Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preparation is Key for Success in Auditioning

by Susan M. Steadman, Ph.D., Artistic Director, Offshoot Productions

Whether we’re theatre artists or not, we all audition at times in our lives. Job interview? Audition. Blind date? Audition. Soccer team try-outs? Audition. New teacher facing a class of students? Audition. The difference is that in a certain kind of theatre audition, the actor has control of many factors. This kind of audition is the prepared monologue.

Theatres and theatre organizations (such as the Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts whose Unified Auditions come up in March) frequently use the prepared monologue (sometimes with singing as well) as a tool when viewing large numbers of performers. Although Offshoot is a very small theatre company, I’ve found it useful to require monologues because they give me a chance to assess a performer’s potential and gauge their level of professionalism before he or she engages in improvisation or cold readings from the script.

The following is merely part of the advice I give to actors of all ages when they take auditioning workshops with me or I coach them one-on-one. Do be aware that entire books have been written on the subject, so this is at best a few selected pointers.

Preparation is key in all auditions. And this preparation may take quite a bit of time and effort. For example, you should have several memorized pieces at your fingertips. The director or casting agent may ask you for another monologue. Or the actor auditioning right before you may have chosen the very same speech. It happens.

Choose a monologue that is suited to this specific audition. Sometimes the choice of monologue is stipulated in an announcement (e.g., “two- minute monologue from a Shakespearean tragedy”). Sometimes you have the universe of scripts from which to choose. If the show for which you are auditioning is a comedy, chances are you’d be best off presenting a comic monologue.

Along the same lines, you should choose a monologue that is suited to you. I’ve coached a lot of teenagers and, granted, it is hard finding age-appropriate materials. But they exist. Each performer simply has to do the work to find the right materials. There are other factors in addition to age. For example, if you’re a six-foot tall woman, don’t choose Midsummer’s Hermia (who Shakespeare has clearly designated as petite). One of my pet peeves is actors choosing a monologue from monologue books and knowing nothing about the play from which it came. Do the reading! There may be choices available for the monologue that don’t occur to you without understanding the work as a whole.

To have the most impact and allow yourself the most exciting challenge, choose a monologue that allows the character to change in some way or to make a discovery about himself or herself. A monologue which contains long descriptive passage may be fine within the context of a show–but your “show” is only 30 seconds or 90 seconds long, and it’s important to reveal a character undergoing change.

Be sure to rehearse your introduction and conclusion, and to have a rehearsed verbal resume available should you be asked questions about your experience. Find friends or family members who are willing to watch and offer feedback on how you present yourself. (Not every friend or family member is equipped to critique your monologue--nor should they be. But you may be surprised at what they tell you about your voice, posture, or communication skills.) The better rehearsed you are, the more confidence you will have. Better confidence is likely to result in a better audition–and certainly one that is much more fun for you.

Time yourself more than once and be sure you stay within the time limit given. At best, you will annoy the audience by running over. At worst, someone will stop you at the cut-off point and you’ll be left mid-sentence to smile with embarrassment and hurry offstage.

Dress appropriately for your age, size, character, if pertinent, and the audition requirements, especially if the monologue is only a part of the audition process.. (Another pet peeve involves actors who arrive at an audition with really tight clothes or high-heeled shoes that don’t allow for movement. More taboos: suggestive attire more suitable to a Saturday night date, jeans with holes, ragged t-shirts...well, you get the picture.)

In an odd parallel to the old real estate saying about location, location, location, actors need to address the three most important factors when faced with an audition: preparation, preparation, preparation. An actor can’t control the picture a director has in his or her head of the ideal candidate for a certain role. Actors can’t control the temperature of the audition space where the air-conditioner has stopped working; the fact that a casting agent’s child is ill and she is totally distracted during the audition; or any of the myriad factors that contribute to choosing actors for specific projects. What actors can control is the work put into the audition piece, the adherence to guidelines put forth by the theatre, and the way they present themselves to an audience.
Really, the challenges actors face are not so different from those faced by non-actors. Whether dealing with a job interview or a blind date, knowing yourself and your capabilities and feeling comfortable and confident in your preparation and presentation can make all the difference when it comes to achieving success.

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