29 January, 2008

Ask Al: Auditions (Part One): The Basics

Dear Al,

Hello. I am an aspiring young actor and was wondering what advice you could lend about the audition process? Any information would be much appreciated. Thank you!


Max K.

Hello there Max! This is a good but huge question, and I am going to answer it broadly, the basics, etc. There are a couple of things that are important about every kind of audition, and I will include my thoughts on those things here. People are asking me about auditions all the time, and because every genre is so different, I think I'll discuss specific types of audition questions (Film, TV, Commercials, Musical Theatre, etc) in other posts. So! For the moment, Auditions Part One: The Basics.


A. If property development is about Location Location Location, then auditioning is about Preparation, Preparation Preparation. No kidding. Auditioning IS A SKILL IN AND OF ITSELF. Some people are better auditioners than they are performers. Get this skill down and you are golden. So. Step one is Preparation. Get as much information as possible before the day to ensure you're fully prepared. This includes everything from the character and play descriptions and required audition material, to the names and biographies of the people auditioning you (director, casting director, producers, etc).

B. Research as much as you can about the project for which you are auditioning (read the whole play if you have time, watch a film version, research the time period, history, culture of the setting, YouTube until your brain hurts), and for the role(s) for which you are being considered. Also, know everything you can about the company/ school and people you will be meeting. Knowledge is power! (For real, not in a touchy-feely way).

C. Thoroughly prepare whatever is required, learning speeches, script and songs to the highest performance standard. Always have more to offer in case the panel asks to see something different (I always have a very large book of music with me at all times containing about 20 songs I could sing from memory, and about 6 speeches).


A. Know where you are going. Now.... here's the thing. I don't have the greatest sense of direction, right? You know whenever you see a V formation of geese flying in the air, and there is always like one goose who is going in the opposite direction? That goose is me. So what am I saying? I'm saying KNOW WHERE ARE YOU GOING. Take a map with you or visit the venue before the audition day if you can, to be sure of the route and journey timings. Avoid driving to city centre auditions - using public transport is often quicker and less stressful.

B. And more important than any of this: ALLOW ENOUGH TIME for possible delays to your journey and over running of the actual audition. If you are running late, call your agent or the venue directly to let them know, apologising and giving an estimated time for your arrival.

C. Arrive a few minutes before your appointment time (5 - 10 is fine, unless earlier is requested), in case you are given script pages (sides) to look over, or the auditions are running early. If you are dyslexic and need extra time with the script, make this known and ask if you can arrive earlier, or be sent the pages in advance.


Now. Look. There are no to ways about it. Monologues are a pain. I'm absolutely certain that if theatre professionals could come up with a better way to see what people can do, they would. But monologues are sometimes an actor's only shot to display what they are capable of, and so we must make the most of a frustratingly bad situation.

A. Choosing Your Speeches.

Okay. This is an art. Selecting ideal pieces is possibly the most important part of being an actor. It is not only about displaying your ability, but it tells the panel something about you, about your taste, about your intelligence, insightfulness, common sense and instincts. The quality of your pieces is like the quality of a painter's brushes or a photographer's lense-- you are only as good as your tools. THUS, having a varied collection of carefully selected speeches and songs in your repetoire is of utmost import.
  1. Think of choosing pieces as choosing the PERFECT dress/suit: it shows off all your good stuff and hides all the bad stuff. You can be totally confident because there is nothing you can do to look bad. Your speeches are so well suited to your abilities and strengths, that even nerves cannot deter you from performing well.

  2. Do not try to be overly clever or audacious when selecting material. Avoid material that is not from a play or film. Read everything and if something "speaks" to you, pursue it by reading it out loud.

  3. Some colleges issue a blacklist of speeches not to be used and everyone has a mental list of those he/she is fed up with sitting through AGAIN. The fact is that you've got to do one of these popular speeches extra well to stand a chance. How can you know if a particular speech is "popular" or not? This is difficult, but you can help yourself if you avoid anything from those books of audition speeches because a lot of other people are selecting material from them. It can be a good idea to do a speech from a play you've done or from one that you otherwise know well. It may well be that there were no speeches long enough contained in anything you know, but there will be scenes in which one character is 'running things' and it is reasonably easy to cut out other people's lines and perhaps with a little bit of rewriting make a complete speech that nobody else will be doing. AND, it is a fact that the "original" speech (provided that it's well-written) will put you at a distinct advantage. The other advantage of taking a speech from a play you've done, or know well, is that you will have a very good idea of what the whole play is about from the inside - essential to a good performance of that speech.

  4. Treat all sight reading and sides in a similar way.

Rehearsal of Your Speeches:

A. Allow lots of time for this. It's not just about learning the lines but primarily about absorbing the character and the situation into your very soul. For most people this takes at least two months to accomplish fully. I'm not suggesting two months solid work - you'd go mad, but two or three sessions a week over that period should ensure enough time for your unconscious self to do the rest of the necessary work in between. If a school gives you an audition date which is too soon to allow you this amount of time then change it! AND remember that classical speeches are harder and therefore take longer because of the remoteness of language and situation.

Performance of Speeches:

A. An audition speech is a terribly artificial thing: you've got no lights, scenery, costumes, furniture or props and above all nobody to act with - in fact none of the things that have helped your acting in other circumstances. You have to rely on the power of your imagination to supply all these things for you - and that's where a terrific number of people let themselves down. For instance, if you are doing a speech addressed to an imaginary character you must see that person clearly in your mind's eye; not only 'see' him/her but also 'see' their reactions to what you are saying. Putting a chair (or the hatstand as I once saw) to represent that person means that 95% of people talk to that chair (or hatstand) and not to the 'real' person, consequently a terrific amount of the essence of the speech goes out the window and your auditioners' perception of your potential with it. It is much better not to use anything to represent physically the person you are talking to. Simply have him/her/them firmly fixed in your imagination - even if he/she is sitting in a chair also put that chair into your imagination! In fact you should have the complete location in your imagination (many people fail to do this - especially in classical speeches). It's not just a physical image, but one where the neglected senses of touch, taste and smell play an important part.

The Beginning and The End

A. The other major thing you should work on (and very few people do) is the beginning and the ending. The beginning should be clear and have impact (just like the house lights going down and those on stage going up signalling the start of a show). Similarly, at the end where you should just freeze for a moment (or walk off in character, if appropriate) and then relax back into your normal self, a bit like a curtain call - only don't bow, just walk back to where you have to wait or whatever else your auditioner tells you to do. (There will invariably be a pause after you've finished. Don't worry about it, just wait for your next instruction.) As much thought needs to go into the presentation of an audition speech as into that required for a full production. In fact an audition speech should be a 'mini-production' in its own right.


A. Take pride in your appearance. perhaps dressing in clothes that give the creative team an idea of your suitability for the role for which you are auditioning. Don't overdo this though, and don't be afraid to ask for hints or advice if you are unsure about anything.

B. Be as confident as you can be when entering the room, channelling your nervous energy. Take a deep breath, smile and walk purposefully into the room. Shaking hands and the use of eye contact will create a positive impression, as will remembering the names of the panel, if you are introduced. Introduce yourself too... saying your name clearly, so it can be more easily remembered.

C. NEVER (and I mean NEVER EVER) MAKE EXCUSES... no matter how little preparation time you have had or how badly things have gone (or you feel they have). If you are unwell and know full well you will not be performing your best that day you have two choices: 1, you don't go or 2, you call your agent and explain what is wrong with you, and then your AGENT will inform the casting director of the situation. Ultimately, be honest, be your(best)self, do your best and learn from your mistakes.


A. It is not wrong/unreasonable to be nervous - a calm actor will often give a boring performance. However, when your nerves become disordered and chaotic your whole concentration goes and your body becomes numb. You have to find a way of focusing your nervous energy on your speech and not on the fact that the tension is growing. Tension, once you are aware of it can escalate out of control very quickly don't even begin to contemplate it - do something else! For instance, actors, whilst waiting in the wings on a first night, will often jump around and wave their arms about to get the blood circulating and counteract that terrible numbing effect that nervous tension can bring.

B. One of the main manifestations of 'nerves' is that people don't give themselves enough time to 'get into their characters' before starting their speeches. Too many people just charge into them, simply saying words on the signal to start without any sense of 'being' the person they are portraying. It is universally respected (within the profession) that any actor needs a moment to truly become someone other than him/herself; and you have paid for the privilege to audition and part of that privilege is your right to those valuable moments of concentration after you've announced the title of your speech and before you actually start presenting it. Even if you've been given very little time and are threatened with being stopped, it is much better to start well (and not be allowed to finish) than to complete the speech but find yourself 'skating' over the surface of the character's feelings.

Good luck!

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