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Let Them Know, #YesOrNo

Writer, poet, director, producer and MU member Jenifer Toksvig explores the auditioning process, the dangers of ‘pencilling in’ and the #YesOrNo campaign.

“Thanks, we’ll let you know.”

It’s the archetypical farewell: the end of the audition after you’ve performed your heart out, or the end of the interview on which you focused all your energy.

Maybe your heart sinks because you know it’s just not going to happen this time, or maybe your heart sings because this time, it feels right. Either way, you go home and wait.

And wait, and wait, maybe not even knowing for sure until you see an announcement that someone else was cast, commissioned, employed.

We accept it as part of the business, but this state of waiting is a complex issue, and it chips away at us. For freelancers of all kinds, uncertainty is a strain on our mental health when it comes to financial security, and our ability to respond to the needs of home and family.

This tacitly accepted imbalance of power puts additional strain on the potential employee: does one follow up, or not? How will it make you look, if you do? One writer friend was told by a producer that they should not follow up or they will “get a reputation for being annoying”.

Performers who are asked to ‘pencil’ something in are effectively having their professional loyalty demanded for free - and worse, it can actually cost them money if they turn down other work.

That general understanding of ‘pencilling’ does not make it acceptable industry practice. If only one side is having to do any accepting, then it’s just an excuse for those in the position of authority to shirk the responsibilities that accompany that position, of ensuring fair exchange.

Some companies promise response, and then don’t follow through. As one writer noted: “Is there any point in following up with them to highlight this, or does that just make me look bitter?”

There are challenges on both sides, of course. Employers might be working in small companies or as sole traders, with limited resources for responding to hundreds of applicants - but automated email systems are readily available, and even if we’re only sending a generic rejection, it provides important closure.

There is a concern that requests for feedback might then spiral into uncontrollable floods of email. Actually, this is not my experience, but we can only know how it will go if we start doing it, and start considering how to make it easy to do.

I wonder what would happen if we put aside proper time to converse fully with every applicant afterwards; what we would lose, but also what we would gain? If the question is whether it is more beneficial to our whole ecology to put our own wellbeing ahead of the wellbeing of the work we’re making, then surely the answer is that, when we take care of ourselves and each other, we are all better able to take care of the work.

As facilitator of several online hubs, I take care of a little over 2,300 creatives. I actually did some informal research on this subject recently, amongst my tribes. You can read the anonymised responses here. In summary: we seem to be pretty much of the opinion that it’s simply respectful to let people know either way.

Equity’s casting manifesto specifically requests notification of outcome. This is accompanied by the hashtag campaign #YesOrNo, started by performer Danny Lee Wynter.

The National Theatre has just committed to saying #YesOrNo to all who audition for them. As a friend of mine said, “Was quite shocked. It hadn't occurred to me that the country's second biggest arts organisation, complete with HR department, casting department and like a world's supply of producers and administrators would also be guilty of this.”

Equity is supported in this policy by Spotlight, the Casting Directors’ Guild, and the two umbrella organisations for agents, the PMA and the CPMA.

I currently sit on the Executive Council of the Writers’ Guild (WGGB), and am also a member of the Musicians’ Union, Stage Directors UK, the Dramaturgs’ Network, the ITC, UK Theatre - and Equity.

All of these fantastic organisations are strongly connected, and we all work together to support each other wherever we can. So when UKT invited me to write this blog, it was really a no-brainer for me to ask all of my unions to publish it, because this is a simple request that we can all get behind and amplify.

If you’re interviewing or auditioning a performer, musician, director, choreographer, composer, casual, stage manager, followspot operator, fight director, designer, musical director, writer, front of house usher, administrator, producer, dramaturg, orchestrator:

Let them know, #YesOrNo.

Guest post by Jenifer Toksvig. Jenifer facilitates The Larder, a free support and information hub for theatre makers and other creative folk. With David Edgar, she is the current co-chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee. Jenifer writes musicals and spoken word poetry, directs and produces immersive theatre-gaming hybrids, is an experienced stage manager, dramaturg, and pedagog.

Have you had similar audition experiences? We’re collecting case studies as part of the #YesOrNo campaign. Email yours to maddy.radcliff@theMU.org.


Published: 18/09/2018
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