I’m 23. I trained at an intensive theatre conservatory for two years. I’ve travelled all over. I’m married. I love literature and Woody Allen and Sarah Vowell. But I also have a baby face, which means I’m often mistaken for a teenager. Last year I went to a junior high school to teach a musical theatre workshop and the secretary thought I was a student. As an actress, this often results in me auditioning for younger roles, which I typically don’t mind at all. Television high schoolers are often portrayed by older actors — the girl who played Andie on Dawson’s Creek was like 52.
Last month I was psyched to get a couple of callbacks for a network pilot that would involve a sketch show within a show. Booking a pilot is a pretty big deal for an emerging actor, and this could have been a big break. Comedy, improv, sketch — these are definitely in my wheelhouse, and even though the breakdown my agent sent said the roles were aged 15-17, I figured they were seeing a lot of older actors with more experience in comedy. I figured wrong. For one thing, it was a pilot for the Disney channel, who apparently use actual teenagers to play teenagers. Absurd.
When I got to the first callback, the room was packed with babies. I can pull off 17 next to people my age, or even other 20-somethings who look young, but I CANNOT pull off 14 next to an actual 14-year-old. Do you have any idea how young 14 looks? Neither did I. To help keep this in mind, I compiled a few warning signs I should probably take note of the next time I go in for a role that “seems a bit young.”
1. Everyone else auditioning is accompanied by their parents. Everyone. Some kids had both parents there, holding their hands, going over their monologues with them. I showed up solo, like an adult, with my audition piece prepared, and my headshot/resumes in tow. I don’t think anyone was fooled by my Converse and t-shirt. I may as well have arrived with high pig tails and a big lollypop for all the good it did me. Maybe next time I should pay one of my actress friends to come as my mom.
2. Everyone else at the audition is working on their homework in the waiting room. There is nothing that makes me feel older then kids doing homework, apparently. While not squeezing mom’s hand or scribbling in their One Direction notebooks, most of the kids in the waiting room were doing homework. Like homework, homework. Work sheets. Math problems. I felt like Scott Pilgrim in the scene where he’s uncomfortable in the library because it reminds him of school. And Scott Pilgrim was only 22.
3. One of the kids auditioning refers to a Mr. Show sketch as “some YouTube video.” For the initial audition, they asked us to prepare 1-2 minutes of comedy, which we would take turns performing in front of the panel, in groups of eight. You could do stand-up, a song, a monologue. I opted to perform a 1-minute, one-woman version of Les Mis, which seemed like a good way for me to showcase a couple characters and sing. It was also very timely, considering the film was about to hit theatres. I was worried it might be a little too absurd, but they seemed to really go for it. Most of the other kids did comedy monologues including one chipper young lad who did David Cross’s “Can I Use This Chair” bit from Mr. Show.
I thought this was a ballsy choice considering the whole point of the sketch is how to wreck an audition, but the panel really loved it (presumably because Mr. Show was one of the great comedic shows). After our group audition I congratulated the boy on his bold and smart choice. He replied, “Thanks, it’s some YouTube video I found when I was looking for a monologue.” Not only was he unfamiliar with Mr. Show, he didn’t know that a clip on YouTube starring David Cross, Bob Odenkirk and Dino Stamatopoulos was anything more than a couple of bros putting up a sketch on the internet. I stammered a little and refrained from faking youth by being all …“Yeah, cool! YouTube! Rhett and Link! I just sat down and felt very, very old.
4. The oldest looking guy is 18 (and embarrassed about being that old). Just when I had decided I must be the oldest person at the second round of callbacks, I spotted a guy who looked my age-ish. “There is a guy who could play Dawson Leary to my Joey Potter” I thought, “or at least my Abby Morgan.” The point is I could see us playing similar ages, which seemed encouraging. I sidled up to him and made a little small talk about the audition, comedy, and stand up, before throwing in a quick age inquiry. He looked around real sneaky-like before divulging his true age. “I’m in my first year of college, so I’m 18,” he whispered sheepishly. I cried a little bit in my mind before giving him a little “your secret is safe with me” nod and wink. Do teenagers wink?
And that was that. After the second set of callbacks I was pretty sure I was out of the running. Despite the obvious age gap, I was happy to get another chance to be seen by the casting director, show creators, and a number of executives from the production companies. Maybe they’ll be open to me playing a 23-year-old in a pilot I write for myself at some point. Maybe they’ll cast me as someone’s older. Or a teacher who gets mistaken for a student. Like that would ever happen.