What Not To Do In An Audition

Originally published on Backstage

I hate auditions, but they are a necessary evil for actors. It’s how we get the job, and when I remember to change my perspective from outright fear of messing up, to realizing this is an opportunity to perform a character unlike any other actor out there then I can get behind the idea more.

All that said, there are some things we should consider when going into an audition. A few big no-no’s that could hurt or even ruin your chances for callbacks or getting the part. Unfortunately, as a  Casting Director, I’ve seen a lot of these, and it makes me cringe, because I really want to focus on whether or not the actor is right for the role I’m casting instead of paying attention to these faux pas.

1. Shaking hands – don’t do it unless the auditioner initiates it

A lot of actors think  the audition is ONLY when they start the scene,  but this isn’t the case. As soon as you walk into the room you’re being observed for the role. Casting Directors are looking for actors that are going to be easy to work with as much as looking at how they perform the part. And they see HEAPS of people in a short time span. If every actor is coming in and shaking their hand, even those who aren’t germaphobes might become one. Let the Casting Director initiate a handshake. It helps keep the environment friendly and open.

2. The Reader is NOT acting with you – don’t touch

Oh the stories I could tell of aspiring actors who don’t understand this important piece of audition etiquette. The Reader is only there to give you someone to play off of, but they are not acting with you. Most often, the reader will be placed near the camera with a few feet between your chair/mark and theirs. Feel free to use them as an eyeline, but do not approach them. During one casting session, we had an actress not only touching the Reader but also directing them in what actions to do to prompt them for their next line. It took us by surprise and made us feel unsafe. And the actress lost the opportunity for a second take of the scene. We don’t want this to happen, but if we don’t feel safe, we’ll end the audition. So please, recognise that the Reader is there to feed you lines and to be an eye line, but nothing more. They’re just reading, you’re acting.

3. Stop saying sorry

I’ve had so many  actors come in for an audition where  they stumble over the lines and keep asking to restart the scene. Humans make mistakes, there are going to be times when we stumble over our words and that’s ok. If you really feel  it’s important to start over, only do it once, but don’t over apologize for making the mistake. We get it. When someone keeps apologizing it makes you look like someone we’ll have to carry through the project. And I know that that’s probably not the case, it’s just the nerves. It’s ok to apologize once, but please don’t feel you need to keep doing it.

4. Always have the sides on you – unless they’ve said not to have them

If you don’t know what sides are, they are the pages of script you’ve been given for the audition. I’ve seen several actors come in  without their sides. I get that they think it shows they put the work in and memorized the part and while being off-book is great, still having the sides there lets the Director know that you are willing to still be moldable in changing the  part up a bit. So even if you know all the lines, have the sides there unless they ask you to not have them (which is rare).

5. Don’t dress the part or bring props

Some of my favourite scenes from FRIENDS are when Joey goes on auditions, it’s like a visual guide of everything you shouldn’t do during an audition. The guy is constantly dressing up as characters, or doing other silly things during the audition process. Take a lesson from his mistakes and don’t dress in a costume or bring any props. With that said, you can get away with subtle things – like if you’re auditioning for a business person it would be fine to dress in a business suit, but if you’re auditioning for a clown don’t come in with a clown costume.

Likewise, it’s the same with props. If you’re supposed to be drinking something in an audition scene, bring a water bottle. Anything you’d naturally have on your person can be used, but don’t bring a specific prop. It makes you stand out, but not in a positive way. And I want you to stand out for the  right reasons, not these little errors.

As a side note for self-tapes here are a few things to avoid too:

1. No Reader, no problem – false!

I’ve had a few self-tapes come across my desk that had an actor staring off screen while the other character(s) are talking, but there’s no one feeding them lines. It’s hard to watch these, because I can see the actor struggling more to “hear” the other characters.

In another self-tape I received, the  actor had painstakingly cut their audition like a silent  film with the other character(s) dialogue printed on a black frame and then cut back to them talking. While it was a brilliant idea, I lost half of their performance. And while some Casting Directors may still try to see the potential of that actor for the role, many are just too busy to invest that kind of effort.

Do yourself a favour and ask a friend to feed you the other character(s) lines to you. And  as one additional note, don’t have them sitting right next to the camera or smartphone that you’re recording too. Their voice will be so much louder than yours and that too could stop the Casting Director from watching the full audition.

2. Lighting, framing, sound

If you’re new to self-tapes there are a lot of places you can go to have them done with a full setup, but be prepared because it will cost you. A lot of independent films and shorts don’t require a fancy setup, in fact I often encourage people to just shoot it on their smartphone while keeping the lighting, sound, and framing in mind.

For framing, you want to make sure you are the focus of the shot, find a blank wall to shoot against. I’ve seen several that throw a blanket up as a  background, but it’s distracting so keep it simple.

For lighting, if you don’t own any lights that’s ok, just make sure you’re in a well lit room with lots of natural lighting that will be even on your face. Meaning no part of your face will be in shadow. We want to see you.

For sound, make sure you’re in a quiet place with little to no background noise. This can be the hardest thing to find, but even a loud fan or air conditioner can distract from the quality of the self-tape and make it difficult for the Casting Director to hear you.

I’ll leave you with this reminder too: Casting Directors want you to be the one they cast, so let your nerves work for you and when they feel a bit overwhelming find a moment before your audition to slip off to the bathroom and  once secluded in a stall all your own, raise your hands above your head. It sets off a chemical reaction in your body to help calm you down.

I hope these tips help you nail your next audition and leave you full of inspiration for your future.

  • Charis Joy Jackson

    Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

    Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time is writing a novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

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