How to audition and get the part, Part 1
Actors pursue acting for various reasons.
None of them involve auditions.
But auditions, like death and taxes, are unavoidable. Only the best and most famous are cast without them. Everyone else must earn their roles the hard way. So if you expect to have a career acting, expect to audition. A lot. Here’s how to look good doing it:
Step 1: Outlook.
Auditioning successfully requires its own set of skills and tricks. Some of them are common sense. Some are borne out of industry quirks. The important thing to recognize is that there’s no big mystery, and likewise no magic bullet. Auditions are simply the business part of show business. They’re glorified job interviews. So the first thing to learn about auditioning is the proper mind-set. And that can be summed up in three parts:
1. It’s just business.
2. Always be professional.
3. Auditions are holistic.
The first point should be self explanatory. The second point is this: talent is not the only thing auditors consider when you audition. It is just as important to show that you are likable and that you do what you are told. There is rarely time or opportunity to win friends and influence people, so all you have is a first impression and the way you conduct yourself. Not to worry, that’s all you need.
So what the hell does number 3 mean? To quote Aristotle, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Ok, so what does that mean? It means you can be perfect for a part, do a perfect audition, not get the role, but a call from the same casting agent offering you something years later. It means you’ll find work because you did a show with a director, who went on to work with a stage manager, who now works at a production office that needs a new actor, which in turn compels the stage manager to call the director and ask if he knows anyone. When you audition, you don’t just ask for a part in a show, you also do something that is arguably more important. You put yourself into the aether of show business, mimetics all productions draw upon when staffing and casting productions. The larger and stronger your presence, the more likely you will be given work. So audition with the understanding that you will find work, but probably not for the part you’re reading. At the very least, you should understand that there are forces operating far outside your understanding, and that fortunately you’re only expected to say hello, be nice, do your thing, and say thank you when you leave.
Once you’ve adopted this philosophy, or otherwise made peace with the process, the next thing to concern yourself with is your laundry list.
Step 2: Minimum requirements
In order to qualify for the largest number of auditions, and therefore increase the chances of finding work, actors should arm themselves with the following:
1 dramatic monologue
1 comedic monologue
1 classical monologue
16 bars of an upbeat song or showtune
16 bars of a ballad
piano score for both songs
resume (attached or printed on the back of the headshot)
Thank you note template
All monologues and songs should be memorized.
How long should the monologues be?
Two minutes. They will stop you if you go over.
Why so much material?
Because you should be ready for anything, and in a constant state of readiness. Audition opportunities, the kind that get people work, can and do happen in weird places. You could meet a director at a party. A friend of a friend of a friend might be producing a show. You have no way of predicting what kind of material you might need on the spot, so keep a little bit of everything in your back pocket. On the other hand, an auditor might ask if you have other material prepared, giving you an opportunity to show your range. If nothing else, preparing to this degree will give you confidence and let you laugh at the many stupid actors who don’t. Sometimes all you need to know is that you’re not at the bottom of the pecking order.
Where do I find monologues?
NOT from a monologue book. That’s where everyone else is looking.
NOT from your favorite movie or TV show. When you use such material, you compete with the very famous person who did it first. Guess what? They won’t like your version better.
NOT from a novel. Prose is not written as human speech. Therefore a great novel may sound odd coming out of your mouth. Monologue worthy passages can require substantial cutting. And some casting people may not like it.
NOT from a speech. That’s called Declamation. They do it in high school forensics.
NOT from something you wrote. Even if it is amazing, auditors need to know you can bring another person’s words to life.
Get your monologue from a play or movie very few people have seen. If it’s in mainstream pop culture, don’t use it. If everyone in the known universe knows about the play, don’t use it. Shakespeare is the exception, but even there, choose wisely.
The script does not have to have been published or produced. It just needs to be something no one has seen. The reason is simple. Have you ever liked a song until you heard it a thousand times on the radio? The same thing happens with casting directors. They sit through thousands of monologues. They see the same material done a thousand different ways. Show them something fresh. They might forget their cynicism and enjoy themselves. If they do that, they will remember you, and remember you well.
There are several bookstores specializing in plays and film scripts. Most of these are in New York or Los Angeles. Authors sometimes post their work online. One act collections are widely available in most large book stores.
It is also possible to take a well known play and coax a new monologue out of it. For example, if there is a scene where two characters are talking, it may be possible to take all the lines from one character and paste them together into a coherent piece. It is also possible to cut and past a monologue together from a much longer speech. If you do this, ONLY REMOVE, NEVER ADD OR REARRANGE. You want to stay faithful to the original play.
Film and stage scripts can be found online at the following sites:
Where do I find piano scores?
Most popular songs have piano scores available to order online or at music stores. All musicals have a piano score, but some are only available through specific companies. Availability may depend on who holds the rights. Some online resources are as follows:
Where do I get headshots?
From a photographer who knows how to do them. Headshots are designed to be platonic ideals of what you look like. This means a lot of photographers may offer headshot work, but may not actually do it well. You want a professional, not that one friend/relative who likes to take pictures sometimes. You’re in good hands if a photographer either specifically offers headshots as a service or does fashion photography. It is perhaps easiest to illustrate what both mean through example:
A good discussion on the difference between good and bad headshots can be found in Christina Ferra-Gilmore’s book, The 7 Steps to Stardom: How to Become a Working Actor in Movies, TV, and Commercials (Applause Books).
As your career progresses, you may wish to have several sets of headshots done to show what you look like when playing different character types.
What should my resume look like?
(Yours and/or your agent)
Eye Color (natural)
Title of project Part Production Company
School/Teacher Technique Location
Special Skills: List your skills.
That is the basic template. There are several variations that you will find in other books, but the idea of something clear and straightforward is consistent.
Different performance types include theater, film, TV, and industrial. If you have experience in several performance types, list your credits by type. For example:
Bob Claws His Eyes Out Bob Blind Bob Productions
Bob 2: The Bobbening Bob Blind Bob Productions
Skipping through the Park Joe Central Pictures LTD
Oops, I Ate Your Mouse Hungry Guy Lemiwinks Films
You will notice a distinct lack of dates. When you performed a role is not important. What is important is its significance. So list any large, leading, or otherwise famous productions first and work from there. If you run out of room, don’t worry about it. If you have that many credits casting people will assume you’ve done more work than you can show on your resume.
It is important to note that you can only list credits for parts you have played in actual productions, NOT scene work from acting classes (do list the class itself in an education section, though).
If you did work for film or TV which was cut from the final production, list it. You showed, up, acted, got paid, and can point at a director who told you what to do. It’s still an earned credit.
When listing film work, student and short films don’t have to be noted as ‘student’ or ‘short’ films. Film work is film work. Consequently, student films are a good way to pad your resume.
If you have experience in commercials, list it as available upon request. Commercial work is the kind of thing that can really crowd out a resume. Plus, commercials are often discussed in terms of your scheduling availability. So it’ll come up on its own, if at all.
If you have little or no experience, emphasize your training and your skills. This by itself should emphasize the importance of studying technique. But it should also tell you that you don’t need to be intimidated when auditioning against someone with a thousand years worth of experience. If you act professionally, and you audition well, and your resume shows a good amount of training, auditors will have no problem giving you work.
So what’s with the thank you note template?
Opinions vary, but some believe that writing a thank you to your auditors is both good professional ethics, and a good way to make sure you are remembered well.
However, some say that it creates just one more pile of mail for disinterested people to sift through. It is also said that if your audition sucked, you actually risk being remembered for the wrong thing.
Both good points, but not good enough to make a thank you note obsolete. The two good times to send a thank you note are 1) when you know you auditioned well, and 2) after you’ve been called back or given a part.
Of course, it is up to you to find out who to give it to and how to reach them.
Using a template (aka a pre-written letter where you can easily insert proper names and details) is advisable because you may end up sending out a lot of these things. They’re like showbiz Christmas cards. At the same time, you don’t want to be too wordy or too weird. Just tell people that you’re grateful for the opportunity and that you hope they enjoyed your audition. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel over and over again.
Just make sure you don’t address it to ‘sir or madame’. Address people by name and take some time to mention something specific about the experience.
What are audition clothes?
The clothes you wear when you audition. You dress well for a job interview, you should dress well for auditions. How well depends on what region you are in. Some areas are more casual than others. But a good rule of thumb is dressy casual. If you can manage it, it doesn’t hurt to wear something to suggest the character you’re auditioning for. But a suggestion is not a costume. Yes, there’s the story of the guy who went to the place dressed in full costume who got the part. Good for the guy. You’re not him. He may have been advised to do that by his agent. Everyone else up for the role could have contracted flesh eating bacteria. It’s gimmicky, cute, and it’s been done. So you won’t get points for being clever. When you arrive in costume, you also give yourself all the added mental baggage of being in costume in public. After a few auditions you’ll agree that kind of sucks.
There are a few reasons actors should have pre-selected audition clothes. For one, if you enter a room wearing clothes you love, feeling like the movie star badass you know you are, you have an added source of confidence. Secondly, if you are called back auditors may remember you based on what you wore last time. So a consistent look is highly advisable, particularly during callbacks.
Part 2 will discuss where to find auditions and work.