On Auditioning

AuditionI think I’ve written a small bit about auditioning before, but I’m not going back to read it to make sure I don’t repeat myself.  My perspective today may align in some ways — at least I hope it will — with what I have written before.  But I’m going to trust that what I write today is a whole in and of itself, even if it comes with duplicate phrases.

The one thing I think I must have said previously — or if not, I should have — is that Michael Shurtleff’s book “Audition” tells you everything you need to know.  Quite honestly, I think it tells you most everything you need to know about acting, not just auditioning.  Although if all you needed was the theory, higher education of all sorts would soon go out of business.

So I am vaguely contemplating auditioning for a local community theater production.  I’m not sure that I want to commit to everything doing a play means — rehearsals, performances, etc. — but I may just show up for auditions for the pleasure of saying the words I have longed to say since I first encountered the play in my adolescence, and let the future take care of itself.

Reading through the audition sides made me ask myself, what matters most in an audition?  What do I, as a director, look for?  And what do I, as an actor, try to provide?

Understand, there are as many kinds of directors as there are people.  I’m sure there are directors hoping that someone will show up who says the lines in precisely the way they sound in the director’s head.  And they may well cast on that basis.  I won’t say that an actor who does that won’t get my attention.  But it isn’t a given that I will cast that actor, either.

So what do I hope to see at an audition if I’m a director?

  • A moment — just a moment is sufficient — of a real emotional connection with the character.  A moment where all the artifice of the audition process disappears, and the actor is truly connected with what is going on with the character.  The more moments you can provide like this, the better.  But sometimes just a fleeting glimpse of it is sufficient for me to cast someone — for instance, if no one else has come close, or if you are so right in every other respect that the flash of understanding gives me the confidence that I can pull out of you what I need to.
  • An attempt to connect meaningfully with your scene partner.  I recognize that you don’t choose your scene partners at an audition, and your scene partner may have no idea that you are trying to connect with him.  He may be incapable of receiving what you send him, at least in the context of an audition, but I won’t grade you on that.  What matters to me is that I see you, as an actor, reach out to him, open yourself to whatever he may deliver.
  • If it’s a comedy, I’d love to get the sense that you know how to deliver a comic line.  I recently saw a musical comedy performed by a talented troupe of high school students, and was amazed by the fact that everyone with a funny line delivered it with great comic timing.  Very unusual, in my experience, and kudos to the woman running the program.  (Please give me the secret!)In a perfect world, you want a comedian/commedienne to deliver all the punchlines, but you won’t always get them.  Many times, the ingenue/juvenile or leading lady/man need to deliver punchlines, and you can do so successfully even if you aren’t a comedian by nature.  So at an audition, I want to see clear evidence that you know what “funny” means.

It’s nice if you’ve done you homework (if the play isn’t an original) and know something about the play and its characters.  If nothing else, it tells me that you are willing to work.  And while I don’t put a lot of weight on it, yes, reading the lines in a sensible way helps me to get past the rest and to see the first two things that I’m looking for, which are really two of the most important things you can convey in an audition.

The last thing you can bring to the table is sometimes taken care of by any of the things I’ve already mentioned.  It is also the most ephemeral thing to describe.

I’m looking for something unusual.  A creative take that isn’t expected.  A single moment of surprise, something that makes me joyful because whatever you do is so out of the ordinary and yet fits perfectly.  It can be the tiniest moment, but a moment that shows me that you can bring something unique to the play matters.  I want to see that you are a creative artist.  It doesn’t even matter if you make the wrong choice.  Just make an interesting choice.  I’m not going to assume that you have read the play before, or that even if you have, that you have digested it as thoroughly as you will over the course of rehearsals.  So I won’t penalize you for creative choices that aren’t right for the role.  On the contrary, just showing me that you can be creative is key.  I’ll assume that you will make creative choices in rehearsals that make better sense.  I just want to know that you have it in you to dig for the unusual.

Remember, I’ve got mere minutes with you in an audition.  To stand out, you need to do something — even just one thing — that no one else is doing nearly as well.  Stop worrying about doing it “right” and worry about doing it “interestingly”.

If you do all of these things but I don’t cast you, the reason is probably one of balance.  I’ve got to put together an entire cast that makes sense — physically, tonally, etc.  You may be brilliant, but you may also be the odd man out.  In that case, it may kill me to not cast you, but I’ve got no choice.

As an actor, assume it is killing me to not cast you.  Assuming that gives you the strength to keep going in this very difficult profession.