YOU at Auditions!
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ― Martha Graham
When I first meet actors, I ask them a very unassuming question, “What are your 5 favorite films?” I listen to their answers. I then ask them, “What is your favorite childhood book?” I once again listen for the response. Why do I engage in this line of questions? I do it as a science experiment. I want to determine 2 things: what makes a performer “tick” and what “gold” the actor is carrying. I call this the “Vein of Gold” and I outline it in my acting course Awakening the Actor Within.
As the writer of the musical The Green Room and an acting teacher, I’ve witnessed thousands of auditions and like many have tried to analyze what works and what doesn’t work. There is no one magic formula or recipe to make you “book” an audition. There is no ONE monologue or song that will guarantee you a callback or a booking, but there are things I’ve noticed: actors not choosing material that suits them and not committing to the material they’ve chosen. This is a BIG challenge. How do you choose material that is right for you? How do you have confidence in your material?
This comes down to the line of questioning I laid out earlier: What is your “vein of gold?” What is your brand? (I know actors HATE this! “What am I? a box of Frosted Flakes?”) What are you selling when you walk in the room? All of these questions must be answered because when you go into an audition “THEY” are looking for 2 things:
1. Are you right for this role in THIS production?
2. Who are you as a person? (Will you get along with others or be trouble?)
So as an actor at an audition, you are peddling yourself the moment you enter the space (and in the hallway outside). Talent is a large factor but so is knowing yourself as a performer. You don’t want to be girl #782 singing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked or boy #283 crooning “One Song, Glory” from Rent. You don’t want to trot out the Blanche monologue from Streetcar Named Desire if you are 23 years old. If you are 52 years old, you don’t want to audition for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes, if you make a strong and bold, committed choice.
One of the BEST auditions I ever saw was at a workshop and a comedic actress nearing 40 brought in “Dance 10, Looks 3” from A Chorus Line! Now this song has been sung to death, but this actress sang it and had us rolling in the aisles. This audition worked because it was the contrast between the character who gets plastic surgery and the plain Jane who was singing it. I would have cast her in a heartbeat because the actress had imagination and knew how to poke fun at herself and was 100% committed to the material. This would have been just another girl singing “Dance 10, Looks 3” if she had been a hot babe.
You want to select unusual and SPECIFIC character material. You want to project what your mission is at the audition: What ROLE am I aiming for and how do I want them to see ME? (If you are funny, tell a joke! If you are serious, be more professional.) I’ve seen so many actors come in the room with talent and zero personality. I’ve witnessed actors killed by less than, ambiguous material. Woody Allen says, “Casting is 90% of the director’s job.” I’ve cast poorly and lived to regret it! I’ve cast the right people, and it’s been an enchanted journey.
As performers, look for material that inspires and stimulates you. Choose material that says something about the role you want and the personality you are bringing in the room. Dig, hunt, scratch, and claw until you find the BEST material for YOU and don’t wait until the week before the audition to start hunting for that material. That is another reason the audition fails: actors wait until DAYS before an audition to learn their material when they should have done it weeks ago. They go into the room shaking with “Will I remember the words?!” instead of going into the room 100% memorized and full of self-confidence. When a director sees an actor “searching” for his lines, they are most likely NOT going to cast YOU! So, get that stuff nailed down: Who am I? What am I great at? What roles am I best suited for? Who am I showing them at THIS audition? Your package is your selling feature. You are like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman you have to know YOUR territory. You are a traveling salesman selling yourself. You have to know the YOU that you are peddling.
Author of "Awakening the Actor Within"