How to Improve Your Audition

Probably the most difficult part of theater is the audition process, both for those that need to audition as well as for the auditors. It’s a time consuming, nerve-wracking, grueling, nasty business. It is also what gives everyone an (fairly equal) opportunity to get on the stage, grow, improve and enjoy the fruits of hard work and the blessing of talent, both natural and developed.

The pointers below have been gleaned from all over and will help you. Will they guarantee that you’ll get the leading role that you have always wanted? No… but it will help you prepare for that scary, shake-anybody’s-confidence process called the “audition.”


Before You Go:

Read the Audition Notice Carefully

Actors should arrive at auditions fully prepared, not just ready to perform, but also to present any requested material. Examine the audition notice. Follow whatever guidelines are offered to ensure that you arrive at the audition as organized as possible.

Preparing a song

Choose wisely when you are picking a song for your audition. Try to choose a song that shows off your abilities and is consistent with the style of show you are auditioning for. (For instance, no shows are performed a´ cappella, so you should not audition that way.) If the show consists of songs that lean toward rock, or opera, or traditional Broadway tunes, try to find similar material. Usually, but not always, avoid singing a song from the show at hand; it may restrict the imagination of the staff members who are trying to cast you in the show. Sometimes a song by the same composer in a similar style is appropriate. The ideal song for you to sing shows off a bit of your voice range and your level of ease as a singer. You are not trying to fool the staff by hiding your weaknesses, but you want to present yourself at your very best. Timing, phrasing, breathing, support and sustain will all reveal themselves very quickly. But maybe more important than all that… feeling. What is the story you are telling with this song? Do you believe it? Can you make me believe it?

So as to be respectful of everyone’s time, cut down your song to maybe one verse and one chorus. Rehearse it that way. Then when you get to the audition, you won’t be rushed.

Most importantly, come fully rehearsed and prepared! Make sure the audition is not the first time you have sung your song on that day. Run through it at least a couple of times before your audition. You should have some form of accompaniment in place, whether it’s a live accompanist or a recorded track. Never put a piano player on the spot by asking them to accompany you at the last minute. He/she could very well “kill” your audition, but the failure to prepare well ahead of time falls on you. The better prepared you are, the more relaxed you will be and the better you will perform.

Research the Material

You might not be able to read the script in advance, but don’t let that stop you from researching the part. Use the Internet, trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter, and any other sources to find out about the storyline and the character types that the directors might be looking for. Listen to some of the music, if you can. Get a feeling for the time and place of the story.

Practice Cold Reading

You’ll want to polish up your cold reading skills. Cold reading is the act of performing lines as you read them for the very first time. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, but with practice most actors can become quite adept at it.

The best way to become a fluent cold reader is to read aloud whenever you get the chance. And don’t just read the words in a monotone voice, read the words with emotion. Read the words “in character.”

Find opportunities to read to others:

Read storybooks to children.

Read magazine articles to friends.

Read poetry to your loved ones.

Read this article out loud to your computer!

The more you read the more natural your voice will sound. Remember, the challenge of cold reading is to sound as though you are saying those written words spontaneously. Practice makes perfect.

As you practice reading aloud, make certain you incorporate natural movements.

Audition dress code

Wear plain (nice) clothes.

You want the casting director to watch your acting, not read your humorous T-shirt. Don’t wear clothes with strong or colorful designs. Wear comfortable, modest clothes that allow for free movement.

Wear appropriate colors

Although a splash of color won’t damage your chances (unless you have specifically been asked to wear “blacks”), you should think what is appropriate for your audition, not drawing attention to your clothing.

Wear flat shoes

A simple pair of rubber-soled sneakers is all you need. You can comfortably move in them. Never wear high heals for an audition – you’ll almost certainly be asked to remove them. Flip-flops or bare feet are not appropriate. You will be wearing shoes to perform so don’t plan on getting used to bare feet. Dance shoes are okay to bring (or wear) but don’t make people wait for you to go get them or change into them.

No costumes

Many new actors make the mistake of wearing costumes to audition. Perhaps they say to themselves: “Hey, I’ve got a great pirate outfit from last Halloween! I’ll wear that!” Sadly, this is bound to cause the panel to chuckle under their breath. They might be amused, but they will definitely not take the actor seriously.

Try not to use props

Your stage entrance needs to be as slick and clean as possible. A busy director may begrudge waiting for you to find a chair or table. Sometimes, they might even instruct you to do the audition without the chair and you’ll have to adapt your speech on the spot. It’s best not to use any props so that you can fully concentrate on your performance.

The Audition Panel

The powers that be. The folks behind the desk, eating, drinking and taking their notes. All the while, ignoring you.

When you walk into the room, don’t think that you are at their mercy for two minutes. Walk in and think the exact opposite. They’re at your mercy for two minutes. You can make ’em laugh, cry, or at least yawn. Whatever the case, you’ll be having fun.

A little known audition tip: Think of them as potential business partners. Equals. You’re selling, and they’re buying. Treat them with respect and courtesy, and they’ll do the same.

But don’t ask who they are. Introductions waste time, time you could use for showing off your acting or singing chops.

They are there to observe and evaluate you, not engage.

The Room and the Space

Wherever it is, there’s usually an X, or a box, on the floor, made with tape. Find it and go stand there. That’s called a mark. (X marks the spot.)

Why? Because the panel gets antsy when you’re too close. (I had a professor in college who would throw a pen at you if you came too close to the table.)

But don’t stay rooted to that X. Remember, the space is yours for two whole minutes. So feel free to move around a little bit. Auditions are often recorded on video as a reference for the audition panel when they cast the show, so try not to jump around too much as you may go right out of the camera frame… the camera operator doesn’t want to chase you all over the room.

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The Arrival

You are always being assessed

The audition starts from the moment you enter the building, so try to present yourself as professional and personable at all times. An audition isn’t solely about your acting ability; it’s also about your general character. The panel will be looking to see if you are the sort of personality that would fit their company.

Be Professional

Be courteous, but don’t be too talkative. Don’t pester staff members or fellow actors with idle conversation. Spend your time readying yourself.

You will need to fill out the “Audition Form” but a head-shot and resume are fine if you have them . In general, think of an audition like a job interview. Avoid inappropriate behavior, whether its chewing gum, using profanity, behaving too shyly or brashly, or making long-winded speeches as to why you are perfect for the role.

First Impressions

Here’s a good audition tip: When you walk in the room, be confident. The human brain makes over 27 judgments about another person within seconds of meeting them. These judgments are based on your posture, body language, voice tone, breathing rate, eye contact, etc.

The first 10 seconds are vital

The director will make most of their judgments about you in the first 10 seconds of your performance. After this, they will be looking to see if you can sustain your performance.

Make a bad first impression, and everything you do thereafter is filtered through that impression (called a cognitive filter). You’ll smile and they’ll think you’re afraid and nervous.

If you make a good first impression, you’ll smile and they’ll think you’re relaxed and confident.

Why is this important? Because acting is a business. And people do business with those that they know, like, and trust.

Introduce yourself and your number

Don’t start your audition without first introducing yourself to the panel. After you hit your X, and you get the go-ahead nod from the panel, tell them who you are. This is called slating. There’s the good slate, and the bad slate.

The Bad Slate: “Hello, my name is so-and-so, and I’ll be doing Viola from Twelfth Night.”

Boring! Imagine how many times a day the auditors must hear that. It’ll go in one ear and right out the other.

The Good Slate: “Good evening, I’m so-and-so and this is Viola in the first act.”

That has class and distinction. Or what about this? “Hi everyone, my name is so-and-so and this piece is from Twelfth Night.” Now they’re listening! (Just remember to keep it simple.)

Although the panel may know which song you are singing, it’s good practice to reiterate the information because it prepares them for what they are about to see and focuses them on your acting ability.

The Time Limit

If you prepared a song, (as you were instructed in the “Audition Call”, you (usually) get one-two minutes starting from your first line. And two minutes is plenty. (In fact, the panel will have made their decision in about 30 seconds.)

And if they cut you off, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean you’re bad, it means they’re renting by the hour.

Eye Contact

Actors love to stare, especially in auditions. They think it makes them look ultra-concentrated on their scene partner. The end result looks like someone who might be slightly deranged. And who wants to hire that?

Don’t Apologize

Before and after an audition, an actor becomes his own worst critic. Often times, hopeful thespians are tempted to explain themselves to the directors. They provide excuses or even apologies in hopes of gaining sympathy. Avoid this as much as you can. Thank the director and leave the audition knowing that if you are right for the part, they will contact you. If not, know that you did your best. And remember: there are many other wonderful roles out there just waiting to be filled.

Relax

This is good advice for auditions in general. If your nerves get the better of you, don’t worry about it. Everybody is nervous at auditions.

It’s Time to Read

During a cold read audition, most actors stand still as they read from the script. However, if it seems appropriate for your character to move, we suggest you move a little.

Nothing extreme — nothing too distracting. Go with what feels right, or what the stage directions indicate. Remember, body language is a major part of the audition, not just your voice.

When you cold read during your audition, don’t worry if you stumble over a word or two. The important thing to remember is to stay in character. Create chemistry between you and your fellow actor, if there is one. Make the director, and anyone else watching, believe that you are thinking and feeling the words on the page.

Don’t Block Your Face

This is simple but incredibly important. Because the script will be in your hands during your audition, you might be tempted to hold the words right in front of your face. Don’t! The director wants to see your facial expressions. If you hide behind the script, chances are less that you’ll get the part!

Listen and React

Many “cold readers” mistakenly look down at their script while their fellow actors are delivering their lines. Instead, you should be in character, listening and reacting to their words. Much of your performance relies on how you respond to the other characters.

Be Creative and Receptive to New Ideas

There are limitless ways to read a scene. Show your creativity by developing unique characters. The director may ask you to read the part in a different way. Embrace the director’s suggestions and show him what a team-player you can be.

Your creativity, your cold reading skills, and your professionalism will all help you nail that audition.

Finish professionally

Lots of actors stand in silence at the end of their audition. This creates an uncomfortable moment for both the panel and the performer. To finish professionally, simply freeze in character for a moment or two at the very end of your performance before returning to a neutral stance. Make eye contact with the panel and say “Thank you.”

The Bottom Line

These little audition tips & tricks took years to collect. And they can make or break your audition. Follow them, and you’ll be light years ahead of the competition, and so much closer to becoming an actor.

Dealing with rejection

Sometimes you will have to deal with rejection. If you take rejection with a smile and remain polite and positive, the casting director would be more willing to audition you for a future project. If you are defensive and aggressive, they’ll be glad to see the back of you. Casting is totally subjective… there are a dozen reasons why you may or may not be the right actor/singer for the role. There are no secrets to overcome subjectivity and there’s a 99.99% chance that there are no conspiracies against you or anyone else.