, please do not submit.”
- “Hard, sexy women, angular in appearance.” Am I angular?
- “20’s, Any Ethnicity, a beautiful, sweet and shy woman, she lands a job as an Au Pair after coming to America illegally. She works hard, is dedicated to the Kehler family, and looks to expand her education by going to the local college for classes. However, it is difficult for her to escape her dismal childhood past, made up of rape and murder. Her courageousness to move forward from the stress of her youth is nothing short of remarkable. After killing her father in revenge for what he did to her and for murdering her mother, Tanya finds her way to a circus where she learns to throw knives with incredible accuracy. In leaving her country, she believes her past is behind her, but the violent attack of two intruders changes everything… LEAD – NUDITY REQUIRED – SUBMIT NAMES ONLY.” She discovers that she’s been living parallel lives.
- “Yumnah is a troubled soul with unusual body movement, locked up in a dark room where there is nothing but a sand clock. As the clock starts the count down. Yumnah sees through small holes beautiful fantasies. Time is over. The nightmare begins.” …when you’re cast. What’s unusual body movement? Small holes beautiful fantasies.
- “College student who is devoted to her family but expresses from time to time. She has somewhat self-centered habits. Very attractive who maintains respectable appearance. Please note: Character will be in undergarments for fair amount of time. Must be comfortable wearing undergarments while performing actions.” I would be uncomfortable not wearing undergarments.
- “Sal’s girlfriend, 30’s, an already over-the-hill actress.” Shit.