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Part 1 : Interview with The Creator of Audition Update Tom Lapke

Written By LimeLight App—

I always felt like it's important to learn from the people before you so when LimeLight wanted to focus on a place where people could talk about their past work experiences. I needed to reach out to Tom. Audition Update and Gig and Tell didn't just come out of thin air it was made by an Incredibly hard working actor who wanted to help our industry. There was so much amazing information talking with Tom so I decided to make it a couple of parts.

Spencer: So my first question for you is, in your own words, can you tell me what Gig and Tell was?

Tom: Sure. So Gig and Tell was a section of a larger website that I created called Audition Update. It was a section that was added later on after the initial inception of the site. So the site that everybody knew was just a forum where you could update one another on auditions and who the casting directors were in the room. I would sort of observe how people were organically trying to use the site. So that was the only option they had at that point, was that one feed. Then people were just kind of using the site to just post random things about the industry that they were having trouble with and wanting to complain about or commiserate about. That created the inception of the Bitching Post. Then I saw people trying to inform one another about specific jobs like, Hey, has anybody ever worked at this location Or at this theater? Kind of like a Yelp for theaters. Then we added the Gig and Tell section of the site.

Spencer: Amazing. So then how did Audition Update start? Where you like, Hey, so I'm just gonna make this page?

Tom: It was back in 2009, <laugh> I was an equity actor and I was sitting at an equity call, I wanna say it was for Westport County Playhouse. I got there and it was this weird window where the time slot that I got was 11 o'clock. So it didn't really make sense to go all the way back to Astoria and then get back on the train and come back. So I just sat there and waited from 8:30 to 11:30 or whatever. When I walked in the room, there were two 19 year old kids sitting behind the table. Um, and I was just kinda like, Hey, guys, what's going on? And they were just grinning ear to ear, thrilled to be there,and they were like just living the dream, man. And I was just like….you have no say in who is being cast or not. I just thought to myself, if somebody who I had known had already gone here and updated me on this, or I can now update my friends about this. That just stuck with me, I couldn't stop thinking about it. At that time smartphones had just come out. The IPhone was brand new, and most people still were texting one another. You always have like an audition buddy. And I thought, well, if there's a way to sort of democratize that information on one spot it would make everything a lot easier. It was actually started as a for-profit business in the sense that it was a service where we would log all the auditions for the day, and you could choose the type of auditions that you wanted. You know, if you're a musical theater actor and you have no interest in Shakespeare, you might not wanna get those calls. And they would get a text to your phone, based on the information. I hired a whole team of monitors, for lack of a better term, that I sent out to all the auditions every day. They collected the information and then we distributed it via text message.

Equity hated that. They didn't like that somebody was going and putting out the information on their auditions, that they didn't have a hand in. I was an Equity actor at the time, and I said, well, that's great, but I'm still gonna do it. I had to hire a legal team. And their final decision on the matter at the time was, we're just gonna tell the monitors that it's up to them if they want to interact with the people who I was sending to the auditions. And some of them thought it was a great idea, and some of them didn't, they would just turn the information sheet over and not give them the information.

Spencer: Oh my God.

Tom: If I can't guarantee the information, I can't charge for the information. If I can't charge for the information, I can't pay the people who I'm sending out there. Mind you, at this point I'm employing about seven actors,part-time to go to auditions that they were already going to anyway. At the end of the day, I just ran outta money, right. So I had to shut it down. I went and tucked my tail between my legs for about two weeks, but still couldn't stop thinking about it. And eventually came up with the idea of, what if everybody is just contributing to a community site? We're just sort of creating this community, and then if it gets popular enough, we can run ads on it. We rebuilt it from the ground up, and that's what we ended up doing. I launched the first Audition Update in February of 2010. We were shut down by June of 2010, and we relaunched in August of 2010. And that iteration is what everybody came to know.

Spencer: Wow. So, did you always feel like you were a business person too? I feel like actors are really CEOs of their own business. But did you always feel like you were going to do something like this?

Tom: I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, I've always found my own ways to make extra money when I was in school. But I didn't come to New York thinking like, I'm gonna act and I'm also gonna do this other thing.

Spencer: How'd you get that money in the beginning to start Audition Update?

Tom: Part of it was my own money. Uh, I took out a loan, and the other one, the amount of it I raised, with investors.

Spencer: What was your true hope for Audition Update, if it all worked out what was your all-time goal?

Tom: My goal was that I would create enough traffic to the site that I could sell ads on the site. That I would make enough money that I didn't have to wait tables and I could just focus on that and my acting career. At the end of the day, the whole reason I started it and put in the time as a business was becauseI was so tired of waiting tables.

Spencer: Yeah. Truly. That's what I was doing before and I can't stand it. How were you able to get everything done?

Tom: That first year was tough because I basically worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week for a year straight. I was teaching in the morning then I would come home, I would go to auditions, come back from auditions, get ready, work on Audition Update, then go to my wait staff job, then come home, work on Audition Update till about two in the morning, then get up at six the next day and start all over again.

Spencer: How did you get the word out?

Tom: I was going to every audition myself and posting it on Facebook, so that people were getting used to the information. I was going to every audition by myself for the first few months just to get the information out there and being very transparent, like, Hey, this is a thing that I'm starting in a few months we're going to transfer all of this information over to the website that you can subscribe to. I think I showed up at the open call for Rock of Ages that was at Chelsea Studios at the time. And the line was literally around the block. And I had gone to Costco and got 12 cases of water and just handed out water to everybody in the lines that were waiting, cuz it was the middle of summer with a little Audition Update piece of paper that told them information about it. You know, just kind of doing lead work like that just to get the word out about it.

Spencer: That made me think of this infamous hairspray call. It was an audition where like 500 girls showed up and a line wrapped around Pearl, like the whole building. So some things never change...

Coming up on the next post: What was it like working with Backstage and how that came to be.

Stay Tuned !

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