Even actors of the highest calibre agree that auditioning is hard. We’ve all been in an audition where we’ve stuttered while introducing ourselves, dropped lines, lost connection to what we’re saying and said a very awkward goodbye before running out into the street, fighting back tears. Auditioning is hard. The good news is that we can get better at auditioning: it’s is a skill, and any skill can be learned and improved.
Learning how to get better at auditioning requires an understanding of the industry, as well as some hard work invested into your actor’s toolkit. Ensure you are prepared, have strategies in place to deal with nerves and have a good understanding of the brief. Most importantly, practice auditioning and all it entails: script analysis, learning and memorising a monologue or short scene, and be ready to modify what you’re showing based on the casting director’s notes.
It might sound strange to hear this, but auditioning and acting aren’t the same thing. They’re very closely related, but there are a different set of skills we can hone that will be a huge help to us when our number is up and we step into the audition room. So let’s dive straight in, and catch you up on how to get better at auditioning.
The Room vs. The Tape
We audition for a role in one of two ways: either in a room with ugly carpet and the production team sitting behind a trestle table, or in our own bedrooms with a blue screen behind us and a camera in front of us. Before we move on, let’s quickly break down what separates them—as there’s actually a whole lot more they have in common.
Auditioning in Person
Auditioning in person is far less common these days, which is a shame, because it gives you a great chance to foist your personality on the casting team. Unlike a self-tape, you get to walk into the room and make a good first impression. So bring your charm and your personality and let that work to your advantage!
However: when you’re in the room, you’re on a timer. You only have about 15 minutes or so to strut your stuff then it’s: “Thanks for coming, we’ll be in touch.” Be prepared, be prepared to nail it and watch out for those pesky nerves (see below.)
Auditioning via Tape
When you’re putting down a self-tape, you can shoot it as many times as you like before sending it in. You could do 600 garbage takes, absolutely kill it on Take 601 and send that through like you shot it in your lunch break, no biggie… Generally, if you’re doing more than five takes to get it right you need to do more preparation.
I’m of the belief that the first take is usually the best take if you’ve done your preparation well. The more tapes I do, the more I find I start to intellectualise the text rather than focusing on my character and their connection to the words. But it’s different for everyone.
Getting Nervous in an Audition
How many times have you rehearsed a piece in the comfort of your own bedroom with no one watching and thought: “Wow, this is perfect, easily some of the best acting I’ve ever done”, only to step into the room or in front of a camera and do something completely different? I think many of the challenges we face in auditions can be brought back to nerves.
Nerves are a big enough curveball that our team at StageMilk have been addressing the issue for years—whether for remote auditions or in person. But I’m here to argue that nerves can be a good thing, as long as they don’t overwhelm you. My dad always tells me before an audition that it’s good to be a little nervous, because it means that you care. That fluttering in your belly is energy and energy is good if we can harness it properly.
Being Prepared for an Audition
The key to harnessing your nerves is focusing on what you can control. The biggest thing you have control over is your preparation. That means reading the script, learning your lines, and doing a good vocal and physical warm-up. We have several articles on these topics (linked in blue below), but let me give you the cliff notes version on each to get you started and feeling prepared!
Recommended Reading: The Audition by Ed Hooks. Whilst the process of auditioning has changed since this book was published, the advice Ed Hooks gives is timeless and super valuable. Add it to your list.
Reading the Script
If you’re lucky enough to get the whole script, read it all the way through a couple of times. You’d be surprised how many actors need to be taught this: read the whole damn script. Guess what happens if the director asks you a question about the script you can’t answer? Doesn’t matter if you acted like Meryl Streep: you’re not getting that part, because nobody believes you give a damn.
If you don’t get the whole script, read the excerpt you have and squeeze all the meaning out of it you possibly can. Analyse the script: know the words, find the character—their objective and their actions—and plumb the piece for subtext. All of this will help you realise your role.
Finally, focus on your character. Build them based on the text and make them feel real. It’s common for actors to try and build a character from the ground up—and sometimes you need to. But with any decent script, all the information we need to create a compelling character is usually already there.
Learning your Lines
When I say learn your lines, I mean know your lines inside out, back to front and side to side. There are a million and one ways to learn your lines effectively, but I’ll share my favourite method with you.
When I am given a script, I like to attach a physical and vocal quality to each word or couple of words while I’m learning them. For example, if need to say “fire” I might shake around a bunch and lengthen out the “i” sound. I’ll repeat the process until I find something that feels like the word “fire” in my body. It might sound strange, but it helps you connect your body to the saying of the words. And suddenly, the words become easier to remember!
On the day of your audition, before you leave or before you shoot, do an awesome warm-up. It’s different for everyone but generally, you want to spend 5 minutes warming up your voice and about 10 minutes warming up your body. Even if you’re shooting a self-tape and never leaving your house, you still want to find that switched-on energy that comes from pumping blood and oxygen around your system.
Do whatever is going to get you into the zone. Me? I like to dance to my favourite music. Really dance—as in flail my limbs and throw my body around. Your warm-up should be fun, and it should energise you before the audition.
Let me tell you a secret: I will occasionally submit myself for projects that I don’t actually want to land, purely so I can practice at auditioning. (Don’t tell anyone I told you that; not even our fearless leader Andrew!)
If you have a StarNow subscription, follow independent theatre companies and low-profile casting directors on Instagram. You’ll be exposed to an ocean of projects. Apply for these projects for the practice, and if you get the role you can simply say no. Use this trick with discretion, though, because you don’t want to build a reputation for yourself of turning down projects.
Okay, after being very sneaky, I’ll give you some more ethical advice. Build up a strong personal practice. I’ll share mine to show you what I mean.
- Morning Pages, every morning.
- Five minute voice warm-up, every day.
- Read one play a week.
- Prepare one classical and one contemporary monologue each month, and film them*.
- Exercise every day.
*I film myself doing monologues so I can send them to people I trust for feedback. You can send these to a friend, mentor or old drama school teacher. You can even join us on here at StageMilk’s Scene Club for professional feedback each month!
Your personal practice is what will carry you through not only auditions, but your entire career. It’s easy to let acting fall by the wayside occasionally because it’s such a slow game and work is hard to come by, but acting is a muscle. If you don’t use it, it will atrophy—and it will show in your auditions. So put together a routine and get training.
Your Best Friend
Once you’re feeling prepared, and keeping yourself in practice, it all comes down to attitude. Here’s something I like to use to keep positive for self-tape auditions. I like to pretend that the camera is my best friend in the whole world and loves me a lot. Even if I have someone reading across from me, I still pretend that it’s not an iPhone with a cracked screen standing next to them, but my best friend.
It sounds simple because it is. But the minor psychological adjustment this makes can be really useful for dealing with nerves and also giving a more engaged performance. You may have heard things like: “The camera sees everything”, “The camera doesn’t have a heart”… This kind of chatter about cameras can be quite detrimental to us. If we internalise that the camera is some kind of stone-cold killer, then it will peek through in our acting. Try to reframe that and see the difference it makes.
You can also apply this to some extent in the room. Imagine the panel and/or the actor reading across from you are all your best friends. If I know who’s directing and casting the project, then I like to look them up to see what they’ve worked on but also just put a face to the name. Doing this makes it less intimidating when I walk in.
Little tricks like this add up and can have a super positive impact on your performance. So start asking your acting pals what kind of little things they do and start building up a toolkit of audition tricks for yourself!
I’ll conclude this article with one last piece of advice. As actors going for roles, what we’re ultimately doing is charming people. I’ve heard casting directors say that they knew straight away that an actor was perfect for a role as soon as they walked in the room, simply because they’re professional and likeable people.
Your charisma is important as an actor. I say that with love and compassion, because I know what it’s like to feel socially anxious in auditions and I know how strange it can feel to force a persona. This is why I think a lot of drama schools, and directors, talk about actors needing more life experience. The best actors are human beings who know themselves and who are comfortable in their own skin—which is something everyone can achieve with time and little introspection.
When you walk into a room, when you hit record on the camera and introduce yourself, stand up straight, smile and show them how much of a pleasure you would be to work with. That kind of attitude will take you very far in life, I think.
Anyway, hope this helps. See you around the traps!