how to navigate auditions
“Go in there and present your best self. Take it as, ‘this is a day I get to act for somebody else.’ And be happy about it and be joyous about it. Be confident in it, and go in there and rock the house.” — Samuel L. Jackson
This may sound easier said than done - for most of us, the real struggle is the nerves - we feel that we are being judged and assessed, and we lose sight of what is really important. But what it all comes down to is acting. You are invited to perform for someone.
As Al Pacino once said “It’s an opportunity to try out stuff on a live audience”. It’s an opportunity to play with the text and create new, interesting characters.
The way to deal with nerves is preparation. The more you prepare - and by that I don’t mean just practicing lines - the more you will feel certain that when you walk into the room, you’ve addressed every angle of the role and you can deliver the best you can.
It is important to understand that rejection doesn’t mean you weren’t good enough. I recall a BBC casting director saying in an interview that that is almost never the case. The people they call in do the audition well, but are not chosen because they simply don’t fit the idea that the creatives have in mind for a specific role. It may be down to your looks, and there is only one thing you can do about that - accept that. Understand that not every part is meant for you.
But let’s focus on how you can practice the art of auditioning, and how you can increase your chances of being noticed in the room - if not for now, then for later! Remember there are plenty of actors who keep auditioning for the same casting directors, until that one perfect role comes up, and they are immediately called for it!
Go to auditions - the simple act of going through the process will ease your nerves and you will get accustomed to the situation more. You will learn how to become more confident and own the space you are given. You can easily practice by checking out local theatre companies, including the amateur drama societies - they audition all the time, and it’s great practice for performing in front of an audience.
Find monologues or dialogues from script or plays, ideally not the ones you’re overly familiar with, and start working the text. Focus on the goal of the speech: what does the character want, who are they talking to - what’s the relationship with that person?, where is the scene happening?, when and how does that affect how your character behaves? - if it’s late night, the character may be tired, and not wanting to have a conversation with the other person. All these things influence your performance, but remember to keep it simple. Don’t go creating a full biography of your character, simply set up a short journey and take the audience with you.
Work the opposites - once you’ve narrowed down the lines and answered the basic questions, record yourself. See where things can be improved. Practice that until you’re comfortable, then add something different to the speech - play the opposite of what you think is the obvious intention of the scene. Then play it again and see if that has changed your performance - has that made it more interesting? Did you discover something new? Try adding a quirk to the character - a different way of speaking or standing, a physical mannerism that is not too overwhelming but adds something new to the role.
Remember to always prepare at least 3 different ways of performing. Play around with goals and objectives - however make sure to stay within the constraints of the scene. Don’t add or change lines of dialogue. This will help you stay flexible for when the director or CD gives you a note in the room.
Listen and take direction - during the audition, if you are given a note, do it - even if it doesn’t feel natural to you or you don’t agree with that choice. It’s mostly so that the creatives can determine if they can work with you. Listening is everything, so stay open in the moment and try things out.
Costume - it’s always good to bring something that allows the CDs and directors to visualise you in the role. There’s no need to go all out, but just a simple touch of a character’s wardrobe or something reflecting the period in which the film is set will increase your chances of being noticed.
Once you’ve considered all the angles and prepared yourself, make sure to have an intelligent question or two about the role prepared. Ask it during your audition - but remember to read the room - if the CD wants you to start with the performance straight away, keep the question for later. This will show your audience that you thought about the piece and have something to add to the role.
Auditioning can be a very stressful experience and many famous actors say they are glad they don't have to go through that process. But when you're starting out, and you can't skip this step, you should just play - that's what actors do! Have fun with the character, try new, different things, be creative and one of a kind - that's what they are looking for. Someone who will bring the role to life like no-one else, so don't be afraid to take risks - don't do what you think is the obvious interpretation of the text. Practice, and you will become more confident and find it all much more enjoyable.
All the best to your future auditions!