Auditions are unavoidable if you want to perform on stage. Knowing what to expect and thinking about what you want to do in advance will make you more comfortable so that you will do your best. No two directors run auditions exactly the same, so each audition experience will be a little bit different. There are some standards, however, that you can count on every time you audition. Knowing how to prepare before the audition, how to act during the audition, and what to expect afterward will help you feel confident about the process.
Your audition begins when you walk into the room so remember to act accordingly—and always arrive a few minutes early so that you can relax and get focused. First and foremost, come prepared to listen and learn. Listen carefully to everything that is said to you. Listen to the directors, their comments, their suggestions, and especially try to follow any stage directions or changes they want you to make in your character. Don’t try to second-guess what the directors want from you, just do exactly what they say to the best of your ability. Directors are looking not only for how willingly you take direction but also how readily. In other words, directors look for actors who suit the character and who are brave enough to go all in and quickly try it.
Auditions are stressful for every actor and, believe it or not, equally stressful for those who are on the audition team. During auditions, the directors are looking for the potential you show for playing different characters, not a finished product or polished scenes. They want to observe what special talents you have, hear your voice and see how you move. At the same time, they want to get a sense of your personality and your willingness to follow directions. They are also looking for the chemistry between you and the other actors on stage as well as how you respond to him. As difficult and stressful as this is for you, try to open up to the experience and remember to smile and present yourself as honestly and positively as you can.
Remember that the team wants you to be good. They are wishing only the best for you in your audition, because the better you are, the easier their jobs will be. Most, if not all, of the directors have had to audition for their own jobs or roles. It is a part of the business of the theater. Not that this will make your job any easier, but take some comfort that your auditioners have been, or will be, in your place sometime soon.
BEFORE YOUR AUDITION
Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the upcoming audition. How will the director determine the casting of the show? Will the audition require cold readings from the script, improvisational games, or maybe a combination of the two? Do you need to prepare a monologue? If so, how long should it be and in what style— comedic or dramatic?
Read the script before the audition, if you have the opportunity. Most theaters will make scripts available through the local or school library. You can also find notes about some scripts on the Internet. Your audition will be stronger if you have a clear idea of what the show is about and specific characters you would be interested in portraying. Check the pronunciation of words that may be unfamiliar to you, but do not spend too much time preparing how to say your lines. The most important thing you can do on stage is to be yourself, to act naturally, and to listen—really listen—to your scene partner. The human interaction and communication between you and your scene partner are critical to the success of the scene. However, an audition reading that is too well rehearsed may seem stale to the audition team. Remember, the director is looking for potential, not a finished product. Directors want to work with actors who are interested in learning and growing into the role.
Stay home and rest the evening before an audition. Rest your voice by not talking too much the day before and the day of your audition and go to bed early so you will be well-rested.
Don’t drink milk or eat a heavy meal before you audition. Dairy products may cause mucus to form, and you may have a difficult time speaking or singing. You’ll feel better if you simply eat a light snack and drink lots of water before you go to your audition. Staying well hydrated is the best way to lubricate your vocal cords and keep them in top working order.
Wear neat but comfortable clothes. Forget the very high heels or any extreme clothing. Dress to flatter your body shape and size. Fix your hair neatly out of your face. Your eyes and face are the most expressive part of your body so don’t hide them. If you are called back, don’t change a thing, not your hair or your clothes. Women should wear light makeup suitable for the stage. Avoid coming to an audition in costume; it is usually not effective to dress as the character you hope to play. But dress so that the auditioners could envision you in the role. Remember, this is business, so dress appropriately.
DURING YOUR AUDITION
Plan to arrive a few minutes early to fill out the forms and ask any questions.
Be prepared to listen and learn. Listen to the directors very carefully when they give directions. Often they are testing to see how willingly you take direction. Listen, if you can, while others are auditioning so that you will learn from their strong points and their mistakes. Never try to recreate another actor’s performance—make your audition your own work.
Focus on yourself and the audition. While waiting, sit quietly and concentrate on the job you have to do or practice some relaxation exercises. Breathe slowly, deeply, and consciously. Before walking onto the stage, warm up your body with stretching and your voice with vocal exercises. Sing through your songs earlier in the day so you won’t disturb others who are auditioning.
If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask the director or stage manager. They are there to help you. Don’t make a pest out of yourself, however, and waste precious audition time by trying to impress the panel with what you know. Directors are looking for actors who are easy to work with for weeks or months at a time, so leave your ego and attitude at home.
Smile and walk on stage with confidence. Always begin your audition positively with a smile even if you don’t feel like smiling. Walk across the audition space with your eyes forward and don’t let them fall to the floor during the entire time you are on stage. Stand quietly and wait until you have been given a sign to start. Speak loudly and clearly so that those in the back of the house can hear you. Don’t slouch or put your hands in your pockets. Many directors decide within a few seconds if they are interested in you as an actor. The time it takes you to cross the stage to the center is often the most critical part of your audition.
Always cheat out to the audience, but try not to look directly into the eyes of the people who are auditioning you.Choose a spot a little over the head of the central person on the audition team at the back wall of the house and look there. Some focus just slightly off to the side of the auditioner’s head near the ear. This is called spotting. In fact, you can place your acting partner in the center of the house or on stage and play to them. The more believable you make your imaginary acting partner, the more believable you will be. Never close your eyes when acting or when singing—and don’t look up at the ceiling because then the audition team will only see the whites of your eyes.
Think about your character's physicality and movement. Your movement should make sense for your character. How does this character move?
Take some risks. The auditors hope to see a full range of who you are and what you can do. Therefore, take some risks and use your imagination when reading. Be bold. React to events in the scripts in your own unique way. Don’t copy anyone else or try to be something you are not.
Listen closely to the other actors’ lines and react to them as your character would react. Play the character to the best of your ability. Read with as much courage and expression as you can. The two most important words in auditioning are “listen” and “communicate.” When another actor is speaking, listen to that actor and react as if you are your character. Try to pick out the most important characteristic about your role and make sure it is communicated as you read.
As you read a scene, try to find what your characger wants and then work to make it real and clear. Try to discover reasons for what your character says and does. Try to discover who has the power in the scene and look for changes in ownership of power.
Always compliment and support other actors—then they will do the same for you. Never coach or correct other actors. That is the director’s job.
During your audition, the director may stop you in the middle of a scene or may ask you to try your lines in a different way. This is a normal occurrence; it is not a critique of your performance. The audition time is limited so the director wants to make it as useful as possible. Do not hesitate—just give it a try. Directors admire courage and respect those who are willing to take a risk.
After the Audition
Always smile and thank the audition team for their time when you leave. A positive attitude is contagious. Work to eliminate negativity in your thoughts before, during, and after your audition.
Don’t compare yourself to other actors who auditioned with you. You have no idea what the director is looking for, so you may be just what they want, or not quite right for any of the parts. Just do your best and then trust the director to make the right decision for the production.
Don’t ask for a second opportunity to audition. Remember that first impressions count. The audition team is there to see what you can do the first time. Rarely does a second try change the mind of the team. First impressions are the most important, so make a strong, positive, and powerful effort the first time around. If the directors want to see more, they will call you back.
Try to view every audition as a learning experience. Even if you are not successful, getting the part you want, you should leave the audition feeling that you gave it your all, and therefore, it was a success for you personally. Focus on the positive aspects of your audition, take note and learn from the negatives, and then let them go. Beating yourself up or trying to second-guess the directors are totally useless and futile tasks.
After the initial auditions, the casting team begins to put the puzzle pieces together and it becomes who they might need to see more of. Sometimes they need to see more because they have seen something in the actor’s performance that they like, or they have not seen enough of the actor to make a sound judgment. Either way, a callback is good news!
Callbacks vary depending on the directors. Some directors will want you to read from the script in combination with other actors. Some will want to talk and find out a little more about you. Other directors will want to work with you on some theater games or improvisations.
During callbacks, directors are watching to find out how you might fit into the show. Sometimes the directing panel knows who they will cast in a specific role from the first round of auditions and sometimes they have called back several people for each character. Most often, they are trying to mix and match the actors in terms of chemistry, size, vocal quality, and general look.
Stay positive and listen to what is being asked of you. This is the part of an audition where the director is testing your attitude and your willingness and ability to be directed and to work with others. Remember, just because you have been called back, you have no assurances of being cast.
At the end of callbacks, thank the directors and smile. You may ask when and where the cast list will be posted. Remember, even if you are not selected for this particular show, the director may well remember you. Many directors take copious notes at callbacks and call actors for other shows in the future.