Perhaps you’ve landed on this page because you’re new to the business of acting, or perhaps you’re in the early stages of your career and you want to cross-check to see if your auditions are in line with everyone else’s. Regardless of what stage you’re at in your career, an audition can be a whirlwind experience. Most people only go for a job interview a handful of times in their careers, but as actors we’re interviewing for the job on a daily basis. Of course, the opportunity which lies on the other side of an audition can be an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that auditioning is hard. It’s exposing. It’s unusual. It’s compromising. It’s exhilarating. It’s all of these things, so it can be useful to check in and see what an audition typically has in store for us, in order to prepare effectively for it. Although each audition will be unique in its own way, and every casting agent or director has their own process for auditioning, there are many consistent elements to an audition you can expect. Regardless of whether the audition is for a Netflix series, TV commercial, musical, play, feature film or web series, there are plenty of common factors between them. Let’s start from the beginning and talk through everything audition related, so you can feel confident that you know what to expect ahead of your next audition.
You’re walking along, enjoying a sunny, care free afternoon, and then: WHAM! Opportunity smacks you in the face, arriving into your life like Errol (Ron Weasley’s dim-witted owl who always collides with the unexpectedly closed kitchen window). This opportunity may come to you in the form of an email or a phone call from your agent (if you have one), or it could come directly from a director or casting agent, or even a colleague (if you are a freelance performer). When you receive this message, it will contain a brief: an overview of the project you’ll be auditioning for, who is doing the casting, who your character is and what to prepare.
A brief will always be unique to the project and will contain specific information you need to consider, but for the purpose of this article I thought it would be useful to cross-check a number of my casting briefs to see what was standard.
A typical casting brief will include the following, at the very least:
- A summary line of what the casting entails
- A deadline for the self tape/ proposed time for the audition
- Project info: title, medium (feature film/ miniseries/ play ect), shoot dates, production company, producers and directors, notable people already involved with the production, and shooting location(s).
- A Synopsis
- Your Character: name, ‘type’ (role size, gender, ethnicity, age etc), summary, and accent
- The Script
- Sides to prepare
Note a few important factors about the above briefing:
- It is not guaranteed that you will get a full script of the project you’re auditioning for. This is an unfortunate reality of the industry. Often you will only be supplied with the bare minimum information to prepare for the role. This can be due to confidentiality, or that simply the show hasn’t been completely finalised yet and there is no full script to send you. You are within your rights to ask if the script is available, and if there is a chance you can get it, it’s best to.
- Take careful note of whether or not the role requires you to do an accent. Typically the accents will be fairly neutral, such as standard US or British. Occasionally however, you may be asked to do a fairly specific accent. It’s best not to ignore this instruction!
- A character brief can be useful, but be wary of it. These briefs are written by writers or producers, not actors or directors. They can often be very simplistic and intended more for the casting director than the actor. Getting too tied to the specifics of what it is asking of you can cause an actor to get blocked and restricted in their work. Additionally, character briefs are often frustratingly contradictory or unrealistic. Ask any female actor in this industry and they will tell you about some of the stunningly offensive character descriptions they’ve received, describing the character as “basically a supermodel, but she doesn’t know it” or much worse. It’s up to you. Often the requirements of a character brief will be well out of our own control. You need to decide what level of attention to detail with the character description you pay, as best serves you.
So, you’re on! You’ve received a casting brief! Congratulations! It’s always a mixed experience for me receiving a brief: I’ll be excited about the opportunity, nervous about the audition itself, and maybe a little bit stressed about fitting in this additional project into my already busy schedule.
Typically, you’ll have a week to prepare for an audition, or to send a self tape. Often it’s less than a week, rarely is it more. The MOST fun (prepare for sarcasm) is receiving a Friday afternoon self tape request due the following Monday morning. Bye bye weekend plans!
We have plenty of information for you here at StageMilk about effective auditing preparation, so I won’t waste your time with that here. You might like to head to any of the articles on the Auditioning Information page.
At the very least, learn your lines, and do some preparation work for the character, and make sure you show up on time for the audition itself!
The Waiting Room
When we’re going in for an audition, rather than self taping, it’s best to arrive early. “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late” as Shakespeare says. (Please don’t arrive three hours early for an audition. That’s a bit extreme. A comfortable ten minutes prior to your scheduled audition time should do).
The waiting room is an odd place. Often, there’ll be a few people already waiting who could pass as your doppelgänger. You may realise with a sudden start that you’re actually one of many people auditioning for this role, rather than casting’s number one option. The room will be quiet and filled with the nervous tension of the waiting actors.
It’s best to assume that the audition won’t be running on time. Refrain from scheduling important meetings 15 minutes after you audition is due to finish; you’ll likely be late and more stressed than you need to be during your audition. Allow time before and after the audition if you can.
It’s up to you to figure out your process for handling your nerves in the waiting room and audition. We have a bunch of info about developing these processes, as a starting place, head to our article on How to Deal With Nerves.
Over time, the actors who were already waiting will be invited into the room one by one and you may hear part of their performance through the walls. I find it best to avoid comparison in the waiting room and trust the work I’ve done. There will be plenty of influences tempting you to wear your hair differently or change your look, or to shout on a particular line because the person who went before you did that. It’s also not healthy or helpful to be thinking “Ooh I wouldn’t have worn that” or “I wouldn’t have made that choice”. All these thoughts detract from you and your work. Stay in your lane and trust the work you’ve done.
Soon enough, it’ll be your turn. The casting director will open the door and invite you into the casting room. It’s now your time to shine.
The Casting Room
Now we’re talking. The moment we’ve been building up for has finally arrived. We’re auditioning. All we have in this moment is trust in our preparation and the pursuit of staying present in the moment. A casting room will vary in size and shape based on whether it’s a film or theatre project. I’ll primarily be talking here about an audition for camera, but you can expect a similar situation for any audition you go in for.
There may be a number of people in the room when you walk through the door. The casting director will most likely be there, but they may have asked another casting director or assistant to take over. There will most likely be another actor in the room – a reader who will be speaking the other lines in your scene. On some occasions, depending on the project, there may even be members from the production team of the project, such as the director or producer. Typically this will only happen for the callbacks, but you never know. No matter the combination of people in the room, go in there and do what you came to do. Don’t feel the need to be any different just because some exec of the project decided to show up.
In addition to these people, there will also be certain items of camera equipment in the room. This may include: a camera on a tripod, a blank wall, a blue screen to stand in front of, a marker on the ground telling the actor where to stand, a computer behind the camera, and a number of set items of furniture such as tables and chairs. If any props or furniture are essential for the scene, they will be set up ready for the performer. If it is a blank space, you may have the option to decide whether you’d like to sit or stand. Neither is right or wrong, it’s up to you.
Depending on whether or not the casting is running short on time, your audition may begin with some pleasantries to break the ice and (hopefully) allow you to feel more comfortable in the room. The casting director may ask you how your day has been or comment on the weather. There is no hard and fast rule about this time early in an audition; however, it’s highly likely the casting director will want to go straight into your tape, after all they are seeing dozens of actors every day for auditions. Unfortunately, your audition isn’t as important to them as it is to you. This can be disheartening to realise, but I actually find it quite liberating. Early in my career I placed so much importance on being liked by the casting director; being nice and polite and asking them how their day was, so they thought I was a nice person. Whilst I’m never rude, I’ve actually found this practise to be a little draining. I’ll spend energy on trying to be liked, when this is actually something which is out of my control. Instead I’d now rather come in and be really good at my job, and trust that I’m a nice enough person as is to work with, and that this won’t be an issue. The crux of it is this, you may or may not have pleasantries at the start of an audition, and neither option is a good or bad indicator of your likelihood to be cast in the role.
2. Warm Up/Line Run
Once you’ve said hello and the casting director has asked you to take your place in front of the camera, you may be given the option of doing a line run without the camera rolling. I stress the word ‘may’ because you cannot bank on this option being given. And if you are given it, you don’t need to feel obligated to take it. It’s up to you, if you feel you are already warm and ready to dive in, request that you go straight for a take. If you’d love to get the cobwebs out, take the line read.
I have noticed that casting directors will sometimes give notes on a line read – try not to get too frazzled by this if it happens. I often want to tell them “Oh no, don’t worry that wasn’t how I’ll actually do the scene”. Save your breath. The casting team is probably giving you notes they give to everyone for some important points to hit in the performance. Listen to the notes and take them in as best as you can. If you don’t take it personally, then you just received a valuable glimpse into what they’re looking for!
If you’re given the option to warm into it, great. If not, that’s great too. Roll with whatever is in front of you as best as you can. Expectations not meeting the reality of your audition can cause stress. “Love your fate” as the Stoics would say.
3. The Scene
We’re now up to the work. The scene and character you’ve prepared will now be filmed.
There are a whole bunch of variables about this part. We’re acting now, after all. Who knows what will happen? The reader, for instance, should give a reading of the scene which is both engaged and minimal. They should give you focus and energy without stealing the attention away from you. Reading for auditions is a really tricky job, so be kind to your reader and work with them as you would as an actor on set! Endow them with everything you would for the other character in the scene.
Another little note on the reader: relieve yourself from the obligation of trying to control their performance. It’s not their job to do anything other than say the words on the page. The reader will often be the casting director themselves who rarely even take their eyes off the script in their hands. If it is an actor, great, embrace that and whatever they are giving you. Asking them to hit certain performance levels is a waste of your energy and it isn’t the best look for you. Accept whatever they are giving you. Even if the scene is high stakes and the reader is giving you flat energy, allow the absence of energy to energise you more.
You may be given two or three chances to do the scene. Sometimes it’s only the one time (though this is rare), and more often you’ll be lucky enough to have multiple cracks at it. Again, there’s no right or wrong about this. Do each take like it is your only chance and that should see you in good stead.
Once you’ve done your scene a few times, you’ll be asked to do what’s called a slate. This is simply a recorded ID which will have you telling the camera your name, agent, height and perhaps the city you are based in and any other relevant information for the project, (E.g. whether you have atypical skillsets like martial arts or horse riding, or your availability for the shoot dates).
And that’s pretty much it! You’ll go in, have a bit of a chat, do the work you’ve prepared, and finish with a slate and a “take care!”. But don’t worry, I can tell you have some more questions, so let’s cover off on some of the variables too.
‘But what happens if… ?’
Here are a few other points about doing the scene in the audition room you might be wondering.
1. What Happens if I Drop My Lines?
Aha – well. Firstly, don’t panic. Losing a line mid scene is an incredibly common occurrence, and is by no means the end of the world or the end of your chances at booking the role. Often you will have only had a few days to prepare, and that combined with nerves can make those lines fly right out of your head. Your best practise is to do what you can to stay in the scene. Requesting a line by saying “line” will prompt the casting director to feed you the line. Other actors may say something along the lines of “I don’t know what to say to you” – a phrase which can be suitable for most scenes, and may prompt a line from the casting director. Most importantly: stay in the scene. There’s nothing worse than dropping out of the scene and having to start again. An audition is a chance for you to demonstrate how you will work and behave on set, and an actor should never intentionally jeopardise or cut a scene, even if they’ve screwed up their lines in a major way. Golden moments can still come from a take with incorrect dialogue.
2. What Happens if I Have to Do a Cold Read?
Occasionally, you may be thrown a curve ball and asked to read a scene you’ve never seen before. Uh-oh. This can be an alarming request, but don’t worry, it’s ok! A cold read can be useful to a casting director for multiple reasons. They might want to see you in a slightly different scene (or even character) to test your range and see if you might fit better elsewhere in the project. It could simply be a last minute request from the producers that casting needs to adhere to. It could also be a way for casting to gauge your willingness to be flexible and take direction. Whatever the reason for the cold read, your best bet is to breathe and embrace the challenge.
Casting will not expect you to demonstrate your line-learning skills. It’s not about that. I’d instead advise you to focus on listening and making choices. When you’re not speaking, listen to the person reading the other character’s lines – don’t keep your head in the script. Give the camera as much of an opportunity to see you organically responding as possible. And make choices. you may only get one shot at it and you’ve only just read it so you really have nothing to lose – getting it wrong is kind of the idea. Throw something at the walls and see what sticks – that’s a far better option than staying safe and making no choices whatsoever.
3. What Happens if I’ve Made the Wrong Choices About the Character?
Oh yeah, I hear you. It’s happened to me – I have such a clear vision about the type of person my character is, the choices they would make, only to have the casting director politely redirect me in the complete opposite direction. Something along the lines of, “I love how gentle and timid he’s coming across, Jack, but the character is actually a criminal mastermind full of rage and we need to see that”. It happens. Again, as with all the advice on this article – it’s ok. Demonstrate your craft and malleability as an actor by taking the notes seamlessly on board. An audition is like a rehearsal, after all. It’s your job to be malleable and full of options for the director to consider. Don’t take redirection personally, after all it could simply be a way for the casting director to see how you take direction on board. And hey, you got to show them a completely different side of yourself, too. That’s a bonus.
You did it. You stepped into the gladiator’s arena and you worked. It’s a difficult thing, auditioning, and you should be proud of yourself for giving it a crack. When you leave the casting room you may see more people in the waiting room – another stark reminder of the fact that you are one of the many people in the mix for this role.
Auditions have a habit of ending pretty abruptly. There’s really nothing the acting director can say to you to ease the transition back into the real world – they aren’t able to. We all would love the casting director to give us a nod or a wink of approval, an unspoken “That was awesome you’re probably going to get cast!” But that will never happen. The tape you’ve just recorded needs to be shown to so many people, it’s impossible for the casting director to have a definite result for you in the room, no matter how much they liked your work. Because of this fact, casting directors tend to give you absolutely no indication of how your work was, either good or bad, as you’re leaving the room. Actors tend to get far too caught up on any hint of their success, it’s simply easier to remain neutral and not sway them either way.
This absence of validation can leave us feeling a bit empty after an audition. It’s ok, it’s normal. Go and enjoy the rest of your day and be proud of the work you’ve done. If I don’t have to go back to work, I would always try to plan to do something fun after an audition!
What follows is arguably the trickiest part of the whole thing. An opportunity has come your way, you’ve done the work, you’ve ridden the adrenaline wave of the audition itself and you’ve come out the other side unscathed. Now, you wait – or maybe you don’t. There is no fixed rule for how long it will take to hear back about the result of the audition. In fact, you may never hear anything at all one way or the other.
It’s an unfortunate truth of the industry that casting directors don’t have the capacity to let each and every actor know how their audition went. You’re definitely able to ask your agent to check with casting to see if the role has been cast already and/or if they have any direct feedback for you, but you might not get the feedback you are looking for. If the role has been cast, they will let you know that once you’ve asked the question, but not every casting director is able to provide you with notes about how your audition went. Don’t take this personally – again the casting agents are seeing tonnes of actors each and every day.
Different Audition Mediums
I’ve spoken at length here about auditions for film and TV roles. A lot of what I’ve said here is directly applicable to any audition you go for, but some mediums have some specifics for what to expect.
A TVC (TV Commercial) casting is typically even more routine and just get the job done than for film. Often a TVC casting will be very short and you may be auditioning with other actors going for the same or different roles. You may appear on camera with one or two other actors – this often happens for fast food commercials with a group of people sitting on a couch eating burgers. This is pretty standard, and just like with any audition it’s good to be open to going with the flow for whatever comes your way.
Any theatre audition is going to be fairly similar to film and TV, just without the camera equipment,and possibly in a larger room. There may be more time allocated to each audition slot, say 15-20 minutes for your audition instead of 10 you’d usually find for film/TV. This is to allow more time to work a scene and discuss the play itself. With plays you’d typically be working with the director themselves rather than a third-party casting director. You may be asked several questions regarding your thoughts of the play, story and character, so come prepared with opinions!
I am not a musical theatre performer, but I have plenty of friends who are and StageMilk have a bunch of info about auditioning for musicals. Head to Auditioning for Musical Theatre for a good start. One thing I have heard is there are usually a lot of people present in the audition room for musical theatre. Often most of the creative stakeholders will be sitting behind a long table in the room concerned with their area of expertise, whether it be singing, acting or dancing. I can only imagine it’s a very intimidating experience!
The concept of an audition can be intimidating and unusual for us. It’s often an experience veiled in mystery and myth, but when we break it down we realise it actually isn’t all that mysterious. It’s a pretty routine event that’s been done thousands and thousands of times before. There’s a typical structure to auditions which you can expect, and your work now is to practise being able to thrive in this environment. The more auditions you do, the more comfortable you will be with them. If you want some experience self-taping, check out StageMilk Scene Club. I hope this article has demystified what happens in an audition for you, and you feel better prepared for when your next opportunity comes around!