You’re here at last. You got up at 5:00 AM, showered, dressed, warmed up, annoyed your neighbors and tortured your roommates, stood in line for two hours in the freezing rain to get an early audition time, and it all went according to plan. You find yourself waiting to go into the famed audition room, where you will…what, exactly?
You can act, you can sing, maybe you can even dance, play an instrument, and eat fire, but can you AUDITION? Can you go into the room and present yourself in a professional manner, and not open the door to any unnecessary judgment or questions? I’ve heard many people say that this is a separate skill, and while I don’t know if I completely buy into that theory, I do know that there is one thing an actor will do if given the chance: shoot themselves in the foot. Here’s how not to do that.
Before we go too far, what is “the room?” Exactly what happens in there?
Let’s take a moment to assume some of you have yet to attend a professional audition. These auditions are most commonly held in empty studios with little more than a table and some chairs. Often there is a wall-length mirror in the space, which may or may not be covered. Be wary of this mirror, it’s so easy to disconnect with your audience and sing/act to yourself. It’s comfortable, but you aren’t likely to be doing the hiring, so…
Size matters, in the room that is. The auditor (and we’ll get to them in a minute or two) is most likely seated behind a table with stacks of paper and perhaps a computer nearby. Unless otherwise directed, position yourself directly in front of your auditors and a safe distance away from the closest edge of the table. This is a judgment call, and you should know what feels right, but aim for two to three times your height away. This lets the auditor see at least three-quarters of your body while you perform, and also puts some personal space between you both.
Entering the Room
Most of the time, it’s as simple as walking through the doorway. You enter the room, smile, and say hello. In a musical audition, you’ll proceed immediately to the accompanist, present your cleanly and clearly marked music and quickly point out any specific instructions (i.e., don’t double the melody here, please observe the railroad tracks, etc.—this is another article coming later), and finally, give your tempo. Tempo comes last so your accompanist can have it fresh in his or her head, if you give it at the beginning there is a greater chance for fluctuation, especially if you do something popular but in a non-traditional manner. Your entire conversation with the accompanist should take 10-15 seconds, if you can’t explain it in that time, your song might be too complicated. Thank the accompanist and take your place in the room.
Often in college, students are taught some variation of this introduction: “Hi, my name is Rob Richardson, and I’ll be singing ‘Hey There‘ from The Pajama Game written by Adler and Ross.” This introduction has value and is often specifically requested at certain combined auditions like SETC, Strawhats, National Dinner Theatre Association (Does that still exist? This is also another article). But it’s NOT necessary in a professional audition. For starters, they have your resume directly in front of them, they should know your name. You CAN quickly tell the auditors what you are singing (or what monologue you are performing, don’t mean to ignore the straight theatre actors) if you desire, and often they will ask you and write it on your resume to help them remember more about you. But a simple, “Hi, this is ‘Hey There’ from the Pajama Game” is enough. Then smile at your accompanist (musical kids) to indicate you are ready to begin. Same goes for monologue auditions, a simple, “Hi this is Tom from The Glass Menagerie“ will do.
There are times, maybe not many, when you may want to enter the room in character. It can be very effective, particularly if you are playing a darker, mysterious character, an over-the-top buffoon, or a villain. IT CAN ALSO BE WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It is risky, for lots of reasons. One, if the casting team doesn’t realize what you are doing, they may be completely confused. Or they could roll their eyes with an “Oh, he’s one of THOSE actors” vibe. Or it may be simply off-putting. BUT! If the situation calls for something bold and dramatic, it might be worth the gamble. Casting directors are always encouraging actors to be brave and take risks, I believe that these are CALCULATED risks. Choose wisely.
Where Do I Look?
Most casting teams, though not all, don’t want direct eye contact while you are performing. They need to feel free to take notes, get a sense of your type and watch your performance without being obligated to be a scene partner. Unless otherwise directed, try to look at space slightly above or beside your audience, just enough to avoid eye contact. There are some directors who prefer you to deliver your work directly to them, I have found they will tell you this beforehand. (Martin Charnin, anyone?) If there is a reader in the room, and you have a scene to read, act with them, that’s what they are there for. For heaven’s sake, don’t give your monologue to an empty chair.
In a Film/TV/Commercial audition, if they don’t tell you where to look, it is ALWAYS fair to ask, “Would you like me to deliver to camera or to you or another spot?” (Note: it’s almost never DIRECTLY into the camera.) Don’t be afraid to ask a five-second question that could save an unnecessary extra take (and 60 seconds).
I’m Done, Now What?
When you are finished, hold for a beat. Not Act III of Troilus and Cressida, just a beat. Then “drop” whatever character you have created, smile, and say thank you. Then wait for instruction. If the mysterious table people say, “Thanks, Rob, that was great,” then collect your things if you have any, and say goodbye. It’s not the kiss of death, they are just moving on and it should be NO indication of your performance, you may be first on their callback list or you may be headed to the circular file, who knows? But you’ve done your job, time to move on to the rest of your day.
If they ask you to perform something else, be prepared to offer NO MORE than two choices. For singers, if they ask for something specific like a rock-belt, try to give it to them. If they ask, “What else do you have?” then your response should be, “Well, I could either do THIS or I could do THAT, which do you prefer?” It gives the auditor a choice without overwhelming them and without you standing at the piano thumbing through your book saying, “Umm…how about…umm… .” You want to make the casting director’s life easier, not more complicated.
If you are asked for a second monologue, first of all, have one. Second, unless otherwise requested, aim for a contrasting piece. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean “do the opposite of the first one.” You don’t have to do a tear-jerking cry fest after your Neil Simon comedy classic, just find something different in tone and shape, and generally shorter than your first piece. Being asked for a second piece is a big victory, even if a callback isn’t forthcoming.
When to Do the Opposite
This theatre game is funny—there seems to be a lot of rules we are expected to follow, and yet at the same time, rules are meant to be broken. This goes back to the earlier point of taking a risk. It seems to be the most ambiguous and frightening request of all. For most of my auditioning life, I have tried to present myself in the room as an intelligent, kind, capable actor who can deliver what is required for the job. And while that seems to make a lot of sense, and I guess it’s never hurt me, I can’t help but wonder how different my auditions would be if I were just a bit braver, more unpredictable. Don’t interpret that as license to throw tomatoes at the people behind the table, but every once in a while, mix it up. Don’t show what you’ve always shown, give them something they weren’t expecting. Something useful, of course, but surprising. A little risk could carry you a long, long way.