AUDITIONING WELL: A SEPARATE SKILL
Your in-studio audition starts well before they start recording your voice!
Auditioning well is a separate yet complimentary skill to acting. You can be a great actor but a crummy auditioner, in which case, you’ll never get work.
The first thing to realize is your audition begins when you walk in to the waiting room to sign in and get your script, not when you step into the recording booth or when they begin recording. Your audition does not end until you have exited the building. Aside from your recorded performance, the impression you make auditioning before and after the read can be what makes them want to bring you back! A good read at the mic isn’t always enough.
Decoding the copy: Dig for the story and subtext of the script then for specifics that reinforce it all.
At an audition, you will need to quickly breakdown a script, gauge what they need, the tone, pace and subtext and bring that clearly to life in your performance. A surprising number of actors seem to ignore prepping, assuming perhaps that they are too good for this, or that auditions are more a “numbers game” instead of skill-based contest. Perhaps they’ve bought into the fallacy that casting happens arbitrarily. For the most part I think these views are self-defeating and plain wrong.
There isn’t much time to prepare for your audition after you arrive. Silence your smartphone and try to avoid the distraction of chit chat with fellow performers who apparently are more focused on socializing than actually booking a gig. If you think about the potential cumulative income from an audition (it could lead to a series or residuals), you’ll realize the stakes for this audition are probably higher than it may seem.
If it’s a commercial spot, you want to find out what the copy actually trying to say. What’s it’s subtext? Who is the intended audience and what must they be convinced of? What do you need to bring to your read to nail the spot’s intent? Remember: A commercial is designed to persuade a specific group of listeners of something. In a sentence, what is the spot saying? What does your character need to be in that design?
If you are reading for a cartoon, what is the creator’s vision of this show? In one sentence, what is this scene about? Can you describe your character with an adjective or two? What kind of read fits with the tone of this show/network? Is there an archetype that this points to? What’s the obvious choice? What’s a surprising one that might work? What is your strongest take on this? These are the kind of things that should be running through your head. The more you audition and work, the quicker and more accurately your instincts can find this.
It takes a while for a less experienced actor to become familiar with all the items on your “actor tool belt” that you draw upon in your work. You will need to clearly “see” the mission, quickly discern which of your “tools” to use. A more experienced actor has these readily at hand. A pro has developed an instinct for getting a lock on an audition and delivering a strong performance that “solves” the audition, which might be viewed as a unique kind of puzzle. It’s like you develop a kind of radar that quickly scans the landscape and snap onto its target and fires! The process seems quick and easy, even offhanded and casual, when a pro does it, but it can take years to get to this point.
As an actor, you must bring more than what is written to your read:
An audition is like a puzzle and involves lots more than just reading words to “solve.” The specifics you need to crack the code are usually in the words, or at least implied.
In some instances, you may not be given much direction or context in your audition copy. Sometimes in animation instead of a complete scene all you get is a string of sentences seemingly in a vacuum, with no lead-in dialog or action specifics. The character’s description might be vague or really non-existant. The person who put this together didn’t understand what an actor needs to know.
If specifics are missing in the audition or you have questions, ask before you audition. If you can’t get these details, then you must invent them and incorporate them into your performance anyway. You must make your best guess as to context and timing. You have to imagine the script’s action playing out, the implied reactions of other characters you may be speaking with, events you must “listen to” in your read, even the edits– pretty much a full specific scene should be running through your mind as you perform your audition. This could mean things like leaving a little room for reacting to other characters, listening to words (not) spoken to you, adding effort sounds, pre-life, pauses or even some improv to loosen it up.
It’s up to you to see this and make the acting choices that make this feel real and sell the point. What you pro-actively bring to your read is fundamental to auditioning.
The biggest mistake you can make is to give a read that is generic– It delivers nothing more than you reading sentences. There is no story, no angle, nothing organic or honest. This isn’t playing the scene or even acting. It lacks specificity, imagination and strong choices. It will sound flat and dead and won’t get you a callback or a job.
The biggest mistake you can make isn’t flubbing a word or missing a cue, it’s failing to act.
Handling a poor audition description:
The character description or direction may not actually indicate what they want or what the spot actually needs. You may have an idea that is very different from what they think they want that is way better! If so, do that. If they say they want it a way that feels wrong to you, okay, give them that– then ask to give them another idea. Usually, they will accept it. If not, at least you tried!
Bring your ideas but also bring your flexibility!
You must be prepared to completely switch up your read if directed to do so– sometimes under less than optimal conditions. You may have auditioned and been called back for one thing and then arrive and be asked to completely change it! Or they decide to recast and switch you to read a completely different character! Improv experience was always helpful when this happens, which is fairly often. Don’t be confined by what you expect your performance to be!
Make those who cast want more of you with a confident audition.
You want to leave the room with them wanting more of your creation and more of you. Your job at the audition is not to politely and obediently read a few words, excuse yourself and slink out! You must be strong and confident- not wimpy or tentative. People hire well-placed confidence. You gotta knock them out with what you bring to your read and to the room! (For more on this CLICK HERE.)
You may be hired for your one audition, but you are rehired because they like not only your read, but they also like your presence, your energy and what you bring to “the mix.” A “good read” often isn’t enough.
Make it count! Don’t hold back giving it your best every time.
I am always surprised at how many actors approach their auditions in a thoughtless, offhand manner. They socialize rather than prepare and then audition as a spur of the moment off-the-cuff afterthought. This approach significantly lowers your odds of booking a gig.
It is an actor’s job to give it your best every time, no matter how incidental the role or project may seem to be. You have no idea how big a small project can get, or how big a “small time newbie” director will get. Besides that, be aware that any seemingly “minor” audition or gig might end up being an audition for something else in the future. You may be wrong for this role, but right for the next one! The producer of this one cheap-o local commercial or student project may soon be a powerful show runner/director who remembers your great job once upon a time and calls you in! It happens!
Clothing: Bring more than a good read to the room.
Pay attention to your clothes as they can color your presence in the minds of those who are auditioning you. No, I don’t mean you should rent a costume or show up in a “cosplay” outfit. But both you and your recorded performance must feel right to the casting decision makers for their particular project if you are to book the gig. It’s not crazy for someone to think, “She brings a great read, but I just don’t see it when I look at her.” This could be a subconscious thing as well. (e.g. “He’s always joking around between takes, I don’t think he fits this serious patriarch character in our show.”) Sounds crazy, but it can be a factor.
Some other examples: Don’t wear an old t-shirt, shorts and flip flops to read for an uptight preacher, don’t dress old when the part is obviously young, don’t present them with a “kid” when the part calls for a “dad,” etcetera. Have the audition’s character in your mind as you dress for your drive to the audition or gig.
Bring the character along with you.
I’m not saying to “act” like someone else throughout the entire audition. It’s more nuanced than that. Start by thinking about your character: Is this character old, young, powerful, insecure, wacky, deadly serious? Think of a good adjective to “flavor” your stage presence a bit. Have this in the back of your mind when you enter the studio through when you leave. Again, I’m talking subtle, but idea is there.
An example might be, if you are auditioning for a powerful villainous character, bring elements of that dark theaticality to today’s read– lose the between-the-takes comedy, the little neurotic apologies you do, and the off-kilter anecdotes you may typically bring. Dress in slacks and a button down shirt, perhaps more formal colors, in a way that suggests Power.
Another example might be, if you are reading for an innocent but wacky cartoony kid, dress younger, maybe more colorful or hipper, certainly not formally (a tee shirt? shorts? informal shoes, etc.), and bring that youthful energy along with you.
You get the idea. Don’t over do this, but you may find it helpful to suggest or “give a nod” to the character you aim to create in how you present yourself.
Don’t be distracted or freaked out by what is happening (or what you imagine is happening) in the recording booth.
Just because they have you do 25 takes doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you or your read. And when you see the engineer and client shaking their heads with the talk back off after your take, feel free to assume they are talking about a dismal sporting event or where not to have lunch. It ain’t all about you! Keep your head positive, no matter what is thrown at you! It’s your job to “roll with it.” If you become negative or paranoid about your work, it helps no one and makes everyone feel bad.
Even if the session is tough or they are having a hard time getting what they want or they don’t know what they want, or if you are having a rough time getting it– stay professional, keep cool and just do the work. Keep delivering what you do with unflappable confidence.
Don’t be thrown by not booking or having a “bad” audition.
There are usually specific reasons that you didn’t book the gig or make the callback– perhaps due to your read, perhaps not. Learn from it! Blaming “chance” is a cop-out. Seek out feedback from the casting director through your agent and do better next time.
Don’t lose sleep about whether you booked it or not.
An audition is like a lottery ticket that someone else scratches off for you. You only hear about it if you win, otherwise, just let it go.