Q&A: Tales from an Open Call With Jenna Leigh Miller

Jenna Leigh Miller is an actress based in New York City. Hailing from Easton, Pennsylvania, she grew up traveling back and forth into the city for auditions and shows. Regionally, she has appeared in Hairspray (Tracy Turnblad) at Education Theatre Collaborative, Suessical (Sour Kangaroo) and Rock of Ages at Millbrook Playhouse, The Velveteen Rabbit at Jenny Wiley Theatre,  and most recently, Beauty and the Beast (Wardrobe) at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. Jenna recieved her BFA in Musical Theatre from Otterbein University.

I chatted with Jenna recently about her experience as a non-Equity actor in New York City. Working towards her Equity card, Jenna says that her best chances of getting seen in front of creative teams are at open calls! She sheds light on open calls, how early to get there, and breaks down unofficial lists, "typing," and more!

Jenna Leigh Miller

Jenna Leigh Miller

Where do you typically find audition notices?

Backstage, Playbill, Actos Access, specific theater’s website

What time do you usually arrive at an open call?

In between 4-6 AM. I like to be under #30. I find I get more callbacks when I go earlier in the day. Plus I am normally done by 12 or 1PM at the latest, which is PRIME!

Have you ever been early enough to start the unofficial list?

Yes, many times. I like to be in the front of the line. If it was up to me, I would go first for every audition! 

What happens if the monitor doesn’t accept the list? 

If the list isn’t accepted, I set up camp outside and wait in the physical line.

What do you bring with you to an open call?

Water, headphones, phone, book, snacks, a notebook, planner, dance clothes, dance shoes, highlighter, pens, cough drops, a clipboard, headshots, resumes, comfy clothes, audition clothes and shoes, a tape measure.

What should an actor new to NYC expect in an audition holding room?

That it’s a lot. It’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s intimidating. Normally no one knows what is going on... but all that being said, that’s why it’s so exciting! Seeing people from different contracts, talking to the new people beside you, experiencing these crazy ridiculous situations together is just too funny not to laugh at them!

Do you have a favorite activity to do during auditions to help pass the time and keep focused?

I like to go over scenes if I was given them in advance or talk to my audition buddy for that day, or on occasion read a book, update my planner, scroll insta. But normally I just like to get to know the people around me, plus it’s #networking at its finest!

How do you warm up for the call?

To be completely honest, I don’t normally warm up because to rent out a room for every audition is expensive. And I’m on a strict actor budget. Plus, you never want to be that person in the corner of the holding room warming up... (ugh such a pet pev of mine). If I am not feeling warmed up at all, I will use a straw in my water bottle and do some sirens. I keep straws in all my water bottles for this purpose. 

How often does “typing” happen? How does it work?

I’d say typing occurs 3 times for every 15 auditions I go on. So typing can be done in two ways: in person or by headshot and resume. In person, you normally go into the audition room and stand in a line and state your name and an interesting fact about yourself. You may also just stand in a line and say nothing... that has happened to me before and yes it’s super awkward. When they type by headshot and resume the monitor collects all the headshots/resumes and then she will come back normally 15-30 mins later reading off a list of people they would like to stay.

Once you’re in the room at a singer open call, has the creative team ever asked for a second song?

Yes! I’d say for every 10 auditions I go to I’m asked maybe 8 times for a second song.... and sometimes even a third song! So make sure your book and your brain are always ready for that!

What’s your favorite thing to do to reward yourself after an open call? 

To be frank, I try not to reward myself too often because, in the peak of audition season, that would be so many rewards! Normally it’s a nap or I go home and cook a good meal. I try not to make a habit of buying myself something as a “reward” because that is a horrible habit to break. But I am human and I do love a fun Starbs drink on occasion!

As actors in New York City, we’ve seen it all. What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever encountered at an open call?

Hmmm... so many to choose from. Probably my weirdest audition this season was when I went in for this new theatre company.

So this was a huge day of auditions. There were 3 big open calls that I wanted to get seen at so I got up at 3AM, beat my face, started the first unofficial list at 4 AM, went to the second open call at 4:30AM, was ninth in that list, waited till 8AM to sign up for an appointment time, got to the third line and waited till 8:30AM to get an appointment time for the third audition, then head back downtown for the first audition. Sat in the TINEST holding room ever in Ripley-Grier (I think this room was meant for like voice lessons). I was first at this audition and right before I go in, they cut us down to 8 bars. It’s 10 AM and they are already down to 8 bars (lol). 

So I walk in the room and it is tiny again and there are, no joke, 10 kids sitting on the floor in front of the table where the artistic director and director are. And while I was singing my 8 bars, the two boys on the floor right in front of me were picking each other’s noses. Hahaha I DIED! Needless to say I was so distracted I did not get a callback but glad I dodged that bullet!

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