This article comes from my collection on Acting – there are a few of these, written from 2005 to 2007. Enjoy.
Audition Survival Guide
Dateline: January 2007
by Sally McLean.
Auditions. Interviews. Public speaking. Anything that involves putting yourself on the line, usually creates a sense of mild (if not extreme) panic and anxiety.
Here are some suggestions to make the audition process a little less nerve-wracking, with a view to you presenting yourself in the best light possible.
AS SOON AS YOU KNOW YOU HAVE AN AUDITION BOOKED:
Prepare, prepare, prepare!!! Research, research, research!!!
Learn your piece by heart. Do your characterization work. If you can choose your own piece, make sure you know it inside out. The one thing a director is bound to do, is ask you to do it several different ways, and you won’t help yourself if you are struggling to remember the lines. Also you don’t want to go forgetting lines in the middle of it.
If it’s a piece set by the director, make sure you get a copy of it ASAP and learn it by heart – for the same reasons outlined above.
Even if you are requested to not learn the piece beforehand (this does happen), at least be EXTREMELY familiar with it and still do your research. The reason they’re asking you to not learn it is that they’re looking for spontaneity in your performance and how well your instincts work as an actor. This doesn’t always work (and in my case, with a photographic memory, can prove to be a challenge as I only have to read a scene a few times to have it memorized), and usually if they truly want spontaneity and see your instinct at work they will ask you to do a cold read on the day.
If its what’s known as a “cold read” (ie. reading from a script you will receive on the day), and you know what the play, television show or movie is about, then either watch the series, get a copy of the play or look up the internet to see what information is out there about the film, or what kind of movies the production company/director has done before.
If you can, find out about the production team – knowing who is likely to be in the audition and the kind of work they have done before will calm you considerably – it will make the audition less of an unknown quantity.
Remember: Preparation and research are the two things that will remove most of the anxiety, and set you apart from the rest of the competition.
A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE AN AUDITION
Select the clothes you are going to wear to the audition. It always pays to make sure that your favourite pair of trousers that you know flatter your figure and are comfortable in aren’t at the dry cleaners, in the wash, etc, etc. Most auditions do not require a costume (you’ll be told if they do), and the best guide is to wear something smart/casual.
Make sure you have your photo and CV ready to take with you (even if they’ve had one sent to them already, it never hurts to take a spare copy).
THE NIGHT BEFORE AN AUDITION
Make sure you know where you’re going. If you aren’t familiar with the location of the audition – look it up on a map. Make sure you leave nothing to chance – like getting lost on the way and being late – which is very unprofessional.
Eat a good dinner. Go over your piece/script one last time, then get an early night.
A rested actor is a less stressed actor and so is, by default, a more receptive actor during the audition.
THE MORNING OF THE AUDITION
Eat a good breakfast. It’s brain food and your brain will need it! Allow yourself a little more time than you normally would when getting ready to leave the house, to allow for any distractions like phone calls, children, etc.
Always allow an extra half an hour travel time to allow for road works, accidents (not yours, of course!!), and other hold ups that may occur on the way.
You should always arrive early to an audition. Most casting agents require you to fill out a form, stating your agent, measurements, etc, and you need to allow time for this. You should always arrive 15 minutes early – just to be sure.
If you are running late, and have a good reason why, either call your agent (if you have one) or the casting agent to let them know. It is courteous and professional. It won’t necessarily go against you, and they may be able to schedule you in a little later, if they can. However if you turn up late without warning them, you’re likely to not get the job anyway. Best thing to do is not be late at all.
BEFORE GOING INTO AN AUDITION
So, you’re at the audition location, you’ve filled out the forms and you’re waiting to go in to see the casting agent/director. Here’s a way to calm those nerves that have probably fully set in.
Check in with yourself – how’s your breathing? It will probably be a little shallow – due to your nerves. Make the effort to do a quick breathing exercise, drawing the breath into your body and down to your diaphram – in other words, some deep breathing. Don’t overdo it – you don’t want to hyperventilate or pass out!! But a couple of breaths that get your lower lungs and diaphram working will instantly calm you.
Find a word that gives you some strength and calmness – mine is “EASE”. It helps me to focus on the reality of the situation – I am not going to die when I walk in that room. The sky will not fall on me. This is just an audition. Other actors I know use words like “CALM” and “POWER” – it completely depends on your personality as to which word works for you. What you’re aiming for is a sense of presence, stability and a strong, yet gentle personal power.
And remember – the power is entirely with you … everyone in that room wants you do do well and is in your corner. If you do well, then their judgement in calling you in for the audition is proven to be sound – and they’re setting you up to succeed – trust me, they want you to succeed – so accept that and just concentrate on doing your job to the best of your ability – and that is … to act.
WHEN IN THE AUDITION
Most auditions begin with a quick “Hello, how are you?”, initiated by the panel/director/casting agent. Be natural, but don’t go into a litany of how bad your week was, how you’ve got a cold, how nervous you are, etc, etc. Alternatively, don’t go into a song and dance about how great life is, how excited you are to be there and how you know you’re just what they’re looking for. They don’t want to hear that – both versions of these extremes are a major turn-off for audition panels. Harsh, but true. It’s a job and you’re a professional going for that job – treat it as such.
If you do have a cold, say so, but don’t go into details. Simply saying “I’m fine. I have a bit of a cold, but other than that I’m great”, even if that isn’t remotely how you feel, is plenty. That’s enough information. You’ve let them know that you’re not 100% in your health, but you’re not going to let it affect you in your performance. You’re showing them that you’re professional!! Yay! 10 points before you even start!
Be prepared that there may be questions before you even start – “So, what have you done recently?”. This is a favourite among directors and is asked to see if you are a current practitioner of your craft. If you have recently played a role in theatre, film or television – tell them. Or, if you have done a course recently – tell them about that (briefly). If you have been working on writing or producing your own play or piece, tell them that (briefly, again). If you can’t think of anything, tell them you’ve been auditioning and networking. They have your CV, remember, and it’s generally a small industry, so don’t lie!
I can’t stress this enough. There is no point going into an audition pretending to be the character, or trying to be the person you think they want to see. While this may have worked for actors a few years ago, these days its considered dishonest, and its obvious. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT TO SEE. Sometimes, a director doesn’t even know what he/she wants to see until its presented to them. Don’t do yourself out of a role by trying to be something you’re not – leave creating a character for the moment when you do your piece – THAT’S when you’re supposed to be acting.
NEVER go in showing arrogance, being laid back or selfish. This won’t help you. One of the first things a director takes into consideration is this:
“Can I spend six weeks/months with this person, locked in a rehearsal room/theatre/studio?”
It’s true, as unfair as it sounds, its true. So just be yourself. Be the best version of yourself, but don’t try to be something you’re not.
You will only be noticed if you are YOU, because being you is what makes you unique. Be the best “YOU” possible, maybe enhance the general qualities you already share with the character you’re auditioning for, but still, BE YOU.
DOING YOUR PIECE IN THE AUDITION
Sometimes they make you stand literally on an “X” in front of them. Other times they are happy for you to move around in your piece. If you have prepared your piece with movement (ie. walking from point A to point B), and you’re not sure if that will be appropriate – ask. If it’s a “no”, then amend how you will present it to what they require. Usually, in a screen audition they don’t want you moving around too much as you’re on camera – in that situation, it’s best to stay in the one spot.
If you feel the piece you are doing requires some setting (ie. an explanation of what you’re doing), then set the scene for the panel briefly before beginning. (This normally only happens when you’ve been asked to prepare a monologue). This can take the form of “This piece is from Michael Gow’s “Away”. My name is Coral and I have just watched a version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that has deeply affected me”, or simply “This piece is from “Away” by Michael Gow”, if you feel the piece needs no explanation (which is this case, it doesn’t).
Before you begin the piece – take a moment. This is considered perfectly natural and expected. Take a moment to ground yourself. Take a couple of deep breaths and mentally step into the character. Once you’re ready, begin.
DON’T RUSH!! If you hear yourself rushing, simply slow yourself down. Listen to yourself, it will help calm the nerves.
If you forget the words – stop. Take a breath and try to pick up the thread. Try to make this look as natural as possible – as if its part of the speech.
If you are truly lost, then you are going to have to say “I’m sorry, can I pick that up from (name a place in the text that you know will lead you into the bit you’ve forgotten)”. It is then up to the panel. If you have them hooked, they may let you continue, but it is entirely at their discretion as to whether that signals the end of your audition or not.
That’s why you should always prepare, prepare, prepare!!!
With monologues, once you’ve finished the piece – let the moment linger a few seconds, then say “thank you”. This signals to the panel that you’ve finished. If you’re doing a piece from the script – hold the moment until the director says “cut” or “thank you” or similar.
NEVER apologise if you think you didn’t get it “right”. There is no “right” – you might think your performance wasn’t on par to your normal standard, but they might think you were brilliant.
The director may then ask you to do the piece in a different way – with different emotions, objectives or motivations. This should not be a problem for you if you’ve done your preparation and know the work. However, you must always be ready to let go of any preconceived ideas about the work at this moment – the reason a director is asking you to do it differently is not because you’ve got it “wrong”, but because they want to see how well you take direction. This is not the time to argue why you think the character would or wouldn’t do something in the piece. This is the time to show how well you respond to doing something differently.
Once the audition is complete, (usually signaled by the director/casting agent thanking you and saying they’ll be in touch, or something similar), thank the director/casting agent/panel for their time and gracefully leave the room.
Don’t expect to be told that you have or have not got the job in the audition. That’s what you have a telephone for. In most cases you’ll only hear from them if you get the role – as there are so many actors who audition for any given part, they don’t have time to ring all those who were unsuccessful.
If you don’t get the job – don’t take the rejection personally – despite anything written here, it’s not personal. It comes down to what the director wants and whether you were right for that particular role at that particular time. At the end of the day, luck also plays a part in getting work.
But don’t forget – it’s a small industry and a job you may not get today may lead to a job in the future – so give yourself the best chance you can by doing your homework, being yourself and above all, being professional.
The most important thing to remember is that EVERY AUDITION IS A CHALLENGE AND A CHANCE TO FURTHER HONE YOUR CRAFT AS AN ACTOR – SO CELEBRATE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW YOUR STUFF!!
NOTES ON AUDITION PIECES (FOR THEATER AUDITIONS)
Learn two modern monologues in your age range – one comedic, one dramatic. If you’re a singer, learn two songs – one ballad and one up-tempo.
Always keep these pieces polished and ready for auditions. It’s that simple. If you do this, you will save yourself a lot of trouble for general casting calls. Number one, you won’t have that last minute panic in learning a piece or the worry that you’ll lose your lines in the audition, and number two – you’ll be able to walk in there with genuine confidence because you know your pieces backwards and so nerves (which are natural) won’t affect your performance as much as they could otherwise.
Obviously change these pieces every month or so (which not only gives you fresh material, but also keeps you in practice for learning lines and developing characters). The other advantage to this practice is that when you get those auditions that require a specific piece, you will already be in the swing of learning monologues and scenes and so won’t be struggling with getting back into gear.
SELECTING AUDITION PIECES
- Don’t do a piece from the play/show you are auditioning for, unless instructed to do so by the director/casting agent (and if they do want you to do a piece from the play, they will usually provide the specific scenes for you when you book the audition)
- Know the play you’ve chosen the piece from
- Choose a piece close to your age (a guide is 5 years maximum either side of your actual age)
- Choose a piece you can do in your own accent, unless the job requires an accent, then only do the accent if you do it well
- Try and find something new/different – read plays and see theatre to get ideas of new pieces to do
- Listen to yourself and your instincts when choosing a piece
- Do all of your characterization research
© S. McLean 2007. All rights reserved.