Beware the Audition Gremlins!

Steven Sabel


Many an actor has been derailed from doing his or her best at an audition by what I call “audition gremlins.”

These little monsters are treacherous, relentless, and merciless. Producers and casting directors are most keenly aware of the nasty habit that audition gremlins have of rearing their ugly heads on audition days. We see countless examples with every open call. Through audition calls for well more than 100 productions, representing more than 20,000 submissions, I have seen gremlins strike nearly 2,000 times over the years. In reflection, I should have maintained a file of the documentary evidence of these gremlin strikes – many of which I learned about through email communication.

Gremlins. They love to strike on audition days, and they come in a variety of forms. The most common gremlin is the wicked flat tire. Through each and every audition call, producers and casting directors can practically set their watches to the regularity of the flat tire gremlin. I cannot recall an audition process that did not see at least one strike from that little demon. Sometimes he brings down several actors in the same day!

Though not as frequently seen, the car-broke-down gremlin is a close cousin to the flat-tire gremlin, and far more crafty in his mischief; as he almost always strikes right at audition appointment times. A merciless gremlin for sure, but not as treacherous as the sudden illness gremlin who never sneaks up on his victims throughout the day before, but rather strikes with full shock-and-awe symptoms only on the morning of auditions.

Other gremlins we see strike at a common rate are the family-emergency gremlin, sudden-work-obligation gremlin, and the particularly relentless gremlins of the unforeseen-circumstances variety. They can be the worst of them all.

Producers and casting directors occasionally come across extremely rare gremlins, but we have been dealing with gremlins for so long, that there is rarely a gremlin we haven’t seen before. Trust me, you’d be surprised. When one of us does come across a new and unique gremlin, we can sometimes be found enjoying the opportunity to share the tale with our colleagues over a cocktail or two.

The worst thing about gremlins is their apparent ability to strike actors with such ferociousness that nearly nine out of ten times it renders the actor so shaken and stunned they can’t even imagine the thought of asking to reschedule their audition. Perhaps the gremlins’ most vile trait is their ability to neutralize actors so efficiently, the actors cannot even offer to send a video submission in lieu of attending the audition. Vile beasts.

There is one very common gremlin that we all know exists, but attacks by these gremlins are rarely reported: the unprepared-actor gremlin. Some analysts believe that the unprepared-actor gremlin is actually the most common gremlin, but that his strikes are regularly blamed on other gremlins. He is definitely the gremlin that producers and casting directors actually witness striking in the audition room, where encounters with it can be absolutely brutal.

We all understand that some gremlins just cannot be avoided no matter how prepared an actor may be for an audition. However when a gremlin actually does strike, an actor can avoid looking insincere about it by including with their explanation a request to reschedule or an offer to submit video. There is no other viable reason to send a description of your gremlin attack to a producer or casting director. Certainly if you submitted for the call, received an audition invitation, confirmed the appointment, prepared for the audition, and then were suddenly derailed by a vicious gremlin, you would want nothing more than to avenge yourself by actually fulfilling the audition.

Some actors have actually shown superhero powers in overcoming the attack of gremlins by changing a tire, calling an Uber, jumping on the Metro, or even riding a bus to make it to their audition. Most of them have been pleased to find themselves greeted with pardons upon their explanation of a sent email, or earlier phone call to alert of their tardy arrival ahead of time. On occasion an actor has been met with a greater level of interest through their demonstrating an ability to overcome gremlins by making it in. Some producers and casting directors think that such ability can translate into a hire who will demonstrate the same perseverance when it comes to making it to rehearsals, shoot dates, performances, etc.

The best way to prevent gremlins from derailing your audition appearances is to pay attention to details and properly prepare. First you should fully read casting notices before submitting. That includes rehearsal dates, shoot dates, performance dates, details about the production, etc. Don’t shotgun-submit to everything. That’s a terrible idea. If you are shotgun-submitting, you place yourself in the position of having to be the person who later withdraws their submission or fails to respond. Enough of those and you get that reputation.

Reread the audition posting before accepting the invitation or confirming the audition appointment. Make sure there isn’t anything you failed to overlook, especially scheduling. Do your research on the project – the company, the director, the script, the characters – before you commit to attending. Then truly assess whether or not you are going to be able to spend the necessary time to be fully prepared for the audition. Don’t do that to yourself. If you can’t learn the monologue in time, if you can’t memorize the song, if you can’t spend time with the sides – don’t confirm the appointment. Gremlins will strike.

Be honest with yourself first. If you’re not willing to do the work to prepare for the audition, then you probably aren’t capable of doing the work required by the project. Don’t be the person sending descriptions of gremlin attacks.

The truth is that once producers and casting directors are in the audition room, they are not paying attention to their emails. They aren’t even going to see your account of your victimization-by-gremlin until the auditions are over. If your email doesn’t include a request to reschedule, or an offer to submit video, then it only serves as a connection of your name to gremlins.

Here’s a secret: if the auditions went well, and you didn’t show up – you weren’t missed, you’re most likely forgotten, and if you submit again in the future, your absence probably won’t be remembered. If you sent an email describing a gremlin attack, and then submit again later, you just might be remembered as the actor who is easily derailed by gremlins.

Steven Sabel has more than 30 years experience in theatre production, including more than 20 years in production management. He is an award-winning producer and director with more than 130 successful productions to his credit. He also served for 12 years as a community journalist and newspaper editor, and he has 17 years experience as a theatre arts instructor for adult actors and younger students: His independent production company, STS Productions, has produced successful theatrical ventures in a wide variety of venues for more than 20 years. In 2010, Steven founded the Archway Theatre, where he serves as producing artistic director.
As the founding artistic director of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival, Steven managed the creation and foundation of the organization from the ground up, and served as both artistic director and executive director of the thriving organization for nine successful seasons.