Callback 101 | Auditioning Advice for Actors | StageMilk

Callback 101

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Whatever you want to call it – callback, recall or re-tape – it means you did a great job! Huge congratulations on getting a callback! Woohoo! A callback simply means whatever you did in that first audition piqued the interest of whoever is casting the project: the director, producer, casting agent and/or a combination of all of them. And now they’d like to see some more of what you can do!

*Please note: not getting a call back doesn’t necessarily mean you did a bad job–more on this later*

Why Am I Being Called Back?

And also, why didn’t I get cast off the first great audition? What gives with the long process? 

All good questions, and there can be a million and one reasons why they’re bringing you back in. There’s just so much they need to find about you that can be near impossible to get off one audition alone. Here are some of the main reasons: 

Testing Combos

Regardless of whether it’s for stage or screen, the casting team needs to get the right combination of people together to really make the project sing. Especially if it’s something like a theatre show that’s going to tour around for a long time, and there’s only a handful of you in the cast–they need to see how well you can work together, problem solve, and form an ensemble. This could be a whole day callback where they will see you with a bunch of different people just so they can make sure they’re putting the right combo of skills, vibes and personalities together.

Or it could be a screen project where you have most of your scenes with one other character. They could be bringing you in to do the scene with your characters love interest in the story, but also chemistry tests aren’t exclusively for characters with romantic storylines. It could be a chemistry test for a family dynamic, with someone playing your mum, dad, or sibling. Or even a chemistry test with a best friend role! They have to make sure that that relationship absolutely reads on camera and doesn’t feel forced. 

There’s a  myriad of character relationship dynamics that are important to the story, and they just need to make sure who you are, and another actor they’re considering can work well together and make each other pop on screen.

Seeing How Well You Respond to Direction

Way more often than not the director isn’t present in the initial audition for a screen project. So they’ve seen your tape, loved what you did and your vibe and are bringing you in to see how well you can respond to direction. It’s a whole other skill in itself; getting a note or direction, interpreting what they’re asking of you, and then delivering what the director wants. You’ll be spending a lot of time with the director, and making sure there’s a dynamic between you that’s conducive to good work is crucial to the story being told properly.

Always remember if the note or direction is confusing, just ask them to put into different words. Not understanding the note is never a bad thing, but working with it, asking more about it, and finding your shared language with the director is always a great idea.

How Do I Prepare For a Callback?

If the casting agent/director has asked you to do the same material as the initial audition, just ask them (if they’re corresponding with you directly) or your agent: 

  • What will they be focussing on with the material in the callback?
  • If there’s anything specific they’d like you to prepare for before you head back in? 

If they haven’t explicitly communicated ‘let’s drop the southern for the callback, or please prepare a German accent for this one, or we’ll just do the scene without fake car driving for the callback’ ask as many questions as you can you can in advance so that you can feel adequately prepped, and your time in the room is focussed and used effectively.

If it’s been a while since the initial audition, and you’re feeling not as on your lines as you were a few weeks ago, go over those scripts, get a mate to test you and just make sure you know them back to front again. If it’s available I like to re-read the full script to see what jumps out at me differently to the last time I read it. Also take some time to go over any source material or character bio’s they gave you, just so you can reacquaint yourself with who this character is and the world they live in.

If there’re new scenes, once again, prepare those scenes back to front as you would for the first day of rehearsal. Bring in options, and stay wary of locking yourself into one way of doing it. keep it as flexible as possible so you can still respond to direction and alter it on the fly.

Something else to note with new scenes is that they’ve picked each audition scene for a very specific reason. Take note of the tone or even the purpose your character serves in each scene you’re given and figure out what specifically they want to see form you. Is this scene all about establishing relationships for the audience, is it a high stakes moment, heightened emotion, a comedy scene, a slice of life, a scene that is highly physical or is purely about plot development and functionality? 

They want to see how the character fits your skills and energy, and similarly what you can do to stay flexible and serve the role. It’s an impossible and weirdly limiting task to think about showing a director absolutely everything you can do in a 10-20 minute time frame and a two page scene. If you give yourself a simpler task of just serving the moment in the story that they’ve chosen, you’ll be surprised how much more of yourself you can bring within the limitations.

What Do I Wear to a Callback?

There’s no hard and fast rule with this stuff. Just make sure whatever you’re wearing makes you feel confident and is appropriate for the vibe of the job you’re going for.

If it’s a screen callback (particularly a TVCs) I like to wear exactly what I wore to the first audition, unless it’s been stated otherwise. It’s some advice my agent gave me for my first callback and I’ve followed it ever since. It gives one element of consistency across the footage they have of you. Same goes with hair and makeup, unless they’ve specifically asked me to do something different I try and keep it as close to what I did the first time I went in. 

Now let’s say a lot of time has passed between your initial audition and your callback (which can very much happen) and you’ve done something drastically different to your look. Your agent would already know about this and this is up to them whether they want to let the casting agent know. But again, this is only a consideration depending on the project you’re called back for. 

The only big suggestion I would give is: between your callback and finding out anything further about the job don’t do anything drastically different with your look (or book a trip somewhere). When our look and availability can make the difference between booking a job or not, then it’s definitely worth waiting a few days and finding out what the go with the project is first. Once you’ve gotten confirmation whether it’s a yes or no, then you can let your agent know you’re going to dye your hair purple and go on that holiday. 

For theatre audition callbacks, I wear what I would wear to the first day of rehearsal. Wearing clothes that are relatively neutral, something I have a good range of movement in and again something helps me imagine I’m in the world of play helps me a lot! Wear whatever makes you feel free in your work.

Who Will Be at the Callback?

This can vary wildly. Some callbacks will be just the casting agent and the director present. Some will be the casting agent in the room and the director is zoomed in, or even both of them are on zoom and you’re doing the callback in your lounge room. 

There can be the director, producer/s, writer/s, a reader or another actor who’s already cast in the play/film/tv show or ad, there could be producers from the network that’s optioning the show. My first ever callback was a combination of all of the above and it was a party for sure.

Just remember, regardless of how many people are in that room watching you, they all want you to get this job. Prep your work well, and prepare yourself for 2 or 10 people to be there, that way you can actually have some fun. And please know lovely reader that that time is yours!

Do I Get Paid For a Callback?

For an indie theatre project no, but for just about anything else–yes! 

The standard callback rates vary depending on where you’re based in the world. Equity minimums in Australia for TVC callbacks are currently at $72.40 per hour. Even if you’re not there for the full hour you should be paid the full fee. 

It’s always a good one to ask your agents about, but you can usually find callback rates for film/TV/subsidised theatre on the website of your corresponding performers union wherever you are in the world. 

Conclusion: What Should I Do After?

Now forget about the whole thing as much as you can. Try not to project your mind forward to planning your life around this awesome project you’ve just auditioned for. For now, your job was to audition. Obviously you’ve prepped your butt off, gone in there and absolutely done everything you can do.

If you don’t have to rush straight back to another job and you’ve got a spare half hour, then go and do something nice for a bit. It doesn’t have to be big; go get a nice coffee from your favourite place, or go to the park and read a bloody great book for half an hour, and then get on with your day. 

I’m a big believer in acknowledging and celebrating the small wins along the way. And a callback isn’t even a small win: it’s significant! Regardless of the outcome from here on in, it’s a huge achievement to even get in the room let alone get a callback! We get so many more no’s than yes’ so absolutely do not pass up the opportunity to take the victory, process the situation, high five yourself and carry on with your life. And if you do get that phone call, then that’s just a huge bonus.



About the Author

StageMilk Team

is made up of professional actors, acting coaches and writers from around the world. This team includes Andrew, Alex, Emma, Jake, Jake, Indiana, Patrick and more. We all work together to contribute useful articles and resources for actors at all stages in their careers.

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