How to Prepare for a Last-minute Audition
Us actors, at least when we first start out, always complain about not getting enough auditions. Then, out of nowhere, one comes along and swoops you like a magpie in spring—leaving you dazed, confused and a little personally attacked. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. First comes the boredom of having no audition at all. Then there’s the excitement when your agent calls and says “Buckle up kiddo! You’re gonna be a star!” (or whatever it is agents say). But that excitement turns to stress all too quickly when you see the submission date: “Tomorrow? Tomorrow!? Why?”, you scream out in a most dramatic fashion to no one in particular.
Last-minute auditions are important for any actor to be ready for, as the timeline for receiving an opportunity and submitting for it are never in your favour. While you may have less time than desired to put your best foot forward, there are plenty of things you can do to get yourself ready: script analysis, learning your lines, budgeting your time and planning your approach. Perhaps most importantly, you need to practice the skills of nailing a last-minute audition so that you are always ready to tackle this unexpected (yet inevitable) challenge.
It’s a bittersweet problem to have, when you think about it … but it’s a problem, nonetheless. Lucky for you we are here to help: put your best game face on, and let’s see how you can nail this last-minute audition.
Start Preparing Now
“Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” – James Baker
As fast as you possibly can, print that bad boy out and start reading. Too many times I have seen myself (and others) think that they can just wing it, only to fail miserably when they get in front of the casting director, or even worse, do just “okay.” Sure, you can wing it, and there is a chance that it might go well, but do you really want to leave it up to chance if acting is your career goal?
This is a competitive game we play, and auditions are the play-offs. The quicker you start to familiarise yourself with the script, the more your subconscious will start to work on it. The second your brain gets introduced to a concept, idea or task, your brain starts to automatically try and work it out. So the quicker you start preparing, the faster you will come up with some genius ideas that you can use in the audition.
If it is a self tape, try and set everything up before you actually start taping (if you can.) I personally get a little flustered after I have tried to do my self tape set-up in my tiny, shoe box apartment and then find it hard to focus. Put your set-up together ASAP: and if you already have yours set up and ready to go, then a metaphorical gold star for you!
Read it, Read Everything and Read it Well
“The best preparation for tomorrow, is doing your best today!” – H. Jackman Brown Jr.
Sounds obvious, but please: read the casting brief if there is one. This will give you everything you need in order to bring the character to life. This will help you have an informed approach to preparing and—when the time comes—performing the script.
For example: if you read the brief and the character is a lawyer and the scene takes place in a court room, then wearing a simple suit jacket would be an informed wardrobe choice. If the scene takes place in a gym, however, then active wear may be more appropriate. Don’t skim over anything. Be thorough.
The same goes if the casting directors are kind enough to give you part of or all of the whole script. Try and read as much of it as you can so that you can have contextual awareness of your character and the characters they interact with. If you don’t have time to read your whole script, read and re-read your audition sides, then read the scenes that lead up to the moments that feature the character you are auditioning for. I know this may seem like a lot, but if are selective with what it is you are reading, then you will already be way ahead of your competition.
“Art is an investigation.” – Twyla Tharp
I remember one of my first auditions, where I had less than a day to prepare, I went straight to learning the lines and didn’t bother with anything else. And, of course, I failed spectacularly—since I thought that the script I was auditioning for was in the drama genre. It was not. I was so unfunny that my performance was laughable. Don’t be like me: do your research and find out as much information as you can on the project, the director, any previous films the project could be linked to. Be as informed as you can.
Analyse The Script!
I put an exclamation mark in the title for the paragraph, so you know this part is going to be super important. Getting good at script analysis can take your acting game up from good to great real quick. In an audition sense, it can be the difference between a good performance and a great one.
The more in-depth your analysis, the more three-dimensional your character is going to be. Even in a time crunch, script analysis has two major benefits. First of all, it’s to gain context and clarity about your character and their relationship to the world whilst making your interpretation of them three dimensional. Second of all, it helps to memorise your lines.
Let’s look at the first major benefit first:
Basics and Fundamentals of Character
Let’s start off with context: the given circumstances that grant performances a sense of weight and truth in the story world. The go-to basics for things to take note in regards to your character would be:
- People (Who are you? Who are your scene partners? Who else is important in this story?)
- Places (Where are you? What’s it like? How does your character feel in this space?)
- Objects (Are there any important props or features within the story? Do you really need them to tell the story?)
- Events (What significant events have occurred? Or are about to? What happens during the scene? Any dramatic shifts?)
- Time (What time is it when the scene takes place? Is time on your character’s side or not? Is the scene fast-paced or slow?)
Once you have the basics down, think about what your character wants: their objective. This is going to give your scene direction and importance, and your character (and you) something to fight for! Identifying your objective, and the objective of your scene partner, will help you establish the conflict in the scene.
Analysis can become convoluted and overwhelming—even more so when you are under the pressure of a time limit to audition. So the best way to keep the process simple, is to ask yourself some questions.
- Why is this scene important and how does it fit into the larger narrative?
- What does the other character/s want, and how does it oppose what I want.
- What beats are in the script? Beats are any change in thought, emotion, or moments in a scene. They are a powerful tool in any performance and can make a memorable impact in an audition.
- What action/s does it say I need to perform in the script, and what is the meaning behind it?
At the end of the day, however, what casting directors want to see it you coming through the character. Forget about being “good” or portraying the character the “right way.” Focus on the present and being in the moment with your scene partner.
Trust in the process, and trust in yourself.
Learning the Lines
To be honest with you, I have never really been good at remembering lines. I find it hard to concentrate and keep them in my brain once I have read them. Eventually, one of my acting coaches offered me a little trick that made a huge difference. Instead of focusing all of my time learning the lines, focus on the the subtext and analyse the script.
This way, you are learning the meaning behind your lines and creating an intimate relationship with them. When the nerves take over, or you slip and forget the exact words you are supposed to be saying, you won’t be lost in the scene and will be more likely to adapt and improvise.
Not only does learning the meaning behind the lines help you have a more fleshed out character, but you will be subconsciously learning the lines as you go along. You will be doing two things at once, which is great for when you have a last-minute audition and time is tight.
Practice the Process for the Future
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” – James Clear
Having a practiced routine that you can fall back on will help you more than anything when you have a time crunch. To make sure you are always prepared for last-minute auditions, it is best to work on your basics and fundamentals on the regular.
Script analysis, character work, line learning: all of these will, with practice, become second nature. So, every week: try your best to get a new script—it doesn’t have to be long, a few pages—and go to work.
Right here on StageMilk, we have original scenes and monologues you can jump into, not to mention the enormous database available to our Scene Club members!
Plan for Last-Minute Auditions
“Plan your work, then work your plan.” – Napoleon Hill
So now you have gotten a grasp on what you need to do in that short time span before your big audition, let’s look at a dot-point plan of what you should do and (in a rough estimate) the order you should do it it:
- Agent shoots you an email with audition sides, a brief, and the script.
- Feel the excitement, breath it in. Then allow the stress to follow after.
- Remember that there’s no need to stress because you have a plan!
- Read the brief so you have a clear idea of what it is you are auditioning for, and who the character is.
- Look up for macro information about the project: production company, directors, plot, whether it is an adaption, etc.
- Analyse your script and discover your character.
- Learn your lines by learning their meaning.
- Hydrate, eat well, and get a good night’s sleep before your audition day.
- Practice breath work and meditating to calm down any potential nerves.
- Go into the room prepared and give it your best!
Remember that auditions are not tests. Casting directors are not expecting you to be perfect, to have had learnt every line to perfection and to read their mind so that you can be exactly what they want you to be. What casting directors want is you. That is why you were chosen to audition. They want to see you bring yourself to the character, and for the character to become alive in you. So have fun: enjoy the experience and bring that story to life…
“For me, our job as artists is to serve the story, serve the director, and serve the fellow actors. And if you do that, by osmosis you’re serving yourself because you’ll get the best out of yourself.” – David Oyelowo
Good luck, and prepare well!
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