Theatre is a broad church: ranging from musicals and opera through to schmick main stage productions and big theatres to tiny, hole in the wall, black boxes with auteur directors smelling of cigarettes and essential oils. The point of my story: it’s going to be difficult to write a guide for every kind of theatre audition, because there are a lot of them. However, I’m going to identify some common factors to be prepared for and walk you through the general procession for a standard independent theatre audition.
This is going to make or break your performance in the room on the audition day. Preparation is everything for a theatre audition and you need to maximise the time you spend here. Especially if you’re working on a classic text like Shakespeare or Chekhov and especially if you’re working in an accent. As soon as you get confirmed for the audition, batten down the hatches and get stuck in. Know the play intimately, read it cover to cover at least twice before your audition. It is vital that you have an idea of the progression of the characters from the start to the end of the play, and what that characters role is in the overall story. If you need more detail about the ins and outs of script analysis, StageMilk has you covered.
Now you can set about learning your lines. ‘Mostly’ knowing them isn’t enough. You must be completely off-book. More importantly have a very clear idea of your character’s relationships with the other characters, your point of view towards them and most importantly your characters’ objective in this scene and in the wider play. Additionally, if you are doing a play set in a specific period in time, research that period extensively. Have an idea of the society in which they lived, their social class, their status, their life, their world.
Think about what that character would know and what they would be interested in. For example, take Raliegh in Journeys End by R.C. Sherrif, set on the western front in WWI. Raliegh is a private schoolboy, straight out of high school and into the war. He would know very little about the mechanics of warfare but probably quite a lot about cricket and rugby in 1910s England. It would add depth to your character if you were across that before the audition. Research the society and the culture and the world of your character, not necessarily the geopolitics.
Now you know the world that they live in, the lines they say, the arc of the character and of the wider story. It’s time to run lines and run the scene with a friend. Get someone you trust, and work it till it feels like it’s in the right spot. If it feels like it’s there, it probably is. A good additional at this point is to have a look at the director’s previous body of work and an idea of the kind of theatre they make, this will likely inform your audition.
The waiting room
Get there 10-15 minutes early. Generally speaking, theatre auditions won’t be as packed as commercial or TV auditions in the waiting rooms, but anything can happen. Also, take careful note of the location as theatre auditions can happen at rehearsal or hired rooms away from the actual theatre space. You don’t want to get to the wrong location and be tearing around stressed out before your audition! Try and keep yourself calm and focused before you go in. This might mean listening to music, going over your lines, reading some key things you’ve written or read about the character. Expect to be in the audition for anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on the role. Also, be mindful of other actors in this space too who are trying to do the exact same thing as you are, give them the space they need to prepare. When your name is called head in and greet the director and creative team, whether you go for the handshake or the wave is totally up to you. Just keep it professional, friendly and warm.
If this is the first time you have been in front of this casting team they may want to sit you down first and have a chat about the play, the role and what you thought of it. Now this isn’t a test to see if you’ve prepared appropriately, this is kind of like a first date. They are feeling you out, seeing if you feel the same way about the material and most importantly if you can all be in the same room together for the next few weeks of rehearsals, tech and performance without wanting to murder each other. The big question is; are we all on the same page here? And what can we offer each other in this process?
Then it’s time to get up on the floor and crack into it. There will usually be a reader to read the other side of the scene with you. Relax, rely on your preparation and do everything you can to put all of your attention and focus on your scene partner. The more you focus on yourself and your behaviour, the less you will be alive in the scene. Keep all your attention on your scene partner and go for it! If it’s a monologue, the same applies. You might only have a spot on the wall to work with, but by god you need to work with it! Practice performing your monologue to a spot on the wall at home, to get comfortable with that.
The director is going to offer you some ideas and get you to do the scene or monologue again. You’re going to be nervous and a little stressed but it is hands down vital that you really listen to their notes and take on their direction. If you don’t understand what they’re saying, ask for clarification. I have been on the other side of the table a few times now, where a director has offered a piece of direction, the actor has vehemently agreed with lots of yes, sure and head nods – only to do exactly the same things they did in the initial version! If you need some time to consider, or to talk it through do that. But make sure you are open to new ideas and ready to change your performance to work with the casting team.
You might only get two chances at it, you might get a third, stick to the above principles and you’ll be great. It’s all about preparation and then releasing and really being present in the room.
You did it, thank everyone, shake their hands if appropriate and get on out of there. They might talk to you about dates for callbacks and they might not. This doesn’t hold much water either way, each production company and director works slightly differently. Once you’re out of there do everything possible to let it go, as rapidly as you can. Try and line up a different activity straight after your audition to take your mind off your performance and the excitement of getting the role or the disappointment of not doing it the way you would like. Sometimes I have journaled my strengths and weaknesses after an audition, give this a try and see if it works for you. Go to the gym, for a run, see a friend or go to a day job as soon as you can after the audition. Try and avoid anything where you can sit still and agonise about every minute of it. Once it’s done, it’s done. You did your best and you must get in the habit of moving on to the next thing as fast as possible. To linger is to stagnate and stagnation is creative death. Always be moving forward.
That’s it! You did it, you nailed a theatre audition! So much of it is about preparation, being really across your character and making informed choices. If you have no idea about where to even start on that front then you should start working on some scenes before you build up to doing full shows. Our Online Scene Club is a great place to start. I hope this has been useful for you and all the best for your next theatre audition!