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When you are new to theatre, preparing for an audition feels like walking blindly into the unknown. While understanding what to expect in your first audition may help, learning how to prepare properly for an audition can require a lot of audition experience. To help newcomers break into auditioning and put their best foot forward, here is a beginner-friendly guide to preparing for auditions!
The Golden Rules of Auditioning
Before I go into detail about preparing for an audition, I’d like to highlight 2 “Golden Rules” that will help keep you on track.
Golden Rule Number 1: Preparation is the key to success.
Preparation, here, refers to both practicing your material and coming equipped with everything you need. When you really know your stuff and prepare as much as possible for your audition, you’ll soothe your nerves and reduce the chances of silly mistakes. Being prepared also makes a good impression on the director! Last but certainly not least, it helps eliminate some of the inevitable post-audition regrets. There’s nothing worse than walking away from an audition thinking you could have done better, if only you’d practiced more!
Golden Rule Number 2: Roll With the Punches.
In 99.99% of auditions you attend, things won’t go exactly as you planned. Learn to expect this and get comfortable with this fact. Mistakes are inevitable, so don’t beat yourself up when they happen! A director will remember an actor who makes a mistake and recovers more fondly than an actor who aims for perfection and gets flustered.
Take these two Golden Rules to heart, and you’ll find they’ll eliminate a lot of your #auditionprobs.
Preparing for an Audition, in 3 Steps
The lengthy process of preparation will make or break your audition! Here, I’ve broken it down into three basic “steps”. Though they’re not all very fun, it’s important to spend adequate time on each.
Step One: Research
This step is all about doing your homework! Make sure you know the show you’re auditioning for, and if you want to audition for a specific character, prepare accordingly.
- Get to know the show. You can listen to the soundtrack, or watch a video of a performance on YouTube. If the show is based on a book, movie, or other source, looking over the source material can be useful, but remember the stage adaptation will likely have some big differences. Make sure you’re preparing based on the stage show! A quick search on Wikipedia can give you some background information at a glance.
- Figure out your audition goals. Are you aiming for a specific role? If so, your research will also include understanding the character you wish to portray. By having an idea of the character, you’ll be better equipped to select and perform material in your audition.
- Make sure you fully understand the audition notice. Try to eliminate as many surprises on the day of the audition as possible. Take this time to figure out how and when you’re going to practice in the days before the audition, what your schedule on the day of the audition will look like, your method of transportation to the audition, and any other necessary arrangements.
Step Two: Picking Material
For your audition you will either need to select your own songs or monologues, or else the show directors will provide some pre-selected material for you. The audition notice should include this information.
- If specific material is provided, this step is easy. Move right to step three!
- If multiple selections of material are provided from which you may choose options you like…
- Default towards the option that makes you feel comfortable. For example, if you’re given a choice between a song that’s comfortably in your range versus a song that’s a little too high, pick the comfortable .
- If you have a specific role in mind, keep that in mind when choosing your material. Directors usually pick audition options with certain characters in mind, so look for the one that seems more relevant to the character you want.
- If you have to choose your own…
- Again, default towards what is comfortable. Don’t pick a song you can’t sing, or a monologue you don’t think you can perform well!
- However, don’t be afraid to take risks. Push yourself! It can help to give whatever you choose a trial performance for friends or family before your audition so you can ensure you’re on the right track. “Taking risks” doesn’t mean “select something you have no hope of performing!”
- If you have a specific role in mind, look for songs and monologues that fit the character! Although auditioning with songs/scenes from the show you’re auditioning for is frowned upon, you can still find relevant material from other works. Look for songs with similar vocal ranges, attitudes and musical styles to your target character, or monologues that display similar personalities and goals. Remember, though, the most perfect song in the world still won’t work if you can’t sing it! Pick a song you can perform well over a song you like but can’t sing.
- If and only if the director gives you express permission to use material from the show, consider doing so. Perform something by the character you want to play!
Step Three: Prep and Practice
Once you’ve found your material, you can begin preparing for the audition.
- Make sure you rehearse your material so that you know it like the back of your hand! This way, even if you’re thrown off by nerves or surprises in your audition, you’ll still have your material “locked in.”
- For songs, it can be especially helpful to listen to professional recordings of the song and sing along. However, remember not to just copy the singer on the tape. Make the performance your own!
- Review what you learned during the “research” phase. If you have a specific character in mind, going back over your observations about that character or the show they reside in will help you in your audition.
- Don’t just memorize. While you rehearse, practice acting your material. Look for interesting interpretations and try out different ways of performing your selections.
- Performing for others can help reduce the nerves associated with auditioning. Take your selections for a test drive in front of your parents, roommates, friends, or even your pets!
- If social interactions make you nervous, it might help to rehearse those ahead of time. See the next section for more info.
- Prepare by assembling everything you need for the audition! Pick out your outfit (and if applicable your change of clothing for the dance audition), prepare your binder with your monologue and sheet music, make sure you have your backing track on hand, etc.
- Prepare by taking care of yourself in the days before your audition! Get enough sleep, drink enough water, and keep your voice warmed up.
On the day of the audition…
- Give your material one last review, and warm up properly. I have an in-depth guide on that subject here.
- Don’t burn yourself out when warming up! Limit yourself to only warming up for a few minutes at a time, preferably a few times throughout the day. This will help ensure you’re not too tired to actually perform once your audition starts!
- Arrive early, and be on your best behavior! The waiting room prior to entering the audition will usually be watched by someone who will happily inform the director if you seem rude or obnoxious. This can ruin your chances of being cast before you even step inside!
- Once your audition begins…
- Be prepared to identify yourself and slate (introduce the material you will be performing.) “Hi, my name is, and today I will be performing [title] from [show]/by [composer].”
- If you are singing with an accompanist, remember to point out where you will be starting/stopping in your sheet music. If you’ve made any changes to the music, such as cutting out sections, mention this as well.
- You may not be asked to perform everything you’ve prepared, nor to perform everything the whole way through. You may also be stopped partway through singing or reading. This isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Just go with it!
- Follow any direction the directors give you! You may be asked to try something differently, or sing something in a different way. Try your best to do as they ask, regardless of how strange their requests may be.
- Be prepared to answer some additional questions. For example:
- Do you have any weird talents or special skills?
- Are you comfortable with stage kissing/stage violence?
- Do you play any musical instruments?
- Anything else you’d like us to know?
- … or more. These are only a few examples. Always answer questions truthfully!
If you are called back, it’s important to continue to prepare accordingly. Practice a little each day to keep yourself warmed up and ready. Callbacks may be as soon as the next day or a week or more away. Be prepared!
- Review any provided material thoroughly. Know it just as well, if not better, than your audition material. This is your final chance to prove you are right for the character: sell it!
- When called back for multiple roles, many actors only on the character they want more. While prioritizing is a good habit, phoning in the other character’s callback can make you seem lazy, unprepared, and ungrateful for the opportunity. Never do less than your best!
Final Notes: The Cast List
Once the cast list is posted, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Casting is not a personal slight. Every role offers an opportunity for fun and growth!
- Remember that how you handle casting tells directors a lot about your work ethic (especially if you don’t receive the part you wanted). If you create a name for yourself as someone who quits shows every time you land ensemble, you may soon find yourself without the opportunity.
- Resist the urge to complain about casting, especially in public or online. You never know who may see, and how it may negatively impact you later.
- Be certain to follow any rules regarding casting! You may be asked not to announce your role until a certain date or notice from the show staff.
- If you don’t get cast or don’t get the part you want, don’t give up hope! Try again next time!
If you’ve appreciated this guide and want more in-depth advice, consider checking out the expanded version of this article, the Ultimate Guide to Auditioning for Musical Theatre.