A thought piece on #YesOrNo

By Alexa Morden

A couple years ago I auditioned for a short film and got down to the final two for the part. Over the space of a couple days I was hearing more from my agent than domino’s promotional offers! “Casting wants to know if you have any allergies?” “Can you send us all your measurements for costume?” “Are you definitely free for the dates? Casting need to be 100% sure you’re free for the filming dates.” “These are the official filming dates, you’re definitely free?” 

I book 3 days off work for the shoot days, to absolutely assure my agent and the creative team that I would be free for filming if I were to get the part. My heart jumps into my throat every time my phone rings… “MUM I CAN’T TALK RIGHT NOW I’M WAITING TO HEAR FROM MY AGENT ABOUT IF I GOT THE PART! THEY KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS SO I CAN’T BE ON THE PHONE RIGHT NOW!” I can’t help but start to daydream about booking the job…the short film was a teaser for a feature film, what if they get funding for the feature and want me to continue playing the role! What could this lead to!!

After all of casting’s questions were answered…crickets. Radio silence. It was me or one other actress who got the part - surely I’d hear soon? More days go past and nothing. My agent tries to chase them up but hear nothing back. It gets to the night before filming…“well maybe the dates changed? Maybe they still haven’t decided?” the little voice in my head tells me. The filming days roll round and I sit at home on the sofa and turn into a bunny boiler, actor style…I’ve found the writer's, director's, producer's and casting director’s twitter. I’ve found the facebook page of the short film where they share announcements. I refresh them all over and over again daily, hourly, looking for a cast announcement so that I can get finality.

Finally the producer tweets “We are very excited to announce the cast for our next short film….” which the casting director retweets and in pour the comments of how exciting it looks. But to me that tweet wasn’t just a cast announcement. There, in 140 characters, was my answer. My rejection. My exhale. A reminder of all the times I’ve never heard back from an audition. A reminder that you can be so close but so far. But most of all a reminder that my time, effort, mental wellbeing, passion, dedication and hard work means nothing. The casting department had been so communicative with my agent when I was in the running, when I was valuable. But as soon as the director/producer/whoever it was made the final decision and I wasn’t valuable anymore - I was disposable. Not worth a phone call to say that in fact I won’t be needed. Now, a casting director may read this and think/know that that of course isn’t the case…but that is how it feels. And it can be all consuming. 

That experience has stuck with me all this time but it doesn’t end there. A few weeks ago this same casting director tweeted how they had a few no show’s to an audition that day and how disappointing it was that no one let them know. That the studio space costs money to rent out by the day and other people could have taken those audition slots. COMPLETELY valid points that I whole heartedly agree with. But I wish they had those same thoughts about those on the other side of the camera. I booked 3 days off work in a 0 hours contract so I missed out on more that £250 waiting to hear about that short film. I could have auditioned/been put up for something else in the time that my agent had blocked off those dates. And that’s just the logistical side of things, not even going into the mental and emotional side of being kept up in the air. What was it that made me not deserve a 30 second phone call of “thank you for your time but it isn’t good news this time.”?

Now this isn’t just a post of me moaning - I don’t go to bed at night and cry about how I didn’t get a part in a short film 2 years ago and how, if it wasn’t for twitter, I would have never even got an answer (ok fine, I've done it a few times ok!!) This blog post comes at a very poignant moment as Danny Lee Wynter (who founded the fantastic Act For Change campaign) is backing the #YesOrNo campaign which is starting a conversation about casting directors letting actors know the outcome of projects they auditioned for. Thankfully the campaign is gaining traction and creating a shift in the industry with many casting offices pledging to now always let auditionees know if/when they didn’t get the part which is a massive fist bump. I think I speak on behalf of the majority of actors when I say how much we appreciate the work the people behind the #YesOrNo campaign is doing.

But actors have been talking about this issue for AGES. And we know, we know, that casting directors are incredibly busy. That they are answering to so many people, that they have so much to do but it seems paradoxal (is that a word? It is now…) for everyone recently to be vocal about supporting mental health difficulties in the performing industry but still to act in a way that can induce anxiety, self doubt, depression, OCD (for example) by leaving actors in limbo. To see casting directors write really touching tweets about how impressed they are with the talented actors they see and what an amazing day of auditions it was and how much they respect the effort actors put in but not respect actors enough as people to give them closure and let them move on to the next audition or be able to book that bloody holiday they are hoping to not be able to go on because that means they booked a job instead. I’ve said from the beginning of my career that I would much prefer a blanket email to all of us 100+ rejectees that simply says “NOPE” than the absolute silence we get practically 100% of the time (unless it’s good news).

The above story I felt was only worth mentioning because I actually got down to the final two and within reaching distance of the role and I wish I could genuinely ask that casting director why they didn't give us an answer. Lack of time couldn't be the reason so I can't help but think they acted that way just because they can. But if we take into account all first round auditions I honestly cannot tell you even one time I heard back about the outcome of an audition without my agent ringing them and asking. If actors can get an email at 6pm on a Wednesday night with an audition at 11am the next morning and arrange to get out of their day job, research the previous work of the casting director/director/producer/writer, read an entire film script, learn 10 pages of audition sides, get a good enough sleep to look presentable at the audition and give a good performance...Or the opposite end of the spectrum; having weeks to prepare, rehearsing the scene with a friend, reading the play front to back more than once, working on the character, having amazing feedback from the people in the room, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to hear about if it’s going any further or not. That's not me insisting that every casting office should get back to every applicant no excuses. Just that actors shouldn't be made to feel like they're asking too much/speaking out of turn to expect/want it. Every other application process in the professional world (that isn’t in the creative industry) as far as I’m aware lets applicants know of the outcome. 

A couple months ago I was reading twitter threads from casting directors saying how they’d love to let actors know the outcome but they just didn’t have time, who are now making the #YesOrNo pledge so it’s great to see most are really starting to now take notice. And there are of course casting offices who have made letting everyone know the outcome part of their casting process for years. There are talks being had with Spotlight to create a “project now cast” box that casting directors can check when all roles are filled which is a great and simple solution.

People, mainly non actors, tend to think that rejection is the hardest part of the audition process. But it actually isn’t. Knowing that you’ve most probably been rejected whilst simultaneously daydreaming about playing that role you poured your soul into for days of preparation is worse. It’s the same as being ghosted in the dating game. A simple “you’re nice but I’m not feeling it” is better than suddenly never hearing from them again, right? Just like a “thanks for coming in but it’s a no this time” may sting but it isn’t the sucker-punch to the gut that is putting your life on hold for weeks and feeling the excitement in your belly grow and then reading a tweet that makes your self worth hit the floor that you then have to consciously work at building up again for it all to happen again for the next audition. Actors love casting directors…thanks to them we get to do that thing we want to do all the time for a part of our day. And we appreciate how hard they work and how amazingly they can multitask in and outside of the audition room. But with ghosting being a common enough thing that there's a word for it, there's enough of it going around in our private lives - it'd be great to minimise it in our professional ones!

Alexa is one half of The 98% podcast. One of her Dad's favourite performances of hers was playing Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach in the annual local Stagecoach production when she was about 8 years old. You can find out a lot of stories and thoughts from Alexa by listening to The 98% wherever you get podcasts! Or by having a mooch around this website and following her on twitter @alexamorden and instagram @alexa_morden!