When I hear actors talk about their auditions, I often hear them say that they gave a “good audition,” or that it “went well.” They felt “OK in the room,” the read felt “pretty solid,” and the people in the room “seemed to like them.”
Almost as if it was a test and they passed with a solid B.
Not only is that not nearly good enough, it entirely misses the point of what an audition actually is.
At its best and highest form, an audition is you showing the people in the room that you are ready and able to do the job—that you have the chops at that very moment to walk onto the set and deliver as a multi-faceted, creative, and flexible actor as well as a solid, strong, and dependable professional.
You need a way of working that allows you to exceed all of the actors who are just preparing to do well in the room. You need to prepare in a way that allows you to exhibit the greatness that lands you on the set, doing the job.
Here are three of the things that need to happen if you’re going to be seen as “set ready.”
1. Variety of choice. Let’s first be clear that this doesn’t mean making a series of random and bizarre decisions for the sake of trying to be original. It’s about finding the choices inside of you that connect you to the words on the page in the most dynamically truthful way possible. A television director friend of mine says that he likes to see a range of choices in the audition so that he knows he has options when the scenes are being shot. He may decide at the last minute to change the tone of a scene, and needs to know that the actors have the range to handle different scenarios. More often than not though, when you’re on the set you’ll hear the director say, “Just throw it all away and say the words.” That’s their decision for the scene in that moment, but if that’s all that you show them in the audition, they may assume that’s all that you can do and will choose someone who gave them more options. The variation in the choices may be large or very slight depending on the scene, but remember, the actor who makes the lines come alive in the most interesting and unique way almost always gets the job.
2. Presence. A strong audition enables the people in the room to picture you on set doing the job. If you’re anxious and edgy, they’ll just see an actor having a rough audition. If you’re bold and powerful, they’ll see a high functioning actor who will be in control every step of the way. A big part of the picture they have of you is your professionalism in the room and a big part of being a strong professional in the room is acceptance. Job-getting actors accept the room just the way it is—nothing is good or bad, it’s the room they have on that day. The calm sense of control that comes from this acceptance is both winning and empowering. It allows you to take and hold your space with authority, as well as control the pace and the flow of the audition. Acceptance brings strength.
There is also an ease to the actors who book the job. There is no neediness or sense of apology. These actors are confident, natural, and present in every moment of the process. Their works is done and inside of them so that their minds, bodies, and hearts are free to take in and be a part of their surroundings and connect to everyone in the room without distraction. They are someone you look forward to working with—someone you like. And remember, people hire people they like.
3. Adjustments. Nothing tells the people in the room if you’re ready for the set more than how you handle an adjustment. By handling them well you can show that you’re a smart, creative actor who has great control over his work, and that you have the skill to move easily and effectively in all directions.
By weaving adjustments into the fabric of your initial reading, you’ll show that you understand that an adjustment is a shift, not an overhaul, and that you can take direction and incorporate it subtly and truthfully.
Adjustments will reveal whether you’re under- or over-prepared. If you’re underprepared or winging it, you won’t have enough control over the piece to know what you’re adjusting and the whole thing will fall apart. If you’re over-prepared and have run the piece 100 times or so, you won’t be able to shift or move because the piece will be cemented into your head one way and one way only.
Actors who book know that a great audition, and a great performance for that matter, is the perfect combination of preparedness and flexibility. Adjustments will be a key component in showing if you’re that actor.
An audition isn’t an end unto itself. It’s a job interview, and in order for it to be a success you need to exhibit the skills, presence, and confidence of the job-getter, not the tentative, shallow people pleasing dullness of one more actor auditioning.