That Tall Blonde at the Callback — Catty & Competitive

You get out of the car and walk into the callback. In the holding room, there are a few possible environments that greet you. The two most common for me are 1) you walk in and see a bunch of familiar faces from previous shows, and it’s all hugs and giggles, or 2) you walk in and don’t recognize a soul, but everyone else seems to know each other and you feel like you are getting the side eye from the “in crowd” that obviously works here frequently. One person’s welcoming, supporting crowd is another person’s intimidating, anxiety-ridden room that sends them straight back to the high school lunch table, only this lunch table is full of drama queens throwing shade.

My friend Jordan. He’s not really shady at all. But he is so talented he may wipe the floor with you at the callback, just saying.

That’s why I was a bit torn when a few folks suggested I write about recent experiences with “rude auditioners” who seemed extra competitive. Perception or reality? How is it that the theatre world is incredibly competitive, yet the most supportive and welcoming environment in the world? Isn’t it impossible to be both? To quote the King of Siam, it’s a puzzlement!!!

I believe most of us work hard to be friendly and welcoming at auditions and callbacks. I certainly don’t think I’ve been outright rude to anyone (especially to those working the audition — a tough, thankless job!). However, I do love the mini-reunions that auditions and callbacks can provide, and I can see how that sometimes might make others feel out of place. I am more likely to hang and chat with the group I know than to go around the room and introduce myself (although once to the callback stage, I do always introduce myself to the group called for the same role and those we will be reading and singing with and try to get to know them a bit).

Competitive and catty? I’m certainly competitive, but I think I also root for everyone to do well, even my direct competition. In college, I always helped others prep their numbers before an audition, and my mom questioned why in the world I was doing that when I’d be up against them for roles! “Because they are my friends, Mom!” I answered. And I also had enough confidence in myself that I would do my best, to want to see others do their best as well. I still make it a point to share whatever extra info I have with others auditioning so they can prepare (things like that they asked for an uptempo as well, they had me do some improv, the choreo wasn’t that bad, but they did ask to see a timestep, etc.) That said, I am also there to get cast, so if I have a chance to distance myself from the direct competition as I perform, I’m going to take the flashier ending, the alternate note, and generally act like you’d be crazy not to cast me. So yes, the competitive streak in me is strong. As a result, I’ve sometimes felt a bit guilty that I took the stage and wiped the floor with the previous auditioners. Is it rude to say that? I’m sure many of you think I’m totally delusional! And yes, I probably am a bit overconfident.

As for being treated rudely by others, I actually haven’t seen too much of the outright rudeness that others have mentioned (just lucky I guess?) I would suspect that when it does happen, it is due to nerves, jealousy or acting big because that person worries he/she won’t measure up. A competitor at a callback once said to me, as I came back out into the lobby after singing, “Ugh, I was hoping you were going to be bad.” But I actually took it as a really nice compliment — and a gesture that she saw me as serious competition who looked the part, and then went in and backed it up with talent. A more insidious example comes from outside of theatre. I used to sing in a jazz club from time to time. Another regular singer, 20 years older than I, looked disapprovingly at the bright top I was wearing and told me “you should wear black when you perform; it will make you look slimmer.” Passive-aggressive much? I’ll admit that I certainly have been guilty of cattiness a time or two (with friends in private, not on social media blast) when I didn’t get the role and thought the person cast wasn’t all that impressive. It’s rough on our egos when we feel passed over.

Even with the competitive environment that it is, I find theatre to be the most welcoming place on the planet. People from all walks of life and backgrounds. A merry band of misfits who make you feel like a star. I was tickled when I saw the teaser for the new HBO show Barry, with Bill Hader in the title role — a hitman. Apparently, his mark is a theatre guy, and he goes to an improv class to try and befriend him so he can kill him. But the theatre crowd was so welcoming, Barry has second thoughts, and gushes about how “they made me feel so good about myself”. My feelings exactly!

So pretty much it comes down to this — let’s all continue to work to be supportive and kind to each other. Meet someone new at your next audition. And if being a little catty makes you feel better after a disappointment I think it’s safe to admit we all indulge in it. In that spirit — here is an ultra catty-ending. A blog within a blog!

5 Women I Have Lost Roles to:

1. The “Muse” — the favorite of a particular director. Someone who appears in many shows for them and will follow them to many theatres.

2. The “Repertory Favorite” — the person, usually a character actress, who is in nearly every show at a particular theatre.

3. The “Prestige Candidate” — Equity/former Equity/well-known local actress whose casting will bring a sense of prestige to the theatre and/or director.

4. The “Package Deal” — The significant other of a sought-after actor, who gets cast in an attempt to lock in the guy for a key role as well.

5. The “Ivanka” — The kid or significant other of someone on the artistic staff.



Musical Theatre actress. Jazz singer. Product Marketing/Analyst Relations professional. Mom.

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Susan Tonkin

Musical Theatre actress. Jazz singer. Product Marketing/Analyst Relations professional. Mom.