The first step to a better audition is to give up character and use yourself.
~ Michael Shurtleff
Actors all have one thing in common – they all have to attend acting auditions to get a part. Whether it’s for the lead in a TV series, a part in the chorus ensemble of a West-End show or a walk-on part in a movie, all actors must impress in an audition in order to get the part. Even some of the greatest Hollywood actors will most likely have to read and be screen-tested before being handed the lead in a movie.
Do the best actors always get the best parts? No.
Unfortunately the acting industry is not always very fair, but then very few types of business are. Therefore actors need to know the greatest tips and tricks of the profession in order to come across well and win over an audition panel before landing that part in a production.
This may sound obvious but when it comes to acting auditions, preparation is absolutely key. Confidence will certainly get you a long way, but you can’t just blag your way through auditions. Panels are looking for something special, so it is vital to be fully prepared both in the material that you present and in your delivery of it.
Choosing Your Acting Audition Pieces
In a typical audition you might be asked to prepare two or three audition pieces that are each roughly two minutes long. Always check the guidelines to see if there are any restrictions on the type of material that you’re allowed to present. You may be asked to select pieces that are of contrasting styles so that the acting audition panel is able to see a range in your acting abilities. Try to be imaginative with the speeches that you choose so that you are able to impress the panel with your eye for an interesting scene.
Learning Your Lines
Once you have selected your performances, it is imperative that you learn the lines and memorise them to perfection. You may be offered direction during the audition that is different to the way you’ve learnt the part, so be sure that the lines are embedded into your brain so that you don’t lose your way if asked to play a variation of the role.
Many actors learn their lines through repetition. Although this is an effective way of getting the words right, it can be detrimental to your acting. Your muscle memory will in fact remember not just the lines, but also the rhythm, cadence and tone of voice that you use. This can result in a speech that sounds as if you’re reading it straight from the script. In order to give a convincing performance, excellent method actors deliver their lines as if they’re saying them for the first and last time. One way in which actors can memorise lines as well as being able to recall them more naturally, is to learn them by rote. This technique involves saying the lines repeatedly using a monotonous tone that eliminates any kind of emotion. When you need to remember the lines in a scene, there is no muscle memory attached to the words so actors are able to deliver them spontaneously as if for the first time. The way in which the lines are said can then change in each and every performance that an actor gives.
Watch Your Own Performance
Before attending acting auditions, it is a good idea to time the length of your speeches at your own natural performance speed so that you’re aware it fits within the requested duration. Directors normally pay by the hour for rental of a studio or theatre for audition purposes so they won’t want to overrun just so that each and every budding star can finish their long-winded scene in full.
If possible, it is also a good idea to film your own rehearsals at home. You could either do this by yourself or by asking a willing friend or family member to help you out. By watching your performance back you will get a better idea of any areas that you can improve upon or eliminate entirely.
Calming Your Nerves
Acting auditions can be nerve-wracking, so it is essential that you use some relaxation and calming techniques in order to prepare for your performance. Often you may be ushered into a waiting room to sit amongst other actors who are auditioning for the same part as you. Some actors may strike up a friendly conversation with you in order to calm their own nerves. Others may do so to try and throw you off your own game. It is best to concentrate on your own audition preparation, so bring something along to keep you independently focussed and calm before going in. This might be a puzzle, a magazine or even an adult colouring book which is known to promote relaxation. Method actors such as Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson always use specific relaxation techniques before going on stage which combat tension and nerves.
One of the most effective Method relaxation activities is the ragdoll exercise. This involves an actor sitting in a chair with their eyes closed. They must sit upright with their head bowed and then release their whole body like a floppy ragdoll. Parts of the body that still feel tense must be moved slowly in a circular motion, starting from the head and going down to the toes. Vocally, actors should let out an ‘Ahhh’ sound, with the occasional forceful ‘Huh’ to release inner tensions. This should be followed by more circular rotations of body areas from the head and neck, through the limbs, hips and down to the toes again. Initially actors should aim to do this for twenty minutes before a performance or audition, but this should be extended so that they eventually reach forty minutes of total relaxation.
The Audition Panel
The audition panel wants to like you. They’re going through the audition process because they have a problem to solve – trying to find actors to fill their roles. So it is your job to help them to pick you and therefore first impressions are extremely important. Try to do your research about the audition panel before you meet them. Find out the names of the director and casting director so that you’re able to ‘google’ them to find out what they’ve worked on and a bit about them. You may be asked questions following your performance which is another excellent opportunity to prove to the panel that they want to work with you. Much like any other business, the panel want to hire people that they like and can imagine working with. Confidence is vital as an actor but make sure that it doesn’t come across as arrogance. Treat the panel with courtesy and respect but try not to come across as being nervous.
When you enter an audition, you will normally see a large taped ‘X’ on the floor. Go and stand on it and introduce yourself with confidence and eye contact.
During your performance you should of course move around the stage and avoid being rooted to the spot. If you need to pretend that you’re speaking to another character, then envisage that person downstage and slightly to the side of the panel. It is important that you don’t address or try and engage with the panel during your piece unless you have been specifically requested to do so. The panel wants to observe and evaluate you on your performance, not to become part of it. When you have finished your acting audition, don’t bow or announce that it is the end. Instead, stay still for a moment before relaxing back into your natural stance so that the panel is aware that your audition is complete.
Successful Acting Auditions
Whether your acting auditions are successful or not largely depends on your ability to connect with the role that you’re playing. It is essential that you really pinpoint and portray the emotions of the part you’re reading. Try to summon an emotional experience that connects you to the character at that particular moment in their life. Method acting techniques will enable you to tap into that raw emotion on-demand and deliver it onstage.
All of the great method actors of today have been in your shoes at some stage during their career. None of them were born with an Equity Card, but many of them trained at professional method acting schools. If you’re starting out as an actor and want to make it your full-time career, then consider investing in some professional method acting training to help you stand head and shoulders above the rest at both acting auditions and in your performances. We currently run two courses to help aspiring actors who are serious about entering the profession. The first is a three day bootcamp which is designed as a taster to learning The Method. Actors will learn how to inspire themselves on-demand and create both real and emotional performances. Those who are interested in more of a serious commitment to launching their method acting career can apply to join the Ultimate Acting Programme which is designed to kickstart their entrance into the top 5% of the acting profession. This part-time, one year course includes comprehensive and challenging method acting training as well as a bootcamp in LA which includes a session with a Hollywood casting director.
If you have the commitment and desire to become a fantastic actor, then register your interest for one of these elite courses today.