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Auditioning Mistakes to Avoid

By Mark Jarvis

Learn the common pitfalls that could stand between you and your next acting gig

 

Auditioning for a role is one of the most important aspects of an actor’s life. Time and time again, actors must stand up in front of a casting director, producer and/or director and give all they have to a scripted character. This is when you, as an actor, are opening yourself up for acceptance or rejection. It can be a frightening and intimidating process. To try and ease the stress of an audition, Show Business posed the question: What auditioning mistakes should actors avoid?

 

Oops

There are many auditioning mistakes that actors need to avoid, so where does one begin? All of the industry professionals we spoke with agreed that the two biggest mistakes to avoid are being late to an audition and not being prepared. “If you show up late to an audition, then you could show up late to a show. Time is money,” said Anne Reiss, co-founder/executive producer of the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival, who has also been a producing associate working with Broadway productions such as the Tony award-winning plays, The Real Thing and The Goat. Jerome Preston Bates, an actor who has worked in film, television, theater, on Broadway and in commercials since 1982, recommends actors arrive to an audition at least 15 minutes early. Being prepared for an audition does not mean memorizing the script. “When you’re at home preparing for your audition, you make choices about what you want to do in the audition room, how you want to play the character,” said Rob Decina, casting director for Guiding Light.

 

Auditioning is more than saying words. “Actors come in with the script and just want to read it. Anybody can read. You have to have an action and an objective. The character has to want something and he has to try and get it in the scene,” said Woodie King, Jr., founder and producing director at the 37-year-old New Federal Theatre. A definite audition don’t is stopping in the middle of your scene, a mistake Bates made earlier in his career. Stopping conveys to the casting director that you are not prepared and that you’re trying to find something. It also puts unnecessary pressure on the actor to follow up with something absolutely superb. On the business side, coming to an audition prepared means actors should bring their résumé, sides and current headshots.

 

 

The Right Choices

Actors must be careful when choosing an audition monologue. Victoria Liberatori, artistic director of the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival, once had a 52-year old auditioner read Juliet’s soliloquy from Romeo & Juliet. “That actress made me aware that she was not conscious of her limitations,” Liberatori said.

 

Liberatori cautions against auditioning with a piece that has strong sexual or political content. As a director, she admits that she will think about the playwright’s text, instead of the actor’s performance. Furthermore, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight: if you are auditioning for Shakespeare, bring a Shakespearean monologue, not a contemporary piece. Another important consideration is positioning your body in a correct and appropriate way. Liberatori recalled an actress who auditioned for the role of Tamara, a vicious barbarian queen in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus while lying on her back and looking up at the ceiling. “This was a clear example of poor judgment. It didn’t allow me to see movement or her face. I wondered what choices she would make in the rehearsal process and performance, so she did not get the role.”

 

How Do You Want It Done?

One of the deadly sins in the auditioning process is “winging it.” Decina once had an actor ask him who the characters in the scene were, what were their relationships and whether his character should be played happy. “That’s a mistake for an actor. In the big picture, it doesn’t matter how you play it, it’s just that you made a choice to play it in a certain way. If you get a call at noon today to come to my office at noon tomorrow, in 24 hours you couldn’t figure out your motivation? There’s a difference between needing clarification of a point in the audition scene and asking someone to do the work for you,” Decina said. Preparation for an audition consists of more than knowing the script, King states that some actors make the mistake of not doing research. For example, you cannot audition for an August Wilson play if you’ve never seen or read his work. “You are missing a familiarity for black literature and your rhythms will be off,” King said. Of course, the same research work applies to Shakespeare, because you must learn the meaning of rarely used words and their proper pronunciation.

 

Just the Facts

This is not to say that asking questions at an audition is strictly forbidden. It all depends on which questions you ask. For instance, never ask the casting director personal questions. Don’t talk about the weather or lunch and definitely don’t be overly friendly. Instead, Bates encourages his colleagues to ask questions about the script when they are only given the pages that relate to their character and scene. “You need to know what happened in the play before this moment. Who is your character and why you are speaking these words?” Bates said.

 

Auditions are not the place to share your personal or financial problems. It is a time to show casting professionals that you know your material and you want the job. Reiss recalled actors coming to auditions and explaining that they needed the part because they had to have four more weeks of work to get their health benefits through Equity. “While that may be the reason, they shouldn’t say it to me. I want to know that they are there to do the work and do it well,” said Reiss.

 

Bringing props to any audition is also a mistake, especially to a television audition. Decina feels that props come across as being a trick and are very distracting. “I’m interested in an actor’s face, thoughts, feelings. The time an actor spends trying to incorporate a prop into his or her rehearsal time could have been time spent working on the material,” Decina advised. Improvising a prop during an audition for film is just as detrimental in Bates’ view. “If you are in a scene playing pool, do not pretend to have a cue stick in your hand. In film, they are more interested in what’s happening with your eyes and in your thoughts. They are interested in the auditioning choice you have made and whether they feel what you’re saying.”

 

Limiting Yourself

Do not impose limitations on the roles you may be able to play. You may be making a big mistake if you judge a particular role and proclaim to the casting director that you are not right for it. This has happened to Decina numerous times, as he can audition up to 500 actors for one contract role. “When an actor says that, it makes the casting director get the feeling of ‘let me just do my job,’ and it creates a negative energy. Also, you may be being evaluated for another role and you are not aware of it.” Going to an audition, you should be armed with various ways to approach a scene. Nina Murano, an acting coach for TV, soaps, movies and theater, believes that actors should have an auditioning coach to help them discover a few different auditioning choices. “The casting director might suggest another angle. You have to be ready to do it that way,” Murano said. Limiting yourself while auditioning for a theater company can make you miss out on a new opportunity. Companies like Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival, in Princeton, NJ, uses non-traditional casting. Liberatori and Reiss once cast a white and a black actor to play the Dromio twins in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. In a prior production, they cast two women in these roles, which are normally played by two white male actors that resemble each other. They have also had women audition using Hamlet’s soliloquy.

 

Nervous Much?

Being nervous when you’re out on an audition is normal, but the mistake would be to allow your anxiety to overwhelm you. Amy Metroka, a theater and film actress who has worked in the New York area since 1999, has been there and done that. “In my head I’m focusing on how nervous I am about the audition, instead of allowing myself to be in the moment with the reader or partner I’m with. The best way I have found to overcome anxiety is to prepare well.” Murano agrees that preparation is the best way to combat nervousness and believes that an auditioning coach can be a great way to help calm an actor’s nerves. A little positive guidance can help you prepare and, logically, gain confidence.

 

Time Is Not On Your Side

Ignoring the importance of time on an audition may be very costly to you. If you have a 30-60 second audition, do not take three minutes loosening up before you do it. Liberatori has had actors take off their shoes and walk around to relax before performing their audition, causing everyone to wait. She warns that this will almost certainly cause a director to lose interest in watching the audition.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. Slip-ups, mishaps and blunders are all part of the learning process. No matter what mistakes you make on an audition, the greatest teacher is repetition. Ultimately, what’s important is learning from your mistakes. The industry professionals agree that the more auditions you go on, the more you will improve. Decina recommends that actors evaluate every audition after they leave. Ask yourself, “What did I just do?” If you think you blew it, don’t despair. There’s always next time.

 

Damage Control

Nine Audition Don’ts and Do’s

 

Don’t be late.

Don’t ask personal questions

Don’t bring props

Don’t limit yourself

Don’t let anxiety overwhelm you

Do be prepared

Do choose an appropriate monologue.

Do your research

Do learn from your mistakes

 

 

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