At first glance, a script may seem the be all and end all of a production. You expect the script to contain everything you need to know about the production and the character you’re playing. But when you take a closer look, they actually give little more than the bare bones. It is up to you to fill in the gaps and build a performance out of what’s there. Scripts are often vague and open to interpretation and to clinch the part during an audition, you must become the best interpreter of the bunch.
During an audition your particular interpretation will be scrutinised, and with the prospect of getting cast hanging in the balance, it is crucial you get all the information you need out of the script. It may not be easy, but learning how to go about it and understanding the importance of research will give you the head start you need.
Deciphering the Language
Who is the character?
Unless you’re auditioning for a big role, it’s likely the character description will read something like this: POLICE DETECTIVE, 42. So you get a profession, an age and maybe some sort of appearance description if you’re lucky. You may already be able to make some assumptions on the character based on similar people you’ve encountered in real life, but ultimately, the description doesn’t give you a lot to work with. You have little information on how to really make your character come to life.
First things first, read through the script in its entirety (if you have it). Use it to extract as much information about the character as possible: What have other characters got to say about them? What’s been their journey? What’s their overall impact on the production? Then you can take to the internet to do your research. Find out what it takes to become a police detective, the sorts of things they do day to day, and look further in to the types of crimes and events that are features in the script.
Then focus on their age. If they’re 42 look back and research the world they grew up in – if you can work out how things were different when they were children, you can understand how this might shape their world view and behaviour in the present day.
As actor Stephen Tobolowsky writes, if your character is based on a real person, and they are available, use them for research too! They will offer you a much greater insight into the motivation behind the creation of your character, and may even give you a new perspective on them.
After that you can start asking yourself some questions and begin filling in the gaps. Start simple: “What do they do? And then move to the less obvious. Do they do it well? Where do they excel? Where do they fall short? What did they think this job would be? What did it turn out to be?” For their age: do they seem younger or older than their actual age? Has their job prematurely aged them or kept them young? How would this affect their opinion of it? And for an emotional connection, “What is their greatest hope? What is their greatest fear?” Answering these questions will help add meaning and breath life into POLICE DETECTIVE, 42.
Note Your Heart Out
Often the scripts that belong to the best actors are the ones covered in notes. When De Niro was rehearsing for the main part in Jacknife, David Jones the director was so astounded by the amount of notes made on the script, he could barely take his eyes off of it.
When you’re auditioning you may not have access to the full script. Often you’re only given a small amount of information on your character and a few lines. Whatever you have, it’s important you go through it all and note anything that may be worth remembering. Whether that’s how you first react to a line, or an emotional moment that strikes a chord. The important thing to remember is that you will only get one chance to read the script for the first time. This makes your initial reaction a precious moment, and why it’s so important to take notes.
You can then go on to use your notes to aid your performance and understanding of the script and character. When making notes, think about how a viewer or audience member might feel or react to your performance and how this can aid your delivery and execution of the script.
If its good enough for the greats like De Niro and Anthony Hopkins, it’s good enough for us all, and those initial notes and subsequent additions may make a real difference to your audition.
Don’t freeze up: How to Handle Cold Readings
Sometimes you may not be able to read the script in advance, and will be handed the material in the audition room. Yet as scary as cold reading sounds, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of giving a great audition.
1. Research What You Can
You may not have seen the script prior to an audition, but as we’ve established, the script is only one part of a greater puzzle when it comes to character building. Use all the information you can find to get an idea of what the story line is, and the kinds of characters they are likely to be looking for. If you’re auditioning for a play in particular, you may even be able to find a copy of the script if you do a little digging.
2. Don’t Hide Your Face!
Just because you aren’t familiar with the material, don’t expect the casting room to be forgiving if you use the script to hide your face. Your performance is just as much about your facial expressions as the delivery of the lines- you need to make it so the room can see them.
3. Get Good at Reading Aloud
This skill is key to nailing a cold reading. The less stumbles and stuttering you do over the words the better. Read out loud as much as you can – poems, magazine articles, storybooks- the more you do it the better you will be at giving a clear and confident reading.
4. ‘Perform’ as Much as you Can
Walk around and act while you read, reacting to the words you are saying, and if it is a group audition, be sure to react what other actors are be reading. It’s important you look up as often as you can manage and respond to any other speakers. And if the director asks you to try something in a different way, be positive and do it- it’s important you can show you can be directed and show your openness to other ideas and suggestions.
Give A Great Read Every Time
Getting what you need out of a script can be difficult, particularly when you’re up for a part and you need to impress. By doing your homework and researching properly, by taking time to understand the character, and annotating your script, will ensure you’re a step ahead of the competition.
Understanding the script, its message and motivations, and knowing exactly how your character works and fits into that is a great way to give a stand-out audition.
You can learn even more about how to read scripts in an audition with my One Year Ultimate Acting Programme. We will teach you all you need and more about working the script to your advantage, and the many aspects of the Method that will help you get there.