The Theatre 101 Series is a set of introductory articles meant to explain theatrical concepts and situations to young actors as well as adult theatrical newcomers. View the whole series here.
For new actors, the audition is the scariest part of the entire production process. Even as a seasoned performer, I tend to get more nervous for auditions than I do for actual performances. Auditions can be downright terrifying!
Nevertheless, once you get a few under your belt, auditions get much easier. The first is always the scariest! It would be a shame to never get a chance to perform simply because you’re afraid to audition. Hopefully, I can help! In this article I’m going to explain the general process of auditioning so you know exactly what’s coming.
What’s an Audition Like, Anyway?
It’s important to remember that every audition is different, though the bare bones typically remain the same.
The requirements of any given audition should be clearly explained beforehand, usually via the audition notice. Refer closely to any information from the directors about what will be required in the audition, and make sure to prepare accordingly. If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out to them.
The circumstances around the audition can vary wildly. In some theaters, your audition will take place only in front of a panel of show staff. Sometimes, you’ll perform in front of other auditioning actors. You might have to sign up for an audition slot, or the order of auditions may be decided upon arriving at the theater. Again, refer to the audition notice for as much information as possible, and don’t be afraid to embrace a little bit of the unknown.
Auditioning for a Play
If you’re auditioning for a play, your audition will usually consist of a prepared monologue or reading from the script, or both. Some auditions might include an improv exercise, depending on the content of the play (usually comedies).
Auditioning for a Musical
If you’re auditioning for musical theatre, you will likely be required to sing and either prepare a monologue or read from the script (or both). Many musical theatre auditions also involve dance portions, wherein the choreographer teaches you a short series of dance steps and gauges your ability to learn and reproduce it.
For the sung portion, you may have to find and learn a song on your own, or an audition song may be provided for you. The process of picking and preparing audition material will be explained later in the Theatre 101 Series.
It is especially important for musical theatre auditionees to determine if the sung portion of their audition will take place to a recorded track, live accompaniment (ie a pianist), or a cappella (with no music at all). Further, figure out what you need to provide. If the audition notice asks you to bring a recorded backing track for you to sing with, make sure you have one! These are often available online, or you could ask a piano player to record a piano track for you to sing along with. If your audition will be accompanied by a pianist, be sure to bring sheet music.
Don’t forget to double check the length requirement of the sung portion. Usually, directors will ask to hear between 16 and 32 bars of music. They might alternatively provide a time constraint and ask you to sing “30 seconds” or “under a minute” of a song. Make sure you adhere as closely as possible to these directions. When in doubt, sing less rather than more– it shows you respect the directors’ time.
What should I Bring to Auditions?
- Any material you need to perform, such as a monologue, backing track, sheet music, or copied selections from the script. It is considered professional to keep these in a plain black binder.
- If you are to be accompanied, it is especially helpful to bring a binder. Hole-punching and printing your music double-sided in your binder makes it easy for an accompanist to turn pages. If you don’t have a double sided printer, use clear tape to paste two pages together and hole punch them appropriately (so that they effectively become “one” page). Remember to clearly mark the point at which you will be starting and stopping in your music!
- Dress to put your best foot forward. Though professional dress probably won’t be expected outside professional auditions, dressing presentably is encouraged. If there will be a dance portion, remember to bring comfortable clothes and shoes to change into.
- A water bottle, and some light, non-sugary snacks such as crackers or granola. You might have to wait a while to go on, and staying hydrated and nourished is important. Further, water and snacks can be life-saving if you start to feel faint. Remember, only bring water and light, healthy snacks– sugary sodas or candies can dry out your throat, which is counterproductive for performing. Avoid coffee for the same reason, or else drink it well ahead of your audition!
- A pencil and pen. Be prepared!
- If you are wary of a long wait, consider bringing a book or your phone charger.
- Anything else the audition notice asks you to bring.
- You might be asked to bring a headshot and theatrical resume to your audition. As a new actor, you probably don’t have one of these! Simply let the director know.
On the Day of the Audition: The Waiting Game
Once you get to the theater you will probably be required to wait for at least a few minutes before you can enter the actual audition room. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Usually upon entering you will have to sign in. Remember to be courteous to all personnel managing sign-ins or directing auditionees to where they need to go. You never know who may have connections to the directors, and being rude can keep you from being cast.
- You may also have to fill out an audition form of some sort. These often ask for the following:
- General contact/personal info
- Previous performance experience or training
- Expectations regarding casting: Are you auditioning for a specific role? Are you willing to accept a role besides this one? Are you comfortable being cast as the opposite gender?
- It is essential that you answer all of these questions truthfully. Answering that you are willing to take any role and then quitting the show if you’re cast as an ensemble member reflects poorly on you, and lying about previous training or experience never works out well.
In the Room Where it Happens
Once you enter the room to begin your audition, here’s a few things to expect:
- You’ll perform your song/monologue/cold reads/etc. Keep in mind, you may not be asked to perform everything you prepared, nor asked to perform everything the whole way through. Go with it!
- Be prepared to slate: “Hi, my name is, and today I will be performing [title] from [show]/by [composer].”
- If you are auditioning for a musical and will be singing with an accompanist, be prepared to get them on the same page! Hand them your sheet music and point out where you are starting. Remember to be polite!
- It’s possible the director may cut you off part way through your song/monologue. This may not necessarily be a bad thing.
- The director may give you various directions as you audition– for instance, “open up more,” or “try acting this section as though…” Take the direction! No matter how outlandish it may seem, the director has a purpose for asking, and showing you can do as they ask on demand is a plus.
- Depending on the show, you may be asked some of the following questions:
- Any weird talents or special skills?
- Are you comfortable with stage kissing/violence? Are you comfortable kissing someone of the same gender?
- Can you walk in heels? (For men!)
- Do you play any musical instruments?
- Are you comfortable flying?
- Or more– these are only examples! Remember that answering truthfully is once again crucial.
It’s possible there may be a second round of auditions called callbacks. Here, the director is “calling back” a handful of auditionees they found promising and want to see more of. Usually, if you are called back, you will be asked to prepare more material– another song or more cold reading. It’s possible there may be multiple rounds of callbacks. More about preparing for callbacks will be explained in the next part of this series.
There’s nothing more you can do! Hopefully you’ve done your best.
Another waiting game begins now: the wait for the cast list. Expect to wait anywhere between a day to two weeks for casting information. The director may give you a timeframe for when they expect to post the cast list– don’t expect the results too soon prior to that point.
Once the cast list is posted, remember to accept your role! The director may have you do this by contacting them, or by some other means. Once you have accepted, congratulations, you’re in the show!
If you are not cast, or don’t get the part you wanted, don’t beat yourself up. You can always try again. Reflect on the audition experience and think about what you can try to do better next time!