A Director Tells: 15 Things You Should Know When You’re Auditioning
Auditioning can be a dreadful thing as a performer. It seems like nobody really likes them. Most people I talk to, whether they be actors, dancers, stage managers, or casting directors, don’t like the audition process. But it doesn’t seem like anyone has a better way of hiring artists for contracted theatre work (I certainly haven’t thought of a better way) so here we are, season after season doing auditions the same old way.
As a director, I actually really enjoy hosting auditions.
So little of my job as an Artistic Producer is actually directing, so whenever I can flex my skills and practise my craft, even for 15 minutes at a time in an audition or callback, I’m happy.
Over the last two weeks, I held auditions for three productions I’m working on this season. After receiving dozens of submissions and sitting through audition after audition I found myself thinking, “I wish I could just tell these people this thing!” or “It would be great if everyone knew that.” And so here I am, making a blog post about it. I am by no means claiming to be an expert in this field. All of these tips are just gathered from my experience as a director and are my personal opinions. You very well might meet another director who completely disagrees with what I have to say, so take it all with a grain of salt.
SUBMITTING FOR THE AUDITION
Oh! You thought these were just going to be tips for being in the audition room? Think again! Remember that submitting for auditions is the first point of contact with the company you want to work with. I’m not saying that if you don’t do these things they’re not going to hire you, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to be professional and thorough when communicating with a potential employer.
1. Read the Casting Call Carefully
I cannot stress this enough. If the company manager has taken the time to put something into the casting call, it means that it’s important to the production. So when an audition post says something like, “We’re looking for people who have experience in burlesque” or “Please highlight any dance experience you have, particularly in tap and ballet” then include the things they ask for when you submit for the audition. Put it in the body of your email. Actually highlight it on the resumé you submit. If you don’t have the experience they’re looking for but still want to submit, that’s okay! You can even say you’re willing to learn if necessary, but, as our good friend Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson said, “When you’ve got it, flaunt it!”
2. Be Proactive About Schedules and Your Availability
Something I commonly ask for in casting calls is letting us know your availability or preference for the audition dates/times. I can’t tell you how many times this has been ignored and then after I give someone an audition slot they get back to me saying they’re not available for that time. By the time auditions are scheduled, all the slots might be filled up and if you didn’t give your availability up front you might be out of luck.
On a similar note, it’s very annoying to hear after a performer has been chosen to be cast that they’re actually not available for half of the rehearsal process. If you have major conflicts, just be upfront about them and hope that the company can work around them. If they can’t, it wouldn’t have worked out either way so it’s always better to be upfront.
3. Be Aware of Your Files
This is a personal pet peeve of mine and it adds unnecessary work to what is already a complicated process. Make sure you name the digital files you send something appropriate. It’s very unprofessional to have your resumé named something like “Acting Resumé” or your headshot named “0192302991810928301.jpeg” when you submit it. Remember that the person you’re sending this to probably receives over fifty “Acting Resumé”s and they want to know which one is yours. My personal preference would be your name and then what the document is. You can’t go wrong with something like “Andrew G. Cooper – Acting Resumé” or “Andrew Cooper (Headshot)”.
As another personal note, I would suggest you submit everything as .pdf files. They’re transferable between operating systems and the formatting remains the same when I’m looking at submissions on my laptop, tablet, or my phone. The same cannot be said for Microsoft Word documents. If you don’t have the software to do this on your computer, an easy google search will help you convert word files or images to .pdf and it can be done for free online. Here and here are just two examples.
4. Have A Professional Email Account
If you’re submitting to a theatre company and want to be taken seriously, please have a professional email. “firstname.lastname@example.org” doesn’t quite look as good as “email@example.com”. If you’re worried about all the work it takes to transfer to a new email address, you can just set up email forwarding from your professional email address to your personal one. It’s very simple and it can be done in a matter of minutes.
5. Put The Right Things on Your Resumé
The industry standard for what goes on a resumé is constantly changing. Recently, there’s been a movement to remove physical attributes (height, eye colour, weight, etc.) from your resumé. I will leave this one up to you. Personally, as a director I still like seeing them there. The unfortunate reality for me is that sometimes the script calls for someone “really tall” and I’d like to know whether you’re 5’11” or 6’6″. One thing I’d like to see on more resumés is the performers’ union affiliation. I suggest always listing this, even if it’s listed as none. If you’re submitting for a musical (or even a play with music) it’s always nice to include your singing range. If you don’t know what that is, try and find a music director (or even a friend) who can sit down with you at a piano one afternoon and find out.
And don’t be afraid to have a bit of personality. Someone put 5′ 2½” inches and that told me something useful about this woman. Someone else put “bird of prey and snake handling” in their special skills section and though I may never use that in a show, it tells me something about your personality.
PREPARING FOR YOUR AUDITION
So you were chosen for an audition! Congratulations! Now comes the hard work of preparing your monologue. I once heard someone say that as an actor your job is auditioning and when you get into a production that’s just a bonus. I think that is an excellent way to think about the audition process. Going out and auditioning is the job of the actor, and if you’re lucky enough to land yourself in a show then that’s just icing on the cake.
6. Read the Information from the Company Carefully
Once again: please, please, please read what the company sends you. If they tell you they want to see two contrasting monologues that are no more than five minutes in length in total, do not bring in your two favourite three-minute monologues! If they ask you to bring in 16 bars of a contemporary musical they mean sixteen bars and they mean contemporary. If you are really unsure what they mean by something (“Does mid-20th century count as contemporary anymore?” “Is a Restoration Comedy considered Classic?”) it is okay to ask. However, if the information is sent to you in the email, where and when the audition is for example, but you send an email asking something like where the audition is held, you will make someone frown. And you probably don’t want to make someone frown do you? Lastly, if you’re asked to confirm if the audition slot works for you, please confirm with them if it works for you.
7. Research the Show and the Company
Do your due diligence. Find a copy of the script and read it. If it’s a new work (which 90% of the shows that I personally work on are) then ask if you can read a draft of the script. I actually love when performers do this because it shows me they’re putting the work in and they’re interested about the show. If you’re provided with sides from the show, knowing the greater context of that scene can be very helpful to you when rehearsing. Find things on the company website that excite you about the company’s work and learn about the play and its characters and its setting.
8. Take Care to Select Your Pieces
There’s something that thrills me to see when I’m running an audition: when people select a piece that’s topical to the show they’re auditioning for. Some directors might not like this, but I love it. If the write up about our show says it’s an in-your-face feminist show, bring in a piece that suits that tone. If my show is about a serial killer, it probably wouldn’t hurt you to bring in a character that’s a serial killer, or maybe a detective who’s tracking one, or maybe the spouse of one of the victims, etc.
Obviously this doesn’t apply if you’re doing general auditions (which could be an entirely different blog post) but it shows me the performer has put thought into what they’re doing and is interested in the piece. The flip side to this is at least get your monologue in the right ballpark for the show or company you’re auditioning for. I’m probably not looking for an in-your-face feminist monologue paired with a monologue about a serial killer if I’m casting a Theatre for Young Audiences show.
9. Select A Piece That Means Something To You
This is going one step further than the last point. Try to avoid very common pieces. This can be hard to know as an actor! You are not sitting through 70 auditions in a week, but you know who is…? The director casting this show. If you’ve googled for a monologue (e.g. “comedic monologues for women” or “Musical Theatre Audition Songs for Men”) and you find one you like in the top five results…chances are there are a dozen other people who have found the same monologue the same way. And there’s a decent chance that I’ve seen that piece before, even if it was a couple years ago, and that someone else has already done a really great job doing it.
My advice? Think of the plays you’ve seen/read you’ve really liked. Think of the characters that have inspired you. Find those plays and pull monologues from them. They don’t have to be your gender or age range or race or anything. If you like the piece and if the piece speaks to you then we will see that in the audition room.
10. Things Not To Do When Selecting Pieces
Here are the things I do not like to see with monologue/song choices:
i. Pieces that are from the actual show you’re auditioning for. Unless you’ve been given a side from that show, then obviously prepare it, it’s best to avoid doing this.
ii. Pieces from a show that you’ve been in and you list on your resumé. In my mind, if it’s from a show you’ve done it means you’ve put a lot of rehearsal hours into this piece and if you’re doing it in an audition room you better be able to knock off my socks with it or I’ll probably be thinking, “Oh, okay, that’s the very best this person can do.”
iii. Monologues from movies. Just…don’t. This is not good practice for theatre auditions. If I’ve seen the movie, especially if I like the movie, then I’m just going to be comparing you to the film. As a general rule, you’ll be safe finding monologues from published plays. I am, however, personally interested in monologues from new works that are unpublished because most of the work I do is new works. This goes back to point number 7 about doing your research.
iv. Once again, pieces that are longer than what we asked for. Around two minutes is almost always a good marker for a monologue.
My final note on selecting audition pieces is that you can break any of these rules…if you are going to show off your talents and show off your true self the best!
IN THE AUDITION ROOM
So you were chosen for an audition! Congratulations! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Now the real fun is going to begin. Remember, it’s an Uphill Battle.
11. Be On Time, Be Respectful
I wish I didn’t need to include this, but I’m going to just in case there are people who don’t know. Do not show up late. Obviously life happens and things get in the way, but plan on being early. If you can’t make it please, please, please email me ahead of time to say so. Do not just not show up. And email as soon as you know. A week in advance is great. The night before is at least okay. The day of the audition is not a good time (but it’s still better than nothing)!
If they have a sign in sheet, make sure you use it. If they have a form to fill out, take the time to fill it out and check that there’s a back side (you would be surprised how many audition forms are given to me with only one side filled out…). I know that you’ve already put this information in your cover letter and that it’s listed on your resumé, but if we’re asking you to fill it out on a form there’s a reason. It might be for a third party who isn’t getting the submissions, it might be for our ease when we’re sifting through the ten possible performers for the one role.
12. Read the Room
This one is tricky and there’s no way to get it right because every audition room is different but here’s what I personally like. For handshaking, come to the table and shake their hands only if they extend the offer to you. Please do introduce yourself though! Remember that your name is your brand as an actor and that you want to be remembered. Find out who everyone in the room is, there may be the director, an assistant director, a choreographer, a stage manger, a reader, the artistic director, etc., etc. It’s good to know who these people are. You may see them again at your next audition.
Here’s another pet peeve of mine… ask if you’re going to direct your monologue directly at the director. I personally really don’t like this. I want to be able to watch what you’re doing when you’re performing and take notes if necessary and if you’re looking me in the eyes and giving the piece right to me, I want to stay with you so I don’t feel like I can do either of those things.
13. Be As Prepared As You Can
You can’t control how talented you are but you can control how well prepared you are. First, bring everything you need with you to the audition. Make sure you have the proper clothing and footwear (especially for movement/dance callbacks). Bring your Equity card if you’re asked to. Bring water!
Make sure you know your pieces as well as you can and you’ve found all your thoughts and moments in them. If, however, you have to use your sheet, use it. I would much rather have you read off the page and deliver a great performance than be stumbling through your lines trying to remember them.
14. Use The Time You Have How You Want It
Remember, it’s your ten (or fifteen) minutes! There’s a couple things I think you should do. If you’re not asked, slate yourself. Remember that your name is your brand and I love to know where the pieces are from. Outside of that, use the time however you want to use it. Yes, the casting team is busy but they’ve given you this time and it is yours to use how you want. If you need to take a moment to collect yourself before you start, take a moment. If you want to play trombone to show that off, do it! It’s your time. You do you.
15. Be Yourself
This is probably the most important thing. If I don’t know you, I’m trying to get to know you in a very short amount of time. Come in and just show me who you are. Be honest and be open. If you’re nervous, it’s okay to say so! If you’re a bubbly person, come in and be bubbly. If you’re a serious professional, show me that. Try and be true to yourself and if you are really right for one of the roles we’re looking for, you’ll get the part.
So there you have it. Fifteen tips for auditions. You could even call them notes, from a director to a performer.
If you’re interested, I will also say that, while I have sat in on Equity auditions and auditions at regional theatres on occasion, most of my work as a director is in what is lovingly termed “independent theatre”. In the past two weeks, I also dipped my toes for the first time in holding auditions for community theatre, which was a fun adventure in itself. But this is my perspective and I truly hope you found something helpful in here to take with you into your next audition.
As a bonus note, I will say this:
Remember that the people on the other side of the table want you to succeed.
We’re sitting there and every time that door opens we’re thinking, “I really hope this is the one!” If you come in and blow us away, you’re going to make our day (and make our job a lot easier)!
In closing, I’m just going to say that a lot of thought and work goes into casting a show. A lot of the time the reason someone is (or isn’t) cast has to do with things out of their control. Maybe you’re too tall or too short for a role. Maybe we decided we needed performers who can play musical instruments (this may be within your control in the long run, but it’s probably not within the time our posting goes out and we are making our casting decision). I’ve heard of people getting cast in remounts because they fit the costumes that were made for the last performer. You could have the right energy we were looking for, or you could not. Whatever it is, just keep going out there and auditioning. Keep training and developing new skills and honing your craft. And, as always, find what it is about this thing you do that you love and keep coming back to that.
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