Nailing That Audition – a 5 step guide

10/08/2009 at 11:35 am 2 comments

Auditions Are Tough
It’s a harrowing process that’s left many an aspiring actor scarred and shivering. But it’s not meant to be that way at all. Before your next audition, arm yourself with insider thinking that casting agents and directors all use to make their selections.
This simple five-step process is one that invariably forms the template for casting theatre, film or television the world over. Much of it is common sense, but in the rush of performance it’s easy to throw the rules out the window and blow it – so it’s worth considering the process from the other side of the table, and remind yourself that you’re actually there in the room to solve all their problems in one hit. But first- some qualifications – this is not foolproof.
The industry is notoriously competitive, nepotistic and lets face it, you aren’t going to get put up for Othello unless you’re black (or Sir Anthony Hopkins, but that’s an issue for another day).  So think of this as a way to level the playing field and cut down on nerves, because nine times out of ten that can be the biggest stumbling block to casting you in that lead.
1 – Preparation, Preparation, Preparation! (preparation)
This can work both ways, but the general rule is the more you know about the part the better.  Get a copy of the script in advance, beg, borrow or steal if you have to, but get one.  Then, and this is crucial – read it!  Then read it again.  That second reading will open up insights for the text that will become an integral part of your ammunition on the day.  Don’t just read the bits that your character is in, either – look closely at how different characters talk about the character you’re playing.  Make notes. Have a dictionary or Encyclopedia nearby to look up stuff you don’t understand.  Find out how to pronounce any strange or foreign words.  Do whatever you can to give yourself an edge.
Sometimes I like to pretend I already have the role and I’m actually preparing for the first rehearsal – which, in a way the audition really is.  So, learn the lines, practice them, get comfortable with material and be ready to work.  There will be things you don’t understand.  That’s good, write them down and make an interesting question out of it on the day – it shows you’re paying attention.  I would even go so far as to think about wardrobe and style my wardrobe toward what they might wear – it’s all about creating the right impression from the moment you walk in the door.
The flipside of this of course is to be over-prepared, but in truth this is not really a problem to worry about.  It will only impact your audition if you get stuck in a particular way of reading it, or a particular interpretation of the character. So remember to keep an open mind, but everything you can learn about the text in advance will make an impression on the director.
2 – The Walk In
This is a funny little section, you walk in, yes, you’re nervous, there are important people you don’t know, they’ve made you wait outside and now you’re alone with them.  They know it, you know it.  News Flash:  they don’t care. They want to know who you are.  Be comfortable, this is your space – remember they have made time for you. In fact, nerves are a part of the package. If I don’t get a bit nervous walking in – then I start to get really scared!  So most directors will be sympathetic, but only to a point.  You want to get over it pretty quick after the introductions and small talk.
And there’s another thing – the small talk – it’s no small thing, they want to know who you are. They’re considering joining you at the hip with a bunch of strangers for several weeks in a very demanding, pressurised and intimate environment.  Be yourself, if you’re softly spoken, be softly spoken.  If you compensate with false bravado – do that (if you must) – but be real.  It seems like such a forced situation having to be polite with people you don’t know – but this isn’t a barbeque after your sister-in-law’s hockey final – this is something you want to be doing for the rest of your life! So don’t pretend – be authentic.
There’s a slim chance they won’t like you for who you are, but this business is full of all kinds of weird, crazy egomaniacs who are perfectly loveable.  If you can’t even give a tiny glimpse of who you are, you simply won’t stand out from the crowd – and how can anyone expect an authentic performance?   Take a moment, get past the nerves and enjoy the simple pleasure of meeting these people.  They could be your new best friend…
3 – The Reading
Ok, so now it’s down to business, after all the preparation, the nerves are jangling again and it’s time to show them what you’ve got.  So let them have it.  Trust yourself, your instincts, and your interpretation.  There isn’t a lot I can say on this matter in the way of advice, because every actor works differently.  From the casting perspective – it’s simple. They have a problem – this part needs filling.  You’re there to solve it. So go hard.
Before you start, it’s worth doing any final checks on the pronunciation of certain words or phrases, or ask any basic questions you might have going in.  Save some of your more complex questions about character for a bit later on – there’s a time for that – right now it’s just you and the script.
It’s important to remember that nobody nails the first reading.  No-one. Ever. It’s just impossible.  There are too many factors at play.  So the people in front of you simply do not expect perfection.  Remember this – because it means you’re off the hook! Sort of… It won’t be perfect, but they do want to see what you’ve got.
Whatever your decisions are – commit to them.  Unless it’s panto you’re going for – avoid the histrionics – fist pumping, shouting, wild gesticulations and sudden movements aren’t going to help much here.  Just simple, pure, commitment to the lines.  It’s even ok if you drop a couple here or there.  Improvise if you have to, but stay in character and give it your best. Have fun!
4 – The Rehearsal
Once you’ve got that out of your system – you’ve thrown off the nervous shackles – it’s time for the most critical phase of your audition.  Everything thus far has been leading to this point, because what happens next will make or break your success in the industry.  So no pressure…
They have seen what you can do, but the real test is how you work. So they’ll give you some feedback, some directions, they’ll talk about the scene and maybe offer a completely new interpretation.  Listen.  Ask that interesting question you saved up.  Show them you can bring something to the table.  Surprise them with your insights.  Be there to work the text.  That’s what they really want to find out.  They know they like you, they know you can act – now, how do you work?
After a short discussion about trying the scene again, listen to their directions carefully.  Make sure you understand what they’re asking you. Repeat back what they’ve told you so they know you understand.  Think about it for a moment and make a decision about how you’re going to change your performance. Make all of this a conscious process.  Take what time you need to figure it out.  Whatever happens after you walk out of the room – if you get this right – they will remember you as someone who has what it takes. Then, when you’re ready – have another crack.  Have some fun with it.  Take a risk or two.  That’s the work they need from you.
Again, nobody expects you to get it exactly right – they do expect you to change your performance to adjust to their directions.  There’s no point in having all that preparation and discussion if you can’t change it all around in rehearsal. And that’s really what they want to see – how will you cope in the rehearsal room?  Have you got what it takes?
5 – Dont Call Us, We’ll Call You
So that’s that.  It probably only took about fifteen minutes (although auditions can last for over an hour – it’s rare) but it could change the course of your life!  Eat your heart out Andy Warhol.  But it’s important to get out of there with a bit of dignity, so be thankful, don’t rush off, but respect the time they have given you to strut your stuff.
It’s similar to the introduction process, but a lot more relaxed because the hard part is out of the way.  At the very least you have made a new industry connection. And that’s no bad thing.  Just stay professional – stay cool.  I have heard directors talking about actors who offer profuse apologies when for whatever reason, they have a bad reading.
The jury’s still out here, it’s a dangerous path to insist on having another crack if you’ve just been excruciating – but I think it may be worthwhile if you’re willing to admit a failure and move forward – just be aware of the playing field. Heath Ledger did a similar thing when auditioning for The Patriot – still breaking into Hollywood, the story goes: he’d knocked back a lot of scripts and went in for this, gave a complete shocker for a read – half way through the audition said ‘Listen, that was awful, can I come back and try again another day?’ – and got the part opposite Mel Gibson – it broke his career wide open…
It all comes down to context in the end – if you have the rapport with a director (whether you just met them or not) you might feel comfortable with that approach.  Just be professional – and prepared for them to say ‘No’.  Oh, and one last thing – when you do walk out – be free from the process.  Move on, don’t wait around for the call, just pretend like it never happened.  If you do get the part, bonus! But don’t fret about it – that way you can stay positive in the industry, nothing wears down an actor like carrying the baggage of a 90% rejection rate into the room.  That stuff shows up like spinach between your teeth.

Auditions Are Tough

It’s a harrowing process that’s left many an aspiring actor scarred and shivering. But it’s not meant to be that way at all. Before your next audition, arm yourself with insider thinking that casting agents and directors all use to make their selections.

This simple five-step process is one that invariably forms the template for casting theatre, film or television the world over. Much of it is common sense, but in the rush of performance it’s easy to throw the rules out the window and blow it – so it’s worth considering the process from the other side of the table, and remind yourself that you’re actually there in the room to solve all their problems in one hit. But first- some qualifications – this is not foolproof.

The industry is notoriously competitive, nepotistic and lets face it, you aren’t going to get put up for Othello unless you’re black (or Sir Anthony Hopkins, but that’s an issue for another day).  So think of this as a way to level the playing field and cut down on nerves, because nine times out of ten that can be the biggest stumbling block to casting you in that lead.

1 – Preparation, Preparation, Preparation! (preparation)

This can work both ways, but the general rule is the more you know about the part the better.  Get a copy of the script in advance, beg, borrow or steal if you have to, but get one.  Then, and this is crucial – read it!  Then read it again.  That second reading will open up insights for the text that will become an integral part of your ammunition on the day.  Don’t just read the bits that your character is in, either – look closely at how different characters talk about the character you’re playing.  Make notes. Have a dictionary or Encyclopedia nearby to look up stuff you don’t understand.  Find out how to pronounce any strange or foreign words.  Do whatever you can to give yourself an edge.

Sometimes I like to pretend I already have the role and I’m actually preparing for the first rehearsal – which, in a way the audition really is.  So, learn the lines, practice them, get comfortable with material and be ready to work.  There will be things you don’t understand.  That’s good, write them down and make an interesting question out of it on the day – it shows you’re paying attention.  I would even go so far as to think about wardrobe and style my wardrobe toward what they might wear – it’s all about creating the right impression from the moment you walk in the door.

The flipside of this of course is to be over-prepared, but in truth this is not really a problem to worry about.  It will only impact your audition if you get stuck in a particular way of reading it, or a particular interpretation of the character. So remember to keep an open mind, but everything you can learn about the text in advance will make an impression on the director.

2 – The Walk In

This is a funny little section, you walk in, yes, you’re nervous, there are important people you don’t know, they’ve made you wait outside and now you’re alone with them.  They know it, you know it.  News Flash:  they don’t care. They want to know who you are.  Be comfortable, this is your space – remember they have made time for you. In fact, nerves are a part of the package. If I don’t get a bit nervous walking in – then I start to get really scared!  So most directors will be sympathetic, but only to a point.  You want to get over it pretty quick after the introductions and small talk.

And there’s another thing – the small talk – it’s no small thing, they want to know who you are. They’re considering joining you at the hip with a bunch of strangers for several weeks in a very demanding, pressurised and intimate environment.  Be yourself, if you’re softly spoken, be softly spoken.  If you compensate with false bravado – do that (if you must) – but be real.  It seems like such a forced situation having to be polite with people you don’t know – but this isn’t a barbeque after your sister-in-law’s hockey final – this is something you want to be doing for the rest of your life! So don’t pretend – be authentic.

There’s a slim chance they won’t like you for who you are, but this business is full of all kinds of weird, crazy egomaniacs who are perfectly loveable.  If you can’t even give a tiny glimpse of who you are, you simply won’t stand out from the crowd – and how can anyone expect an authentic performance?   Take a moment, get past the nerves and enjoy the simple pleasure of meeting these people.  They could be your new best friend…

3 – The Reading

Ok, so now it’s down to business, after all the preparation, the nerves are jangling again and it’s time to show them what you’ve got.  So let them have it.  Trust yourself, your instincts, and your interpretation.  There isn’t a lot I can say on this matter in the way of advice, because every actor works differently.  From the casting perspective – it’s simple. They have a problem – this part needs filling.  You’re there to solve it. So go hard.

Before you start, it’s worth doing any final checks on the pronunciation of certain words or phrases, or ask any basic questions you might have going in.  Save some of your more complex questions about character for a bit later on – there’s a time for that – right now it’s just you and the script.

It’s important to remember that nobody nails the first reading.  No-one. Ever. It’s just impossible.  There are too many factors at play.  So the people in front of you simply do not expect perfection.  Remember this – because it means you’re off the hook! Sort of… It won’t be perfect, but they do want to see what you’ve got.

Whatever your decisions are – commit to them.  Unless it’s panto you’re going for – avoid the histrionics – fist pumping, shouting, wild gesticulations and sudden movements aren’t going to help much here.  Just simple, pure, commitment to the lines.  It’s even ok if you drop a couple here or there.  Improvise if you have to, but stay in character and give it your best. Have fun!

4 – The Rehearsal

Once you’ve got that out of your system – you’ve thrown off the nervous shackles – it’s time for the most critical phase of your audition.  Everything thus far has been leading to this point, because what happens next will make or break your success in the industry.  So no pressure…

They have seen what you can do, but the real test is how you work. So they’ll give you some feedback, some directions, they’ll talk about the scene and maybe offer a completely new interpretation.  Listen.  Ask that interesting question you saved up.  Show them you can bring something to the table.  Surprise them with your insights.  Be there to work the text.  That’s what they really want to find out.  They know they like you, they know you can act – now, how do you work?

After a short discussion about trying the scene again, listen to their directions carefully.  Make sure you understand what they’re asking you. Repeat back what they’ve told you so they know you understand.  Think about it for a moment and make a decision about how you’re going to change your performance. Make all of this a conscious process.  Take what time you need to figure it out.  Whatever happens after you walk out of the room – if you get this right – they will remember you as someone who has what it takes. Then, when you’re ready – have another crack.  Have some fun with it.  Take a risk or two.  That’s the work they need from you.

Again, nobody expects you to get it exactly right – they do expect you to change your performance to adjust to their directions.  There’s no point in having all that preparation and discussion if you can’t change it all around in rehearsal. And that’s really what they want to see – how will you cope in the rehearsal room?  Have you got what it takes?

5 – Dont Call Us, We’ll Call You

So that’s that.  It probably only took about fifteen minutes (although auditions can last for over an hour – it’s rare) but it could change the course of your life!  Eat your heart out Andy Warhol.  But it’s important to get out of there with a bit of dignity, so be thankful, don’t rush off, but respect the time they have given you to strut your stuff.

It’s similar to the introduction process, but a lot more relaxed because the hard part is out of the way.  At the very least you have made a new industry connection. And that’s no bad thing.  Just stay professional – stay cool.  I have heard directors talking about actors who offer profuse apologies when for whatever reason, they have a bad reading.

The jury’s still out here, it’s a dangerous path to insist on having another crack if you’ve just been excruciating – but I think it may be worthwhile if you’re willing to admit a failure and move forward – just be aware of the playing field. Heath Ledger did a similar thing when auditioning for The Patriot – still breaking into Hollywood, the story goes: he’d knocked back a lot of scripts and went in for this, gave a complete shocker for a read – half way through the audition said ‘Listen, that was awful, can I come back and try again another day?’ – and got the part opposite Mel Gibson – it broke his career wide open…

It all comes down to context in the end – if you have the rapport with a director (whether you just met them or not) you might feel comfortable with that approach.  Just be professional – and prepared for them to say ‘No’.  Oh, and one last thing – when you do walk out – be free from the process.  Move on, don’t wait around for the call, just pretend like it never happened.  If you do get the part, bonus! But don’t fret about it – that way you can stay positive in the industry, nothing wears down an actor like carrying the baggage of a 90% rejection rate into the room. That stuff shows up like spinach between your teeth.

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Entry filed under: Inside Theatre PROCESS. Tags: , , , , .

WHAT IS CRITICISM? Elizabethan, Expressionist, Epic Theatre at its Finest

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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