It's Who You Know (Part 1)
“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.”
Have you ever complained about this at some point on your artistic journey? During a particularly plentiful week of auditions (I am filled with such gratitude to be able to say that), I heard several actors say this, along with “they already know who they’re going to cast in this, it’s going to be the same people over and over.” I’ve also been guilty of having this attitude in the past.
The reality is... it’s true. Working in the performing arts is about who you know. But isn’t that the way it goes in any profession? And is that always a bad thing?
What would happen if your goal at an audition wasn’t to book the job, but to know more people?
Exactly who do you mean when you say that it’s about “who you know”? Do you really mean “it’s about which gatekeepers you know”? Because I would argue that they are not the most important people at an audition.
An example from an EPA for a theater company’s upcoming season: There were two people sitting behind the table, deciding who gets to participate in three specific projects. Yet there were at least 30 actors in the holding room, as well as a very friendly and helpful monitor making sure the day ran smoothly (an art in itself). What a powerful room! More than 30 ambitious, hardworking, and creative people to get to know! Somewhere along the way, we have chosen to compete with each other rather than team up. If you don’t book the job, why not create something with the people you met at the audition? If it’s about who you know, well then… because you showed up to this audition, I know you, and now you know me. Sure, I can’t offer you the opportunity to originate a role in a Broadway musical, but does that count me out as someone worth knowing? Can’t we share information and experiences and insights? Where will any of us be in five years? Ten years?
Do you know who I would like to know? I want to know the person sitting on the steps folding stars out of strips of paper and handing them out to fellow actors for good luck. I want to know the two strangers who joined me on a snowy walk from Pearl 500 to the AEA building, one of whom actually thought to come down to the Sky Lobby to encourage me to put my name on an ECC list and to “just sing anything, it doesn’t matter, just get in the room!” I want to know the person waiting in line behind you who tells you that they loved your song choice when you leave the audition room.
Who do you know?