Auditions and How to Survive Them

Advice for how to make an unforgettable—in a good way—impression during an audition

This blog is based on Episode 7 of A Scott in the Dark—which I refer to as a periodic podcast for haunters. It was a while between Episode 6 and this episode, and the reason for that is the project I’m working on here in Florida, the Vault of Souls, had been casting for a couple weeks, and I was not only promoting auditions but running them. Making certain we got all the right people in the right jobs took a lot of time. And, since so much of my time was focused on auditions and casting people, I thought that would be a great topic for Episode 7. That podcast and this blog are all about auditions.

Now, these audition tips aren’t only applicable to auditions. I know some haunts don’t even audition. They basically say, “You’re tall, you’ll fit the costume,” and that’s it. If that’s the kind of haunt you’re doing, that’s not a problem. However, more and more haunted attractions are doing some form of auditions for many different reasons, so the following are some tips based on my many years doing auditions for Howl-O-Scream in Tampa and for the last three seasons of the Vault of Souls as well as for various and sundry other theatrical pieces that aren’t necessarily Halloween-related.

I’ve seen a lot of people audition. I’ve seen a lot of people do some great and wonderful things, and I’ve seen a lot of people make some pretty silly and basic mistakes. I’m going to talk about how to audition without making some of the common mistakes I’ve seen over the years. If you know someone who’s not necessarily haunt-based but does auditions or is theater-based or interested in theater, this might be a good blog to turn them on to. Maybe it will serve as a gateway drug so we can suck them into the dark side.

Auditions and How to Survive Them

Holding Auditions Gets People Talking About Your Haunt Months Before Halloween

First of all, if you’re a haunt owner, I think you should hold auditions. I realize it takes time and effort, but, if you hold auditions, that gives you a perfect reason to start talking about your haunt long before anybody really thinks about Halloween. I recorded Episode 7 in mid-July, and our entire cast was already in place for the Vault of Souls. Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream were both pretty much cast by then, too. A lot of the more corporate haunts do their auditions early so they can get their costumes made and bring the right people on at the right time.

Auditions also get people talking about your event and, once you get your cast selected, they start chatting about it. Don’t underestimate the power of social media. These folks are going to talk about how excited they are about being at XYZ haunt. It’s just a really smart idea to start that buzz early.

Obviously, if you’re holding auditions, you’re going to get the best cast you can possibly find, and you can entice some folks you may not know. Plus, it keeps your cast fresh. Auditions are a perfect way to bring in some new blood and give you the opportunity to make sure everybody is on their A-game.

Auditions and How to Survive Them

Everything the Actor Does Is Part of the Audition

We’re going to start by focusing on the actor’s side rather than the owner’s or director’s side. Being a director, I’ll probably slip back into that from time to time, but I’ll try to stay focused as much as I can on what the haunt actor should think about.

Whether you’re an actor auditioning for a haunted attraction, a theme park, a theatrical production, or whatever, be aware that every single thing you do is part of that audition. Every single time you make contact with whoever it is that’s holding the auditions, you’re auditioning then and there. It’s not just the two minutes when you’re doing a monologue or when you’re running back and forth in a room screaming in werewolf garb or whatever.

If you’re booking your audition on line, make sure you follow the directions for doing that. This was a really simple process for the Vault of Souls. I basically said, “Email your name and phone number to this email address, and you’ll be assigned an audition time. No one will be seen without an audition time.” That was in big, bold letters. I was shocked at how many people either didn’t include their phone number or just showed up without an assigned audition slot. To me, that’s a red flag—or a yellow flag—because I figure, if you can’t follow directions in booking, how do I know you’re going to follow directions if I hire you? Make sure you read those directions carefully and do exactly what you’ve been asked to do.

Always be polite. If you talk to somebody on the phone, be nice to them, because I’m not going to hire somebody I think is a jerk, no matter how talented they are. This aligns with the next tip: Be professional. Haunting is a ton of fun. In volunteer haunts and home haunts, things are often a bit looser, but the haunt industry is only going to continue to get better if everybody in it has respect for the industry itself and takes their “job” seriously. In my world, it’s not only fun, it’s fun we get paid to do, and it’s fun that people pay to see. Therefore, we need to be professional at all times. So, book your audition time properly, and then show up. Be professional about it.

Some organizations don’t schedule audition times. They just say, “Show up between 9 and 2, and be prepared to audition.” If auditions are running long, or running slowly, again, be professional. As we all know in the haunt industry, nothing—and I mean nothing—goes exactly as planned. If you show you can patient and roll with it when things go awry, you’ll already have a leg up on the folks who are complaining about how long something takes.

Auditions and How to Survive Them

If You’re Asked to Prepare, Prepare!

If you’re asked to prepare something for the audition, make sure you are prepared. For the Vault of Souls, I asked people to do a two-minute, somber monologue. That’s all I asked them to do. I told them, “You’ll be cut off after two minutes. That doesn’t mean I hate what I’m hearing. It means I’m trying to keep us on schedule.” I was pleased this year by how many people had prepared something. It was all over the board, and it was lovely, because it was so diverse. Some of the actor types went to a monologue book and found a creepy monologue. A couple people did selections from Edgar Allan Poe, which is always fine by me. I’m a big Poe fan for those of you who know me and have seen some of the houses that I’ve done in the past. I’ve got Edgar himself hanging on my wall. Well, not himself. It’s not a dead guy hanging on my wall. I couldn’t afford the real Edgar Allen Poe hanging on my wall, but I have a lovely charcoal drawing of Edgar Allen Poe hanging on the wall of my office. He looks over me, as does his raven and black cat. So, a few people did some Poe, but, unfortunately, they didn’t memorize it. They read it, which is fine, except I never saw their eyes, and that’s a little unfortunate in an audition.

Some people prepared but didn’t prepare what they were asked to prepare. For example, I had a couple of people show up in costume, ready to go. Of course, the Vault of Souls has a very specific look. It’s Tampa in the 1920s, and we don’t have any werewolves or vampires. We even had one person show up who had a full costume change—and it wasn’t a quick change. I think it was supposed to be quick, but there were some costume malfunctions. Don’t panic—we didn’t see any body parts we weren’t supposed to see. We had somebody show up in full character and never broke character throughout the entire audition process, which is fine, but again, that’s not what was asked. Somebody came in and sang their audition, which was quite good, but again, not what was asked. These are red flags for me, because if you’re not able to follow the directions of, “Come in and do this,” how do I know I can trust you with guests for hours on end in a haunted attraction?

So, prepare what’s asked, and prepare well. If you have a way to throw in a twist or something, that’s great, but don’t lead with the twist or gimmick. Lead with your talent. That’s what I want to see, because, quite honestly, no matter what character I’m casting for, I’m probably going to costume you anyway. If you come in a costume, you’re really hurting yourself. If someone comes in dressed as Count Dracula, they’ve shut themselves out, because I can’t see them as anything other than a vampire. It works to your disadvantage to show up in a specific costume, because it limits the way people see you.

Auditions and How to Survive Them

Show Up on Time

Show up on time. This doesn’t only mean don’t be late. I know how enthusiastic haunters can be, so don’t show up two hours early. You’re not waiting for concert tickets in 1994. You don’t have to wait in line or camp out. Show up 15 to 20 minutes before your scheduled time, if there is a schedule, because there will be paperwork or some organizational thing that needs to be done for the audition. Being there 15 minutes early is great, because then everything continues to run smoothly. One late person can back up the whole audition process. A casting director once told me, “On time is late, so be there early.” And, keep in mind, once you show up, your audition has already started. If you have to ask anybody for directions about how to get someplace, or somebody asks you to park your car in a different location or whatever, your audition starts then. As I said, a lot of people won’t hire jerks, so don’t be one.

I’ve actually been in an audition where the person behind the desk who was signing people in walked into the audition room, pointed to a particular actor, and said, “That person was incredibly rude to me and isn’t paying attention to what we’re asking.” That was great feedback, because that person auditioned quite well, but, if they were going to be difficult to work with, it wasn’t worth it.

We’re getting to the point now, especially in the haunt industry, where there are gobs and gobs of people out there who want work, so I’m not going to hire somebody who’s going to be a pain. Chances are good, too, they won’t stick with me the entire season. It’s much harder to jump onto a moving train, and it’s much harder to recast mid-season. I want to get people in the first round that are good-to-great performers, are great-to-stellar people, and give them the tools they need and get out of their own way.

So, make sure that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by arguing with the security guard outside the building where the auditions are being held. That’s not in your best interest. Again, it goes back to being polite and being professional.

Auditions and How to Survive Them

Some Advice for Haunt Owners and Casting Directors

Now I’m going talk to the owners and casting directors. I’ve had owners say to me, “I’d love to have auditions, but I don’t know what to have people do. My haunt is predominantly a series of startle scares, boo scares, drop doors, noisemakers, and that sort of thing. What should I have people do?” My response is to have them do drop doors, jump out, and say “Boo!” and “Rarrgh!” Have people audition by doing. That’s the best way to see what your folks are capable of—and, believe it or not, it tests stamina. Anybody reading this knows how exhausting a haunted attraction can be—not just for the guests but for those of us performing in it. It’s hard work. You wake up the next morning hurting in places you didn’t know you had places. You want to test people’s stamina and make sure they can do the gig. I’ve done auditions where it’s all improvised, where people didn’t have to prepare anything. I’ve done auditions where it’s all prepared, and then I have them improvise on their prepared piece a little bit, just to see how well they follow direction. Either way, you have to look at the attraction you’re doing and decide how you’re going to audition based on that.

I was in auditions for 15 years at Howl-O-Scream, so I have bunch of funny and unusual stories, and I’ll share a few. If you recognize yourself, don’t feel bad. All these people were trying, so kudos to them. Some of them even got jobs—so, even better.

As I’ve mentioned, when you’re in an audition, you have to make certain that you listen to the instructions. If you don’t follow instructions at the audition, there’s a good chance you won’t follow direction and instructions at the actual event. This doesn’t mean you can’t embellish, show your best, and go over the top a little bit. That’s great, that’s wonderful. It’s easier for a director to pull you back than push you forward. However, don’t do things that aren’t asked for. Don’t do things that show you’re out of control.

Let me give you an example. We were doing auditions, and I had an assistant say to this group of people, “When I walk by you, I want you to jump up, scare me, and sit back down.” I was behind the audition table, and this person was running the audition. One actor jumped up, pulled out a butterfly knife, flipped it open, threatened us all with it, and then flipped it closed and put it back in his pocket. Yes, it was scary, but for all the wrong reasons. It was scary because it was out of control. That’s just not appropriate. So, that’s when we started adding various and sundry rules and regulations prior to the audition process such as: “Don’t use any props. Don’t do anything that could harm yourself or anyone around you.” We had to add those things, because people get so excited and want to do something that puts them over the top. That was over the top, all right, but too far over the top. It overflowed and spilled down the sides, and that’s not the way to get the job.

Another actor in that same audition was given the same direction, and he thought it would be really cool to kick his leg over the auditioner’s head. The person who was running the auditions wasn’t particularly tall, but this actor wasn’t a particularly high kicker. He kicked the auditioner squarely in the back of the head. He was mortified and kept saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” Again, this is another example of being out of control. As we all know, in any haunted attraction, safety is job one. If you break a safety rule or a basic safety concept in your audition, the director or the owner is going to think, “This person is likely to hurt somebody. We don’t want that liability.”

Everybody Wants You to Have a Great Audition

So, this brings us back to tips for actors. Listen carefully to the direction. At one audition, we had people running from one end of the room to the other as different characters. One of the characters we came up with was a rabid dog. I was looking for people who could go over the top and be animalistic and physical, and I wanted to push them physically to see how they’d do. We had one performer who apparently misheard what was asked, and she had her hands up in front of her chest with her fingers pointing down and was hopping. Apparently, she heard “rabbit” dog not “rabid” dog. Or maybe she just heard “rabbit.” Those are the moments when you’re sitting behind the table and trying really hard not to laugh. You just have to look at them and think, “Bless your heart, you’re trying. You really are trying. You’re not doing well, but you really are trying.” Listen to what you’re asked to do. If you don’t understand, it’s okay to raise your hand and say, “I’m sorry, could you clarify what you want?” Anybody running auditions would be happy to do that.

What a lot of people who audition don’t realize is, everybody sitting behind the audition table or wherever they happen to be and anybody watching the auditions wants you to do well. We don’t want to see people fail. We don’t want to see people who just aren’t very good. We want everybody to be perfect. That makes our jobs easier on the one hand and harder on the other. Instead of realizing, “Oh my gosh, we don’t have anybody,” it’s, “Oh my gosh, we have too many good people.” It’s a much better situation to be in when you have too many people who are excellent than not enough.

Remember this point when you go into an audition and you’re feeling those nerves—the people watching you want you to be good, because it makes their job so much simpler. Show them how good you are, because, if you truly listen to the instructions, chances are good your audition will be much better than if you go in there zoned out and don’t pay attention.

The Audition Isn’t Over When It’s Over

When the audition is over, you’re not done. When the audition is over, make sure you thank the audition team. I know this may seem like a silly thing, because it seems so formatted. However, if you’re able to shake hands with the person doing the casting—or, at the very least, make eye contact with them—and say, “Thank you very much for your time,” you’re going to be remembered longer, and that’s what you’re trying to do at an audition—be remembered in a positive light.

I was at one group audition, a theatrical audition, and one kid finished his monologue—which was okay but somewhat forgettable—and then he said, “You’ll remember me, because I’m the guy who showed you my nipples.” He then lifted his shirt up over his head, showed us his nipples, and put his shirt down. Clearly, he accomplished part of his goal, because I’m still talking about it, and this happened probably ten years ago. So, yes, I remember him, but I remember him as the idiot who didn’t trust his own talent. He clearly didn’t believe his monologue was going to be strong enough for us to remember him, so he had to do something silly, and it worked to his disadvantage.

However, I’ve had people who’ve come up to me, looked me in the eye, and said, “Thank you. I’ve wanted to work with you for a long time.” Flattery will get you everywhere, but the fact that they made eye contact and said something to me makes me remember them in a far more positive light than, “I’m the kid who showed you my nipples.” Dumb, dumb choice.

Don’t Stay in Character After the Audition is Over, and Forget the Gimmicks

When the audition is over, drop the character. If you stay in character the whole time, I haven’t met you. I’ve met a character I didn’t cast you in, and that makes me uncomfortable. I very much doubt I’d cast somebody who did this. At one audition, a woman came in who had had little acting ability, but she was an interesting character type. She’d worn a corset or cincher around her waist for many, many years and had something like a 14- or 15-inch waist, but her shoulders and hips were pretty much normal size. She walked in with a jacket draped over her shoulders, stood in the middle of the room, cast her eyes downward, and the person who’d walked in with her took the jacket off her shoulders to reveal this extreme hourglass figure. But she wasn’t able to do anything we asked her to do. It was all about this character she’d created. I’m sure there are opportunities for that, but they’re few and far between.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big proponent of gimmicky auditions. I’d much rather see you be well rehearsed, well prepared, clever, and committed. I’m not going to rely on a gimmick where you turn your back, put a mask on, and turn around wearing a mask. That’s nothing I can work with. It may mean you’re a great trick-or-treater, but you’re not necessarily a good haunter.

Follow Up in a Professional Way

When you get home after the audition, send the audition team a quick email that says, “Thank you for seeing me.” That sounds like sucking up, I know. The truth of the matter is, if you do that, once again, you’re reminding that person of who you are in professional way. Don’t say anything like, “Oh, I hope my audition was really good,” or “If there’s anything you think I can do, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really want to be cast.” That’s not good. Just thank them and say you hope to hear from them. For me, as the director, that reminds me, “Oh, right, there’s that person.” I may go back and look at their picture again, or I may go back and look at my notes for that person just because they contacted me. Again, you’re showing that you’re polite and professional.

After the casting is completed and everybody knows who made it—and, more importantly, who didn’t—remember to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser. I hate using the word “loser,” because casting isn’t about winning or losing. Casting is about putting the right people in the right roles. In most of the haunted attractions I’ve done, I’ll rarely create characters based on who I see in auditions. I’ll have characters in mind that I’ve already written. I’m looking for people who can fill certain roles.

In the majority of cases, not being cast doesn’t mean you weren’t good. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you. This is in my experience. If you disagree with me, please go to AScottInTheDark.com or the A Scott in the Dark on Facebook group, and make comments. Let me know if you don’t think auditions work or you feel you’ve been blackballed.

Actually, if you feel you’ve been blackballed, don’t post that on A Scott in the Dark, don’t post about it anywhere. If you get mad for not being cast, and you rail about it on social media, keep in mind that people doing the auditions are probably looking at it as well. Other people who work in the haunt industry may also be looking at your social media page and thinking, “This person just ripped their potential employer to pieces, so I don’t want to hire them.”

The moral of this blog on auditioning is, don’t be a jerk.

So, those are basically my audition tips for the haunt season. I have another blog all about acting, so, with that and this, you can go out there and kick some serious butt in being a haunt actor and get hired. If you are a haunt owner, hopefully the folks coming in for auditions will come in prepared, and they won’t be jerks. Let’s say it together, “Don’t be a jerk.”

If you’d like to ask questions, suggest topics, or even make comments on what I’ve said or written on any podcast or blog, please go to our Facebook group, go to AScottInTheDark.com or my website, or email me at [email protected]. Until next time, rest in peace.