Auditions are part and parcel of the actor’s life. Whether you’re a performing arts newbie or a seasoned professional, a huge part of your work will inevitably involve showing off your chops to the people responsible for putting together theater productions (i.e. our director, producer, and casting director friends).
In the beginning, it’s easy to see auditions as overwhelming and frightening. Indeed, nervousness before auditions is something that even the most experienced of actors admit to feeling — it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of.
That being said, there are many tools we can use to get out of our own way and show our best work at auditions, the most reliable being adequate audition preparation. There’s simply no better trick to eradicating fear then to know that you’ve done absolutely everything in your power to give your best performance at an audition. Only then can you let go and let the magic happen!
So what does great audition preparation actually look like?
There are generally two categories of material that you will get asked to do at auditions: 1) You should be prepared to perform monologues and songs from your repertoire, i.e. material that you could do at a moment’s notice and presumably have been working on for some time. If your rep is sparse at the moment, never fear! StageAgent’s audition song and monologue databases are great places to start digging for pieces that are right for you. 2) You might get asked to perform “sides”, or excerpts of dialogue and music from the play/musical you are auditioning for. The former category is generally called for at any kind of “general” audition (anytime a casting director is considering you for future projects) as well as for auditions for academic/training programs in acting and musical theater. Sides, on the other hand, are typically used at auditions and callbacks for specific roles in a production.
The prep is somewhat different depending on what kind of audition you’re going in for (not to mention your individual process as an actor), but the nuts and bolts are the same, as well as the underlying principles for how to go about digging into material.
Let’s get started!
STEP ONE: Logistics
Write down your audition time and location in a calendar. Confirm your appointment time at the appropriate email address/phone number, and ask the audition contact person any questions you may have about who will be there or what exactly you need to be prepared with. Make sure you know exactly how long it will take you to get to the audition and how you plan on getting there.
STEP TWO: Research
Theater = people and ideas in rooms, and it’s worthwhile to get to know the people who are at the helm of the show/season/school you’re auditioning for, as well as some of their ideas. Browse websites, listen to interviews, read reviews — get a sense of the work of the company, director, musical director, playwright, composer… Sometimes, this may serve no other purpose than providing you with water fountain conversation if you happen to bump into someone on the production staff in the hallway. Sometimes, though, it can truly inform your audition choices. As long as you don’t let information overwhelm you, the more you know, the more you’ll be able to make educated decisions at every turn.
STEP THREE: Choose audition pieces well
For monologue/song auditions where they simply ask you to bring in something “in the style of the show” (if they even give you that much guidance), you are expected to be fully “baked”, as it were. This stuff should be completely memorized, suit you really well, and show off your best assets, in addition to being relevant to the show or shows you’re auditioning for (see below bullet point). This can be a tall order. Depending on what types of things you like to audition for, it’s worthwhile to have at your disposal dramatic and comedic contemporary monologues, classical monologues that show off different colors, and a few audition songs (uptempos and ballads) in various musical styles that show off your vocal range. Again, StageAgent is a great resource for bulking up your knowledge in the audition monologue/song department.
Are you auditioning for a comedy or a drama? When was it written? By whom? Who is the character you’re most right for in the show/season and what are some of his/her distinguishing characteristics? At the very least, the audition material you bring in should be of a similar style and genre to the show you’re auditioning for (Shakespeare monologue for a Shakespeare festival, contemporary comedic monologue for a Ken Ludwig play, classic musical theater piece for the local production of Cinderella, etc.). If you’ve covered your bases in that department, though, you can go further by tailoring your material to the role(s) you’re right for in the show/season. If you’re going in for the buffoonish sidekick, is there something in your rep that shows off your abilities in physical comedy? If it’s the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost you’re gunning after, what do you know that shows, in addition to your awesome command of language, the ability to play heightened status?
STEP FOUR: Practice
Whether you’re doing a monologue, a song, or sides — practice is you’re best friend. Review your audition material aloud on your own, with a friend, in front of your cat, while FaceTiming with your Aunt Sue — anything to get you comfortable enough with your material so that you’re able to let go of self-consciousness and concentrate on the work itself, which is… (drum roll please) living as authentically as possible in the given circumstances of the play/musical as you’ve discovered and invented them.
Note that if there are sides and music that you are learning specifically for this audition, the expectation is that you are as off-book as possible, though it is understood that you’ve had less time to prepare this type of material then you would on material in your repertoire. Many casting directors say that you should always hold sides in your hand during the audition itself so as not to give off the impression of your performance being a “finished product”.
Here are some tips for prepping your sides:
- Read through all dialogue and lyrics, writing down initial impressions of character/situation.
- If there is a dialect to learn, immediately begin listening to recordings on sites like the International Dialects of English Archive and/or chat with a dialect coach about the major sound changes relevant to the dialect you’re working on.
- If there is music, see if you can get with a pianist to get a good recording of the accompaniment, and/or listen to recordings online. Try to listen to a few different recordings so you avoid copying — remember that you are preparing your interpretation of the song.
- Spend time reviewing the StageAgent show synopsis and character description for the character you’re auditioning for, and/or check the show’s script/libretto/score out of the library and read it.
- Answer questions about character as it pertains to your sides:
- Who am I? (Character)
- What time is it? (Century, year, season, day, minute)
- Where am I? (Country, city, neighborhood, house, room, area of room)
- What surrounds me? (Animate and inanimate objects)
- What are the given circumstances? (Past, present, future and the events)
- What is my relationship? (Relation to total events, other characters, and to things)
- What do I want? (Characterʼs main and immediate objectives)
- Whatʼs in my way? (Obstacles)
- What do I do to get what I want? (The action: physical and verbal)
- All of this work should allow you to feel like you have ownership of the material, and that you have fully fleshed out the circumstances of the character you’re playing.
STEP FIVE: The Night Before
Based on all the information you’ve gathered, and following the excellent advice of resident casting associate/fashion blogger Kate Lumpkin, pick an appropriate, comfortable audition outfit. Double check that you know how to get to the audition location (print directions, determine transit time), make sure you have two copies of your 8×10 headshot and resume, and have a clean, highlighted copy of sides/music to bring along with you. Get a good night’s sleep!
STEP SIX: The Day Of
Do any physical or vocal warmups that you need to well ahead of time — hydrate and eat a good breakfast. Aim to arrive at least 15 mins early to the audition, especially if it’s in an unfamiliar location. Manage nerves immediately prior to the audition through focused breathing, meditation, and affirmations. Get in there and let go of the homework — trust that you’ve prepped your butt off, look into the eyes of your reader or imaginary scene partner, and show ‘em what ya got!
Remember that, at the end of the day, auditioning is a chance to do what you love in front of a rapt audience. The more you can think of an audition as sharing your work as opposed to trying to impress the folks behind the table, the more relaxed you will be, and the more fun auditions will become.
From all of us on the StageAgent team, break a leg!