10 Tips for Successful Auditions

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Good evening. I’m Cait, I’ll be taking the first half of tonight’s workshop, dealing specifically with techniques and tips for auditioning. Bernie will take over after the break to do some work on acting – the part that comes after your audition. 
I want to start very quickly by just saying that while I have a good bit of directing experience – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Much Ado About Nothing, and Rope, as well as the title role in Sylvia a few years back to let me see things from the other side of the lights - this is my first time teaching this particular workshop, so please forgive me if we find the time a little over- or under-used. I’m hoping we’ll have time when I get done with my prepared stuff to hear a monologue or two and have a group constructive critique to finish.
The two most important things to keep in mind while auditioning are these: first, that the director is your friend. I want to cast you. I’d love for you to make it a rotten hard decision to figure out which of a bunch of talented people I get to work with. Second, that your goal here is not merely to show that you read well, but also that you are someone with whom the director will enjoy working, that you won’t be an attitude problem, that you’re a good team player, all of that good stuff.
Your aim in auditioning, then, is to paint the director a picture of you being a part of their successful production, doing what’s needed of you. So, now I’ve established the aim, I’ll move on. We have about eighty minutes here and I’ve got about fifteen areas to discuss, so we’ll be holding discussion to a limit, but do feel free to ask questions when you need to. I’ll say my bit about each topic, then we can talk about it for a bit, and then move on.
10 Tips for Successful Auditions:
1. Memorisation
I can’t stress this enough, particularly in the area of amateur theatre. One of the concerns a director will often have is, how well can this person learn their lines? By far the easiest way you can lay that concern to rest during your audition is to bring a prepared piece. Unless the audition notice explicitly asks you not to prepare a speech, you will gain several things by memorisation.
First, you don’t need to have any paper in your hand (though it’s a good idea). This means you’ll be able to make eye contact with the director and/or whomever else might be there, as well as move your body in much less restricted ways. This is a big help. For more, see Physicality.
Second, you’re showing the director you can memorise. That’s a big plus, particularly in amateur theatre.
Third, you will sound more fluent, more capable, as you’ll have had a chance to work over any bugs in the monologue, such as difficult-to-pronounce words, emotional hot spots, and garden path situations.
Fourth, you avoid the flatness and hesitancy often associated with cold-reading.
Do bring the script with you when you memorise something. Hold it in one hand, or place it somewhere convenient near you on stage, so you can grab it quickly if you run into a tough spot. Not only does this help to cut down on the chance of becoming lost or forgetting your lines, but it says subconsciously to the director that you’ve been working on it, and that you were still working on it out in the reception area.
Overconfidence isn’t necessarily attractive – it can hint toward an actor who is difficult to direct, who doesn’t take direction very well. If I see someone who seems overconfident, I almost always assign them a cold read or a different read of their monologue, just to see whether they’ve any wits, or if they’re just good at memorising. Given the choice between a sharp wit who’s okay with memorisation and a sharp memoriser with a dull wit, I’ll take the wit. Memorisation can be taught…usually. 
2. Hygiene and dress
Make sure you shower, brush your teeth, tidy your hair and so on. If you feel you must wear cosmetics, go light on them. Directors want to see what you look like, not what Revlon can make you look like. Remember that people are going to be working closely (in the physical sense) with you when the show starts, and this is the time to start making the impression that you’ll not be unpleasant to be near.
You’re going to be doing stressful, anxiety-causing things, and it’s smart to prepare for that – strong deodorant, for instance, if you tend to sweat when anxious, and don’t forget your breath – if you have to do a dialogue for the director as well, you don’t want to be stunning your co-auditioner with the remains of that anchovy, pickle and limburger sandwich you had for dinner.
As to clothing, unless the call says that they want you in specific clothing, be sure that your clothing is clean and comfortable, and appropriate for moving around easily. For me as a director, I also like it when people’s clothing is distinct without being outrageous. Remember that the director is, in all likelihood, looking at dozens of auditioners. If you want to be cast, you need some way to stand out. Your physical presentation can help achieve that. It’s a fine line, though – don’t wear things that will distract from your performance. You want them to notice your physical form, but not to focus on it. It’s your brain that gets you the role.
Oh – and turn off your cellphone/pager/other high-tech noisemakers.
3. Choose your monologue carefully
There are many, many sources for monologues on the Internet. Finding the right one for you can be a challenge, but when you get it right, can be a real boost. You may want to leap directly for the play being produced, but this can be a double-edged sword. Yes, you put yourself in the play, but you might also make it more difficult for the director to see you in any other part, which could be bad. If someone else turns up who’s better for that part, you may find yourself not cast.
As a director, I’m looking for something that allows you to show a range of emotions and responses. I want to see, at a minimum, happy, sad, and angry. Getting any two of those in a single monologue is a hit, while nailing all three is a home run.
The one thing to always include, if you can, is humour. Playing funny is MUCH harder than playing serious, so always try and show off your comedic timing. Do this even if the show is terribly serious. Why? Because a stage show is like a family, and a smart director is going to look for you to be someone the family can get along with. A sense of humour is a BIG plus. If you can’t get it into your monologue, then within the bounds of behaving professionally, put some humour into your introduction or chatting with the director before and after the monologue.
As an actor, I always have two monologues mostly ready (a bit of refreshing is never bad). One Elizabethan, one contemporary. With auditions coming, I’ll take out the appropriate one, and make sure I’ve got it completely memorised. Then run the audition number several times, preferably with a friend who has some theatre experience and doesn’t mind being constructively critical.
Try to avoid taking monologues from movies. Film and stage work are quite different, and a piece that might be a scream in a movie might be a bust on stage.
Length: single-spaced, not more than a full page or so. At MOST. Remember the range you want to display? You need to do it in as short a time as possible. This will show the director your ability to follow changes in direction in their script with aplomb.
4. Physicality
This is the trap into which all too many people fall, with a special emphasis on young women, and men in their early 20s (more on that later, in the How Not To Get Cast section). Try to move around while performing your monologue. This is worth practicing at home, maybe with someone watching you, so you can have suggestions on what is and what isn’t working physically.
There’s almost never a time on stage where you’re going to stand still for a couple of minutes, reciting a speech. Use the space you’re given: move around on the stage, stand up, sit down, lie down, whatever. MOVE. This is where memorisation becomes so handy, because it’s a lot easier to move freely when you’re not reading from a page.
Remember, also, to use your arms. This is one of those areas where young women in particular tend to fall down: acting from the wrists or elbows instead of from the shoulders. Try to avoid scenery-chewing; you want gesture that is just a little bit bigger than life, because you’re trying to have it seen from a distance. But only a little – too much, and you’re going to overdo it. People rarely stand with their arms at their sides, reciting, so it’s not very helpful to the director if that’s what you do.
5. Other prep stuff
So far I’ve mentioned memorising, monologue choosing, and physicality as areas which can all be helpful in preparing before the date of the auditions. There are some other things you can do before the date to be ready.
Perform your monologue. This is important. You need to stand it up in front of people, two or three if you can, ideally other theatrefolk. Use a space where you can move around, maybe with some furniture, but where you can be seen clearly by your audience. As much as possible, make it like a real audition experience. The object here is to reduce your anxiety before the auditions, so you can walk in looking and feeling confident and competent. An attitude of quiet competency is very attractive for a director – someone who’s adaptable, smart, and a good team player, and all of these things contribute to your looking that way.
Resumes are good, but often the director will want you to fill out their audition form too. Make sure you know all your experience, or bring it on another sheet so you can copy it out. Don’t forget to include any important skills you might have – other languages or stage combat for instance. Don’t be tempted into lying about your age, height, or anything like that. The director takes a lot of auditions, and will often have a sharper eye than you’ll expect for whether or not someone matches what they’ve said. It probably doesn’t need to be said that being untrustworthy is not an ideal way to get cast.
Bring water. It’s a bad idea to drink coffee, alcohol or caffeinated drinks before an audition. You want to use nothing that can take you away from your reality – you need to show the director who you are, not what coffee or alcohol does to you. Also, nervousness can cause dry mouth, and constantly licking your lips because you’re dry as a bone isn’t going to help your chances.
6. Director psychology, and your own
Remember this: The Director Is Not Your Enemy.
That person listening to you down there hopes even more than you do that you’re the One Amazing Actor No Show Can Do Without. They want you to be good at this. As much as you are likely to be terribly anxious, it’s entirely possible that they are too. The director is worried about whether or not they’ll get people who can be cast to make their show great. About whether they can recognise people who are good or not. About whether they’ll cast someone whom the rest of the cast won’t get along with.
The director has a lot of concerns, may well be far more anxious than you are, even. They’ve got responsibility for the entire show; every show one puts on is a huge risk to one’s reputation within the community, so understand that they have their concerns. Recognising them, and without saying anything, doing what you can to meet those concerns head-on, will improve your chances of being cast.
7. Warm up!
Get your voice ready, get your body ready, get your mind ready. You can find all kinds of warmup exercises on the Internet. Find some that work for you to get your throat warm, your limbs loose and easy, and your mind sharp. Cover all three areas with your warmup. Doing something as simple as counting backwards from 100 by 7s – 93, 86, 79, et c.. – can sharpen your mental acuity. Doing it out loud, along with some other nonsense syllables, can bring your voice along. Do it while you stretch and walk around, and you’ve got your body onside.
Even if – especially if – you’re cold-reading instead of using a prepared piece, warming up can help reduce your anxiety, and take some of the flatness out of the usual cold read. You’re going to be live and warmed up for your rehearsals and eventual performances, so showing you know how to get yourself ready is A Good Thing.
8. Be personable and professional
This is your chance to make a first impression, and first impressions last. These two principles compete some, so you’ll have a balancing act to manage. Be friendly, smile, offer to shake hands if the physical situation suggests it’s possible (i.e., if you’re entering on a stage, and the director’s down in the audience, don’t leave the stage to do it). Introduce yourself, hand over your resume or audition form, and wait politely until the director asks you to move on. Often, the director (and sometimes the SM, or other crew at the auditions) will take some time to run over the form/resume, noting your experience, your skills, your willingness to be a team player.
When the audition begins, get moving relatively quickly. Don’t waste their time. They’ve usually got a lot of people to see. This is why you prepare your audition out in the reception area, so you don’t have to waste any time when you get into the action.
When you’ve finished your monologue, bring yourself to a stop, and stand quietly facing front. This is a fairly universal signal that you’re done. In some cases, you may be given a second read. I often will have people re-do their monologue in a new way, or hand out a cold read piece to them. I do this to shock them out of their preparations, so I can see what happens when they’re not in their ideal place. For me, as a director, this allows me to guess at how they’ll handle missing lines and so on later.
In fact, when I directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf recently, this very trait came in handy. We had to replace our lead male actor quite close to opening night, and it meant that the other actors had to be light on their toes about making up for lost ground when the new actor struggled to gets lines memorised. That I’d been able to cast people I knew to be quick-thinking gave me the flexibility to do that, and that’s a valuable thing to a director.
Also in terms of being professional, do your stagecraft as though it were opening night. Know how to respond to laughter, don’t turn your back on the audience, don’t break character, don’t go back and correct yourself. There’s an adage from the soccer field that applies here: you play what you practice. If you are guilty of doing things in a lazy or sloppy way in practice, you will increase the chances of doing so onstage, which is not at all a good thing.
9. Dialogues
Sometimes, you’ll also be asked to perform in a dialogue (or “taking sides”) as well. Often, this will be from the play in question, and you’ll be paired with someone else – either another auditioner, or sometimes a stage hand or stage manager will read in. I find that this will often uncover some hidden traits about the actor(s) involved: do they work well with another actor? How’s their comedic timing together? Are they quick-witted enough to come up with a plan to do this in a short timeframe? Do they bring more emotional depth to the character when they have another actor to work with? Or, on the other hand, do they lose all their energy and flair when they work with someone else?
Do your best to work well with the other actor. If you’re allowed time, take a few minutes and run through it a couple of times, and work out some basic blocking that allows you both to be seen by the director. You’re both better off cooperating here, and though you may have the cynical thought that sabotaging the other actor might help your chances, recognise that when assessing a dialogue, it’s much harder for the director to completely separate the performances. You’re in it together, and cooperation is much the smartest strategy.

In fact, if the other actor isn’t very experienced or perhaps even not very good, make a point of helping them be better, be visibly helpful to them while you work on stage together. A show is a family: showing you can get along with other people in stressful situations makes you much more desirable to any director. It says you’re willing to be a positive force for the show, rather than a negative.

If you encounter someone else who seems to be doing their best to screw you up (I’ve only ever seen this once – and I didn’t cast the saboteur), just do your best job, keep your cool, and maintain your professionalism. Even if it’s an amateur (as in unpaid) production, behaving with professionalism will make you stand out. Anything you can do to make the director’s life easier, not just now but during the rehearsal and show run, is a Good Thing.
10. Research the play
Know what play the director is casting. Make sure you’ve read it, if possible, before you go to your audition. It can give you valuable insights into characters, and I know that when I ask for dialogues, I’m impressed when the actor knows a little something about the section I’ve assigned. It will greatly improve any reading you give of any part of the play, which can only be to your advantage. You’ll be able to speak intelligently about the play, and maybe about some of the emotional stand-out parts.
5 Great Ways to Not Get Cast
1. Don’t listen to the director.
This is an excellent way to avoid being cast. Few directors will choose to work with someone who can’t take direction as early as an audition, because it speaks really poorly of the likelihood they’ll do better at it during the run of rehearsals. Anything you can do, really, to make the director’s life more difficult is sure to help you stay out of a show. About the only thing more sure to keep you out would be failing to audition.
2. Mumble, mutter and mime
One easy way to avoid being cast is to mumble and mutter your words, and then give gestures worthy of a mime performance. Good actors find a blend of “Big enough for the Balcony seats” and “Subtle enough for the Orchestra seats”, in both areas. Swinging the balance way off-kilter to have huge gestures and a tiny voice will surely keep you from having to be a part of the production.
3. If you’re not cast, whine and moan about the director and their crew in the local community. Particularly complain about how they only cast their friends.
Nothing makes a director less likely to cast someone than knowing that the person has a bad attitude. Believe me when I tell you that theatrefolk talk to one another, and if they have a hard time with someone, they will often let their fellow directors know it. Being unprofessional like this can really put the blocks under the wheels of your acting life. I can remember hearing a rumour before I cast Much Ado About Nothing that I’d already decided on my Beatrice and Benedick, and found out later that people had actually avoided going to the audition because of that rumour. The person who spread that rumour risked my never casting them again, because I don’t need people who will behave poisonously in my show.
There are a hundred reasons why someone might have been chosen ahead of you, and very few of them have anything necessarily to do with flaws in you. As a director, I have to consider not only the talent levels of each actor, but how they come across in combination. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, there would have been no point casting the Martha that we did without a strong George; she’d have overwhelmed him. For this reason, I chose not to cast a few of the men who’d been suitable for George, needing someone who could hold their own against an assertive and outstanding Martha. No slur against the spurned Georges; just that I needed someone with something they didn’t have. Had I been casting a role for a quiet man with an overbearing wife, they’d have been in like a shot.
4. Read your audition piece, instead of acting it.
Little can disappoint me more than an actor coming in and reading their audition piece. Even if you can’t arrange memorisation, make sure you look up, and move around, and do all the other things mentioned above. The fact that you can’t meet one of the listed points doesn’t mean you should abandon the others; if anything, it should be more important to you to make sure the others are covered well. Standing still and reading is an audition killer; it’s only basic good manners that keeps me from stopping the audition ten seconds in and calling “next, please”.
5. Treat your fellow auditioners or the crew poorly.
This one’s easy. When you’re assigned a dialogue, show (or better, say) that you can’t work with the other actor because they’re too inexperienced/stupid/dull/ugly/whatever. Show your exasperation with their ineptness, maybe even throw in a sotto voce insult or two. What director wouldn’t like someone in their cast who showed they don’t get along well with others, or think they’re Stanislawksi reborn?

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