I’ll never forget the day I first walked into casting director Cecily Adams’ office to audition for a small role on That 70’s Show. I was terrified. As a young girl brand new on the acting scene is Los Angeles, ignorance was not bliss. I was fully aware that I had no idea what I was doing.
I moved to LA to pursue the film and television industry. In those years I worked as an actor, and in between auditions and filming I jumped in behind the scenes by working those notoriously long hours in film production. I loved doing whatever acting jobs I got, but working in production attracted me as well. By working behind the scenes I learned far more about the ins and outs of the entertainment industry than I ever anticipated.
With nerves going like crazy I pulled onto the studio lot for my audition that day and proceeded through security. The guy behind the desk handed me a visitor’s pass and, knowing I was obviously there for an audition, said, “Good luck.” I thanked him and went on my way, following directions on the studio map in my hand to the casting office.
For the most part, auditions didn’t really cause that much anxiety in me anymore. I had done enough of them to know how to prepare and actually enjoy them. According to my manager and acting coach, drama was my forte. That’s why my manager initially signed me-I was strong in drama. But this was comedy! Comedy is a whole different ballgame. One I didn’t have much experience in yet. And not only was this comedy, it was a sitcom. A comedic sitcom shot in front of a studio audience like That 70’s Show, Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond is completely different than dramas like Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy or even comedies like The Office or 30 Rock.
And to make matters even more interesting, I only found out about the audition mere hours before, so there was no time to get with an acting coach for some help. Winging it was my only option.
Walking into the office waiting area where several other girls sat quietly studying scripts and preparing for their auditions, I remember Cecily’s associate G. Charles Wright entering the room, motioning for the next girl and saying, “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!” That definitely was not the lighthearted, humorous welcome I had come to expect at most casting offices.
I waited and read over my script for about five minutes which seemed like an eternity and yet not enough time all at once. Upon hearing my name called and entering the room I was met with a smiling casting director who introduce herself and her associate and said I could begin whenever I was ready. Cecily was having G. Charles Wright read through the scene with the actors so she could watch. I knew my lines and didn’t stumble on any, but it still felt like an awkward performance. I sat there thinking to myself, “After she says ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ I should go register for a comedy class or something and avoid making an idiot out of myself again.”
After ending the scene I looked over at Cecily who said, “Have you done sitcom work before?” Here it comes. This is where I get the polite “We’ll call you” or something else not so polite. I was thinking, “Does it show that much?” But I just said, “Not yet.”
Only, she didn’t say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” She asked me to try it again. So I did. After the second reading Cecily thought for a moment and said, “You’ve got the acting ability. You just need to know how to fit that into the structure a sitcom requires. I can help you with that.” In an effort to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor I uttered a surprised and grateful, “Ok, that would be great.”
Seeming as though she had all the time in the world (which I knew she didn’t because there were six more girls out there still waiting to audition) Cecily went on to explain that the foundation of comedy for both writing and acting is timing. Without the proper rhythm creating beats, pauses and perfectly-timed line deliveries, the jokes simply fall flat. I had often observed the differences between sitcoms and dramas, but until that day I hadn’t really understood how to carry that over into an acting strategy.
Cecily reached for my script and with a pen divided up the lines and showed me the rhythms created by the writers throughout the scene. She told me to take a minute and look over those notes she added, and then G. and I read the scene again. It felt a lot more natural and much funnier too, but I wasn’t completely sure about it until they looked at each other smiling and Cecily said, “See how much better it sounds when you nail the timing? That was great!”
I didn’t end up getting the part that day. But I walked away with something much more important. Not only did I leave that afternoon understanding comedy much better and believing I could become good at it, I also I realized that, though they may be few and far between, there are actually good people in this industry willing to help someone like me just for the sake of kindness and generosity.
Cecily Adams had nothing to gain from helping me that day. She knew I didn’t exactly fit the “type” they were looking for in casting this particular character. Yet she took the time and effort to work with me anyway. To this day, after now having hundreds of auditions under my belt with all kinds of casting directors (some nice, many not), when I think of that audition I never cease to be amazed at the time both Cecily and G. Charles Wright took to graciously teach me something even knowing they would not directly benefit from it. From there I went on to perform in improv shows and work in comedy quite often; a result stemming directly from that encounter with a rare, generous casting director.
In March of 2004, Cecily Adams passed away. At the age of 39, the wife and mother had to say goodbye to her husband of 19 years and their beautiful young daughter. Cecily certainly was and still is dearly missed by those who loved her.