Ten Little Rules for a Rockstar Theater Audition

by Teresa Reilly on February 24, 2010

Every actor should find the opportunity sometime to sit on the other side of the casting table, and that’s just what I did this past week.  Whether it’s for the web series you wrote and produced, the film you’re helping to cast, the showcase you’re directing, or simply being the reader for a new play that’s being cast in your community theater, seeing the flip side of casting is an amazing learning experience.  It’s the time when you as an actor get to step back, and take a long look at the audition process when you are not the one in the hot seat!  And after being on the other side this week, I was reminded of some super simple things every actor should remember (and some things no one should ever, ever do).

So here’s the set up.  I’m working again with a fantastic theater company this spring on their new show, which is a three month long collection of plays that rotate out as the audiences vote on their favorites.  I’m so thrilled to be directing for them, and happy to be working again in one of my top 5 favorite places in the world…the theater!  It’s a great space to work in, and we were lucky enough to have lots of actors come in. Let me tell you, I got a great lesson in auditioning from the people who were reading for us…

RULE 1: The first rule for auditioning (whether in theater, film, TV, WHATEVER) became apparent right away: SHOW UP FOR YOUR CONFIRMED TIME SLOT ON TIME! Okay, fine, problems arise, stuff happens, emergencies emerge…I know.  I’ve done it.  I’ve been late, I’ve missed time slots, I’ve had to use the awful (yet unfortunately very true here in LA) excuse that traffic was bad.  Fine.  So strive to never, ever be late again.  Learn to hate your own tardiness.

RULE 2: DO YOUR HOMEWORK! It’s not even hard homework, people.  You did harder work in 6th grade.  Before you click on the little button to submit yourself to a project, read what the project is.  We had one actor, who finished up her monologue, chatted a bit with us about her training, and then, as soon as she felt comfortable with us, said, “So what is this project anyway?”  Oh.  No.  Now I feel like a jerk.  Because I just spent all this time listening to your heartfelt monologue, and you didn’t even bother to read the paragraph of a submission note we neatly typed up for you.  I feel really lame now for caring about my own show.  (Don’t do thaaaat!)

RULE 3: Okay, and the next rule for auditioning is to (I know this sounds so obvious, I know!  But more than one person failed this simple test.) PRINT OUT YOUR RESUME.  STAPLE IT TO YOUR HEADSHOT.  HAND IT OVER. Um, really?  You didn’t even bring a headshot?  Um, reaaaally?  You want to email it to us later in the day?  Oh, sorry, you took the time to print everything out, but…no staples.  Darn.  Oop, your resume just fluttered through the air, away from your picture, and now I’ll never be able to call you back because I don’t know who you are.  OMG, friends, OMG!

To add on to that previous rule: HAVE YOUR PICTURE & RESUME READY AS SOON AS YOU WALK INTO THE BUILDING. It’s really awkward when we all welcome you into the room, eager to hear what you’ve brought to share with us, and then we have to wait lamely while you shuffle through your bag to dig out that pesky pic.  Or take off your Bluetooth.  Or empty all your pockets of all the stuff that will distract you from your scene.  We just want to see you act.  So get all that other stuff done in the waiting room.  Be ready to go when you show up.  (This goes nicely with Rule #1.  If you’re on time, you won’t be rushing around and feeling out-of-breath and nervous when you walk in.  BE ON TIME!)

RULE 4: Who do you do your monologue to?  PICK A SPOT ON THE WALL BEHIND US.  NOT MY FACE. If you’re having this problem, it might be a sign you need to take a class.  It’s a simple, siiiiiimple fix, but one that a lot of new actors don’t know OR they haven’t had enough training to point it out.  It’s fine, no big deal, but it makes me feel uncomfortable when they whole speech about your mother (me) killing your father traumatized you and how much you now want to kill your mother (me).  Awk-Ward. 

RULE 5:  DON’T MAKE UP A MONOLOGUE ON THE SPOT. So this one seems to be…ohhhh…I don’t know…really, really obvious?! Yes.  Agreed.

RULE 6:  DON”T DO A MONOLOGUE THAT MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE. See Rule #4.  It’s tough finding a good monologue, and darn near impossible to find a great one that isn’t overdone to death.  That being said, steer clear of topics that are sexually explicit or potentially offensive to the people in the room.  It can be a fine line, and not everyone will agree with me, but, remember, these are 2 minutes with a group of strangers who you want to impress.  Who knows what their politics, sexual orientation, belief systems or heritage are.  A monologue is your choice, true…but be careful when choosing.

RULE 7:  DON’T DO A MONOLOGUE THAT MAKES ME WANT TO SOB ENDLESSLY UNTIL I CAN’T HELP IT AND HAVE TO GO EAT A TUB OF COOKIES AND CALL MY THERAPIST AND/OR MY MOTHER.
Look, you’ve got two minutes.  Unless you can nail it, cry on cue, or are Laurence Olivier returned from the dead, why do a scene that is totally about utter depression and sadness?  Funnier is almost always better in the theater audition scenario.  Or, if you have a dramatic monologue, make sure it’s got at least a bit of humor in it.

RULE 8:  DO A MONOLOGUE YOU LOVE. I felt like I could tell.  It looked like the actor wanted to be there with us.  We wanted to be there with him, too.

While you’re at it…find another monologue you love.  Find a Shakespeare one too.  For all those Rule #7 auditioners who made us feel like death, we always asked if they had a comedic monologue we could see too, as our show (as stated in the submission notes, ahem) is primarily comedic.  Only a handful did.  Be part of the handful.  Be prepared for anything.

RULE 9:  KNOW WHO WROTE WHAT. Read the play your monologue came from.  Know who they are.  Memorize the author’s name.  Someone will, undoubtedly, ask you.  We did, for almost every single person, not to stump the actor or trick them, but because we were curious.  And trust me, I know that Arthur Miller did not write the monologue about sleeping with  women who taste like various candies and calling them on your cell.  He just didn’t.  (See Rule #5)

And finally….RULE 10:  DON’T RUN AWAY. We just sat here and listened to your wonderful speech.  It makes me feel almost as bad as Rule #2 when you literally end your scene and are out the door in the same breath.  Uh…bye?  We want to talk to you!  Or redirect!  Or hear another monologue!  We started to think we smelled, people were jetting out of there so fast…

That being said, once we’re done, we’re done.  Don’t feel the need to spill your entire day to us.  Or career.  Or tried out some of your stand-up routine.  Nu-uh.  Now you can run away.

So clearly, these are just one lady’s opinions that came out of a specific set of auditions.  And they are opinions about the sepcific set of auditions for the theater.  These 10 Little Rules are so simple, so obvious, but yet…actors kept making the same mistakes.  Simple, obvious mistakes.  Which is why I wanted to write them down here, to share with you, yes, but also to remind myself in my own auditioning life.  If you are confident and present, if you prepare and show up on time, ready to act, you have already won 95% of the battle.  The other little sliver of the fight…well, it’s not really a fight.  It’s the opportunity to play.  Have fun in the audition room!  Because, I truly believe in Rule #8.  Love what you do.

And show up on time, for goodness’ sake!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Smudge In The City October 25, 2011 at 9:08 am

I completely agree. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit behind the table for a casting and it benefited me as a performer. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t and apply it to my own auditions. It also gave me some resume ideas!

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