There is no show opening this weekend in the Huntsville area, so it’s time for another commentary article. This one is aimed at the folks who are headed for an audition, maybe for the first time (good for you!), and need some advice. There are whole college classes for this, and entire books full of tips, so obviously this short article is only going to hit the high points. But hopefully, it will be useful for everyone.
So, you heard about an audition from this website’s audition information page, and have decided to dive in. Great! What now? Do you sit around getting nervous for a few weeks and then just show up and cross your fingers? Heck, no. It’s time to get to WORK, if you want to maximize your chances of landing that role.
Before the Audition
Read the script. This is one of the most important things you can do. You need to know the show and the characters, so that you know what you are going for.
- The good news is that most amateur theatre groups are more than happy to let you read the script before the auditions–some even let you check them out and take them home. Just call and ask. But if it comes down to it, buying your own copy of the script is an option. Prices range $5-$15 per script, depending on the publishing house. Some publishers will not sell scripts, but will only rent them (generally companies specializing in musicals), and that can be a problem, because those companies won’t rent to individuals, only to organizations, which you aren’t.
- At the very least, watch the movie version, if it exists, or read the source material on which the play is based. Playwrights do take poetic license, so these won’t give you a perfect understanding of the play, but it’s still better than nothing at all.
- Reading the script helps you understand what kind of play this is. Is it a comedy, drama, whodunit, what? Even those categories are overly broad, but still, knowing what style of show it is will help you understand how the characters should behave–in other words, how you need to act.
- Having read the script, you can answer intelligently about which part you want. Or, just maybe, you decide this play isn’t for you. Hopefully, you aspire higher than getting cast in “anything within a 20-year age range”. You should want a specific part when you show up to the auditions.
- If you’re asked to do cold readings from the script, it won’t be totally “cold” for you. You’ll hopefully recognize the page of script, and remember what is going on at that point, and know what your character is going through at that moment.
Prepared monologues or songs. Required for some auditions (mandatory in the professional world).
- The #1 rule here is to NOT use something from the actual show for which you are auditioning. Especially in the amateur world, it seems 1/3rd of the auditioners show up with the exact same song, and that gets really old for the people at the director’s table. You do NOT want them groaning when you start your presentation.
- For either a monologue or song, do pick something in the same STYLE as the show and the character you are going for.
- For songs, there is no need to learn the entire thing–they really will have made up their mind about 4 bars into it, so just sing a verse or a chorus and get off the stage.
- Obviously, pick pieces that you can dominate, and that show off what you can do.
- REHEARSE them! Do I need to say that again? Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Supposedly, when asked to do a prepared piece, the director assumes you…you know…prepared. Stumble through your lines, miss a note, or look uncomfortable…just what do you expect the director to think about your skills?
Dress. Do NOT dress in costume, or in period attire. That’s just weird. But there’s nothing to say you can’t SUGGEST your desired character. You should absolutely show up to an Oklahoma audition in jeans, or a dress that suggests “western”; and to a How to Succeed in Business audition in a work dress, or a shirt and tie. Or at least dress appropriately for the social status of the character, regardless of the time period of the play. Always remember, however, that you did NOT dress that way BECAUSE of the audition…that just HAPPENS to be what you were wearing today, right? It’s part of your normal wardrobe, right? (*wink, wink*)
Arriving at the Audition
Be early. Shows professionalism, and gives you time to relax.
Warm up/stretch. Get those kinks out. Get the vocal cords ready. Relax.
Be honest on the audition form.
- Do not lie about past experience.
- Do NOT lie about conflicts. True, you may not get cast this time if you have a bunch of days you aren’t available, but the first time you get cast and THEN reveal all the days you can’t rehearse, it will be the last time you ever work with that director (and if you are THAT talented, that you will get cast again anyway, cut it out–nobody likes a prima donna). It’s okay to not list days you MAY be busy, but if you know you won’t be available, put it down on the form. Unless it’s a one-person show, conflicts can almost always be worked around.
- If you are only interested in certain characters, then don’t check the block saying you “will take any part cast in”. If you want the part of “Chris”, say that. The director is only going to give you “Chris”, because he or she wants you for “Chris”, not because you seem like a team-player and said you’d take any part. It’s just annoying for the director to cast the show at their dining room table, and then start calling around, only to hear that you won’t really take any other part. If there’s only one part you want, say that. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
Be professional. As in, be quiet and respectful of the process and your fellow artists. Stay off the phone. Save your whispered conversations for later. Your audition started as soon as you walked in the door.
The audition started as soon as you walked in the door. Yes, I just repeated myself, and there’s probably a reason for that.
Your Turn Onstage
Smile. At least for auditions where prepared pieces are required, expect to have to introduce yourself. Even if you aren’t, you’ll still spend some time onstage when you aren’t actually performing, like right when you walk up on stage. Use that time to get across that you are a nice person, and everyone loves working with you. Even if that’s not true, ACT like it is.
Find your light/spike marks. If there is a specific spot onstage that they want auditioners to be, then be there.
Have the sheet music marked. For auditions with prepared songs, there is usually an audition pianist waiting to accompany you. These generally will be rather talented musicians, able to play just about anything on sight, but have mercy on them. They are probably almost as nervous as you are, because they ARE being asked to play something they’ve never seen before, and they really do want to do right by you. The following things will increase the odds that they will be able to provide the support you want.
- Have sheet music, clearly printed. By machine. Unless your score-writing penmanship looks like a computer print-out, don’t bring hand-written scores.
- Have your sheet music clearly marked for where the accompanist should start, and where they should stop.
- Have the sheet music in a thin 3-ring binder; or if it’s only a few pages (up to three), then taping it all together into one wide sheet is fine.
- Feel free to take ten seconds before you go onstage, quietly pointing out a key change, for example, or tapping out the tempo you want.
- Understand that the accompaniment will definitely sound different than the Broadway soundtrack you’ve been listening to, and even different than a rehearsal accompanist you may have practiced with (unless THIS is who you rehearsed with). On that note, there’s nothing wrong with bringing your own accompanist, if you are that fortunate.
- Once you start singing, just keep going. The pianist is guiding off of you, not the other way around. If you need to hear a certain note in order to get the song right, then you didn’t rehearse enough.
Be heard. This is so basic, that I shouldn’t have to say it, but, whether it’s acting or singing, if they can’t hear you, then they can’t decide if they like your work. And obviously, they will assume you won’t be heard during performances either.
Be seen. If there are cold readings, don’t hide your face behind the script. Of course, the next mistake people make is to have the script down out of the way, but they then have their head down, reading the lines. Either way, the director can’t see your face. Your eyeballs DO move inside your head, so hold that script below your chin line, and keep your face up.
Make choices. You know, ACT! This is why you are here! Whether a prepared monologue, or a cold reading, or a song, ACT! Don’t be boring. The director is going to pick cold-read scenes because something interesting is happening in those couple pages. Make a strong choice and run with it. You think the character is angry, than let us see it. You think the character is sad? Great, do it. Don’t worry if that’s not how the director sees that scene. If they see you doing SOMETHING, they know you can act. If you happen to be doing it “wrong”, no worries–that’s easy to fix during rehearsals. If you are tentative, and give a flat performance just because you aren’t sure how it’s supposed to be done, all they see is a flat performance. Interesting choices get cast, flat performances do not.
Take direction. If the director ever says, “okay, let’s do that again, but this time, try it like this…”, give yourself a mental high-five. Quickly. If the director didn’t see anything in you, he or she would not be wasting everyone’s time. Take those directing notes to heart, REALLY drink them in, and knock the next iteration out of the park.
Feel free to read the lines, but don’t worry about word-perfect. The director is not expecting a real scene, ready for an audience. He or she is testing your ACTING, not your reading ability. Reading auditions are BORING. There is nothing wrong with pausing for a second when it’s your line, glancing at it long enough to get the gist, and then looking up and DOING that line. Who cares if you miss a word or two; the idea is to ACT. Give the director something to look at. On that note, if someone you are auditioning with does miss a word or two, or doesn’t notice the one extra line they were supposed to say, don’t stand there staring at them to fix it, just keep moving. Go. Trust me, the director is not staring at the lines either, they’re looking at you, and they really don’t care whether you get every word right at the audition.
Listen. Unless you have the very first line, then your acting is actually RE-acting to whatever was just said or done. Just like in an actual performance, feel free to act when it’s not your turn to speak. Trust me, the director will notice. It can get really odd watching a group of people staring at scripts in their hands, and only “turning on” when it’s their line. Don’t be one of those people.
Don’t memorize the script. If you happen to have every line in the play for this character memorized for some reason (I’ve seen it), for goodness sake, don’t let them know that. You may think you’re showing off with how prepared you are, by being able to audition a scene “off-book”, but you are actually shooting yourself in the foot. When a director sees someone auditioning off-book, the subconscious assumption is that what they see is the final performance–that THAT is your opening night character. That may not be true, but if a director sees two people who did pretty well, and one of them was reading the lines, and the other was off-book, they’re highly likely to cast the reader, because obviously that person is going to get even better once they do have the lines memorized. I’m not recommending it at all, but does this mean you can’t memorize the entire play before the audition, if you really want? No, but still pretend that you are looking at the lines. You know, act. (Side note, this is actually a VERY good tactic for screen-work call-backs, but that’s another article.)
Make no excuses. Just show up and do your best.
- The most common occurrence is catching a horrible cold the day of the auditions, making your singing voice crack and turning your talking voice into a dinosaur impersonation. Do NOT walk up onstage and start explaining about your horrible cold. They don’t want excuses, and you’re wasting time. What they should see is someone who goes up there and does their damnedest, pushing through the obvious difficulties. They will still notice that you are under the weather, and will give you some benefit of the doubt. They just don’t want to hear excuses.
- Now…assuming you can be subtle, there are some…”techniques”, shall we say. Is it possible to sit there quietly stifling your coughs between other auditions, and taking a few seconds on your way to the stage to blow your nose? Absolutely. This is semi-ACTING. You DO have a cold, and it WILL impact your audition. There’s nothing wrong with making sure they know you aren’t 100%, without you ever actually bringing it up. They should see you “trying to hide it”. Of course, you aren’t going to be disrespectful and cough and blow during someone else’s time onstage. But…if you manage to get across that you are a real trooper who soldiers on through great difficulty with no excuses or apologies, and still manage to turn in a decent audition…kudos.
The director is not your enemy. Trust me, the director is probably rooting for you more than anyone else in the room. Of course, he or she is rooting for every single person that goes up there–they want to have the difficult job of choosing between a whole roomful of amazing performers. Still, take it for what it’s worth. Feel that positive vibe, and go with it. The director really is on your side.
Keep the same look. This is important if you aren’t already good friends with the people at the director’s table. Assuming the call-back is on a different day, if there was anything distinctive about what you wore, or your hairstyle, or jewelry, or whatever, from audition night, then keep it for the call-back. They will remember “the person in the red sweater”. If they don’t see a red sweater at the call-backs, they’ll get confused. Help them remember the person who obviously did well enough to make it to the call-backs.
It’s a clean slate. You made it this far, but there are no guarantees yet. If you kicked butt at the audition, don’t rest on your laurels for the call-back. The reverse is also true, if you thought you bombed the audition, anything is still possible, or you wouldn’t be there. Regardless, go in there calm, focused, and ready to give it 100%. There is no shame in not getting the part, only in not having given it your full effort.
Assume you’ve already been pegged for one, maybe two possible roles. You should be able to tell which parts they’re considering you for pretty darn quickly, because they’ll be the ones you’re actually reading for. If that part is one you want, great. Use available time to “get into character”. If you aren’t interested in that character, why didn’t you say that on the audition sheet?
See the above notes about the initial audition–be nice, be professional, be seen, be heard, make choices, be memorable. And try not to hyperventilate.
After the Audition
Congratulations, you made it through another audition. You may not get the part, but you gave it a shot. Auditioning is a different skill set from actual performances, and there are many people that can do one, but not the other. So, if nothing else, you got to hone your craft. Even for theatre pros, auditions can be nerve-wracking. People who have been performing for decades, and don’t really get butterflies on opening nights anymore, are still tied up in knots and hiding cold sweats at auditions.
Will you get the part? Who knows. Trust me, there will be many times over an acting lifetime, when you will NOT get the part you wanted. It happens. Move on. Don’t define yourself by those. Remember, there will always be another role in another play. Here in the Huntsville area, we have a show opening almost every weekend of the year. If you don’t make this play, head to the next audition. Don’t give up. As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” (For the younger folks who may not recognize that name, *sigh* look him up.)
Analyze your work. How do YOU think you did? Are you happy with your song, dance, reading, whatever? If so, then great! That doesn’t mean you’ll get the part (sometimes directors have very specific things in mind, and you have no idea what that is), but if you don’t get it, you’ll know it’s not because you messed up. On the other hand, maybe there IS something you wish you had done better…that’s also great! Now you have identified what to work on before the next audition.
Treat yourself. Right now, as you walk out of the audition, your nerves are tingling with a weird adrenaline mix of excitement and dread. Give yourself time to come down off that. One trick is to pre-plan a mini-reward for yourself after the audition is over–an ice cream, a soak in a hot tub, whatever. Promise yourself that beforehand, and then actually do it. Go relax and unwind.
And at least pretend that you aren’t checking your messages every two minutes.
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