How to audition and get the part, Part 3
Step 3: The audition itself.
Having prepared your materials, made peace with the process, and acquired a good list of targets, you are now ready to take on the actual audition itself.
Auditioning is highly procedural, but it may be easy to get lost in nervous energy and excitement. But it cannot be stated enough: this is the business end of show business. And businesses hire professionals who behave in professional ways.
To achieve this, show up as prepared as humanly possible. During the audition itself you will need the following additional materials:
– A mechanical pencil. You will use this mark any scripts and copy you receive.
– A small grooming kit. Sometimes life happens. The wind ruins your hair. You have to run to catch a train. It’s hot and your car has no air conditioning. A discreet grooming and hygiene kit will allow you to restore your polish.
– Multiple copies of your headshot, resume, and sheet music. Always bring more than you think you will need.
– As much information as you can find on the play, project, or part. If you have sides, a copy of the play, or research, you can make last minute notes.
– Written directions to the place of audition. Also good to have in multiple copies.
– A SILENT CEL PHONE. And just in case you forget this, and it rings, DON’T LOOK AT WHO’S CALLING, DON’T ANSWER IT AND TELL THEM TO CALL YOU BACK,JUST TURN IT OFF AND GO ON LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED. And apologize as soon as it’s appropriate.
On top of all that, it will help to prepare with a vocal warm up, and what corporate America calls ‘an elevator speech’.
Chances are, if you’ve had any acting training at all, you’ve gone through vocal or warm up exercise. Such things range from meditative to the abjectly silly. But they exist to calm the mind and condition the body. Every actor has their own unique preferences, but they can include breathing exercises, stretches, exaggerated facial expressions, tongue trills, tongue twisters (mastering Theophilus Thistle is great for the self esteem), and a series of good deep loud yawns. Warm ups are the sort of thing good actors can get away with not doing, and working actors are always found doing. Don’t feel weird about doing it around other actors. If they’re not already lost in their own heads, they’ve seen things far stranger than your warm up will ever be.
The ‘elevator speech’ was invented in cubicle land by people who had the length of an elevator ride to impress a bigwig into giving them a job. It is you, as expressed in a ten to thirty second sound bite. And it answers the question, “so tell me a little bit about yourself”.
Auditions being job interviews, the instinct is to launch into a dizzying verbal resume. That is actually the wrong idea. As much as casting professionals want to know about your professional background, they really want to know if they’ll enjoy working with you. So when an actor is asked to say a few things about themselves, it is out of genuine human interest.
The best advice is also the most ironic: have a canned response ready to pop. It is also good to mention things you do when you are not acting. If you volunteer, if you’ve had an interesting job, if you just got married or had a child, mention all of that here. Your answer to this question is the best chance you have to establish rapport with the casting professional. So if a conversation grows organically out of your reply, you know you hit the jackpot. If this doesn’t happen, a good crisp confident reply still gives you cool points. And if a casting person doesn’t ask you this question, you still have a useful tool when meeting strangers, in laws, and people you want to have sex with.
An elevator speech can be entirely canned, but it may be more natural to simply have a list of topics at your mental fingertips. With all the other preparation you have to do, don’t over polish this.
An actor should know four things about the audition they are attending:
1: Where is it?
2: When is it?
3: What type of role (if you are doing commercial work, this is where you discuss possible conflicts)?
4: Appropriate clothing.
The first two are self explanatory. The third item is important to know not just to gauge the size and scope of the role, but because it may be possible to find a script or do research prior to auditioning. Clothing also needs a little more focus. Once again, be very sensitive to what is appropriate for your area. Some places are more casual than others, and clothes should suggest a part, not look like a costume. Stay away from logos, bright patterns, colors too dark, or gawdy anything. Er on the conservative side, and above all else, LOOK LIKE YOUR PHOTO! Auditors see hundreds of people, far more than the human mind can remember. Don’t make it hard to put a name to your face.
When you arrive, you will most likely find someone either at the door or sitting at a desk with a clip board or paperwork. You will probably sign in, noting your name and the time you arrived. This list may also tell you when you are to be seen. If there are sides, you may get them here. Ask if you can mark them with a pencil. There may be many actors. There may be few. BE NICE TO EVERYONE. Especially be nice to the person who signs you in. Aside from being simple manners, you will get more work if people like being around you.
Show business being all about who you know, you may be able to use this time to get to know actors and casting personnel. But don’t go too far with this. You’re here to work, not mingle. But being friendly enough to be recognized later may help you get work in the future.
If you have been given sides, your primary task is to study them before you are called to read. This is where you take out your mechanical pencil and start making marks.
When you mark audition sides, you are identifying key words (in the case of commercial copy), character objectives, and special instructions. In short, you’re doing script analyses on the fly. You’re looking for words to punch. You’re trying to figure out what your character wants. Many books suggest that actors spend a lot of time worrying about the correctness of their choices when they mark an audition script. They also make the same universal observation: it is not a question of being right, it is a question of making a strong choice. So read the scene, figure out what is going on, and play your character to the hilt.
The importance of strong choices cannot be said enough. Strong does not have to mean big or loud. It means definitive. It means authentic. It means showing and not telling. It means acting through action.
Even if your choice is “wrong” in terms of the larger script, it will always be right in an audition setting.
Do not try to memorize your sides. It is a waste of time. If you are in a callback situation, you will have opportunity to memorize properly. But for the first audition it is understood that you will not be off book at all.
Just before you enter the audition room, it is important to remember one more thing: casting people actually like you and want you to succeed. Stephen Sondheim himself is quoted as saying he hates auditions because of the way they force actors to beg. But like democracy, it is the best system anyone can think of. So you actually enter the room with a lot of people rooting for you. You may be just what they want. You may be better than what they want. You might give them a religious experience.
If they are short with you, it is for one of two reasons: 1) They’re tired. Forgive them. 2) You actually managed to offend them. (If this is the case, you’ll know.) Go home and think about how you can do better.
When making your entrance, remember that you’re making an entrance! Have your best face showing, be friendly, and do the following:
1. Say an upbeat, warm hello while you hand over your headshot and resume.
2. Find your mark. If you don’t see one, ask, or ask where you should place yourself.
3. If possible, engage in small talk for exactly one beat. Mention the weather, or laugh at a joke they make. Just enough to suggest actual human contact between two equals.
4. Be ready with your elevator speech, but only if they ask.
5. If you are videotaped, ask how they want you to slate.
To slate is to give your name, plus any contact information the auditors ask you to give. This lets casting people find you if they like you. A typical slate is your name, your agent, and your agent’s contact information. But you should always ask because different casting people use different systems to keep track of potential actors.
If you forget to ask, give your name and the name of your agent.
There is an art to slating. Always look into the camera. If you are reading for a commercial, smile big and happy long before your cue to start and after you are done. Commercials generally like happy actors. For both commercials, and other projects, be mindful of your ‘transition back’. You want to let the operators know that the scene is done. At the same time, if your character is crying over a dead mom, and the scene ends, you can’t end the clip looking like a game show host. The scene doesn’t end with the last line. It ends when you or a casting person says “scene” or “cut”. Until that happens, stay in character and stay in the moment. And when that happens, try to squeeze in a quality “thank you” before the tape stops rolling.
Auditioning in front of a camera has many other considerations. In commercial auditions, you want to look into the camera as much as possible, even when answering questions and addressing the auditors. When doing scene work, you want to be aware of the picture frame. Where can you be seen? Where are you cut off? Is it safe to stand or move? Lastly, ask if you can do a quick rehearsal without the camera running. This is particularly important for commercials, as it gives you one last warm up to smooth out any bumps.
If you are in a musical audition, remember that singing is about much, much more than just hitting the notes. You want your listener to feel the song. So treat it like any other acting work. Why is this person singing when they can just talk about something? Try your best to feel the song. If you feel it, you can make your listener feel what the song means to you.
Sometimes you will be given a set of pages with even less notice than your sides. This is the coldest of cold reading. Ask for some time to read it through, and then remember your marking skills. You probably won’t be able to mark it, but you can decide on scene objectives and ask any relevant questions.
Often when auditioning you will be given some direction, or an adjustment to make to your work. This is probably a good sign. The director either likes you, or wants to test your ability to take direction. Many audition books write as if this is a great stress for many actors. But it should be treated like any other time an actor takes direction. Listen to the note. Make sure you understand the note. Ask questions if you need to. And then incorporate that note into your performance. Again, your ability to make strong choices and adapt is more important than being ‘right’. A director wants to know that an actor is willing to try hard and do something different.
If an audition is going badly, you have several choices:
1. Ask to start over. If the flub happens early enough, this is perfectly fine.
2. Admit that things are going badly, that you don’t have a good feeling about this, thank them for their time, apologize and leave. This is marginal, but some very famous people have admitted they have no problem with such honesty, so long as it is presented well.
3. Go down swinging. If things are going so badly you are convinced you’ve lost the part, go nuts. You have nothing to lose, so make the most of it. Don’t do anything stupid, you want to work again. But laugh at your demise, and remember that acting is full of woefully bad auditions that won someone a part. You never know.
Once the audition is complete, you want to leave with an equally strong impression. Thank the auditors. Keep smiling. Stay happy. Wish them well as you leave. Your happy face can only drop when you are a full block away from the audition.
Step 4: Now what?
The short answer is that you do this all over again until you get a part. Prepare. Audition. Repeat. Along the way you might have call backs, where you audition again for the same part. Call backs are always a good thing, so be happy to attend. They might be testing you against someone else, or having you read against different people. Some actors go through a many as twenty call backs before securing a part, so it is important in such times to keep your energy up. And remember, even if you don’t get this part someone will probably remember you in the future.
It is also useful to give yourself an evaluation of what you thought went well, and what didn’t. Of course, this can easily lead to self loathing, but if you are up for it, you can fine tune yourself so that your next audition is always better than your last one.
With all of the stress and work that goes into auditioning, it can be hard to remember that auditions are actually an actor’s best tool for finding work. It serves your needs as much as it serves the needs of casting people. So try to keep everything in perspective.
And above all else, keep going. Don’t ever stop.