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Auditioning for an Acting Role: What to Expect

When you're called in for an acting audition, the people present at the audition will include you, the casting director, and maybe a handful of other complete strangers. Some of these other people may be the producer, a camera operator (if they're taping the auditions), the casting director's bored friend or relative, a representative from the advertiser (in the case of a commercial audition), or a dance choreographer or musical director (in the case of a musical). No matter who is in the room, treat everyone in the room with respect. If someone looks like a sloppily dressed janitor, that person could actually be the producer, so play it safe and treat everyone with courtesy.

By the time it's your turn to audition, the casting director has probably seen hundreds of other people ahead of you, which means the casting director and anyone else in the room is likely to be tired, bored, and irritable. Make the director's job easy and you increase your chances of having a successful audition. Make the job harder (by not being ready, talking too much, and so on) and you may seriously kill any chances of getting any role.

After brief introductions (and make sure you keep them brief), someone may ask for your headshot and resume if you haven't already handed one in. (Don't be afraid to pass out multiple copies of your headshot or resume.) At some auditions, someone may take your picture with a digital camera, so the casting director can review all the people who auditioned that day. Be sure to smile and look your very best. If your picture doesn't look anything like your headshot, you need to get a new headshot.

In the world of commercials, the way you look is extremely important because you'll be considered a salesperson for a product. To get a good look at you, the casting director may ask you to pose for a look at your front and side profile.

Next, someone tells you where to stand, which is usually a mark on the floor so the casting director and everyone else in the room can see you clearly.

If you're auditioning for a TV commercial, the casting director may start by asking you to slate, which simply means to state your full name clearly. When you slate, you may just say your name or your name followed by the agency that represents you.

The casting director then tells you to start. (Sometimes they say, "Action!" and other times they'll just say, "Go," "Start," or some other monosyllabic grunt of exasperation.) At this point, you're supposed to start acting the role.

If you're auditioning for role in a movie, TV show, or theatrical play, your audition may require you to sit in a chair, walk around, or stand still, depending on the part of the script the casting director asks you to read from. Whenever you audition, expect the unexpected, and be ready to work with unusual situations at a moment's notice. To help prepare for the unexpected, many actors take improvisation classes. With these lessons, actors learn to quickly improvise their way out of any acting situation and still remain in character.

Speaking your audition lines

When auditioning for a role in a TV commercial, you read from cue cards. Cue cards are like large flash cards that have an actor's script printed on them in big letters. If a TV performer forgets the lines, she ever-so-subtly looks at the cue cards and reads from them. The viewing audience doesn't see cue cards because the person holding them is standing next to (not in front of) the camera.

When auditioning for a role in a movie, TV show, or theatrical play, you read from a script. Keep the following script etiquette in mind when auditioning:

  • If you just received your copy of the script moments before your audition, it's okay to ask for a little time to study the role (just don't take too much time and inconvenience the casting director).
  • Don't be afraid to read directly from the script while acting. The important part is to see how well you can interpret the part, not how well you can memorize a script on short notice.
  • Try to say the words of the script correctly, but don't be too worried if you mispronounce a word or two. If you completely mess up your lines, it's okay to ask if you can start from the beginning again.

During an open casting call or casting audition, another person may read lines with you. This person could be anyone from the casting director to another actor to the man who just delivered a pizza to the casting director for lunch. Many times, the person reading with you is not a professional actor and, therefore, may not give you much to work with. Don't let any acting inadequacies bother you; stay focused, and give your best audition.During a callback, however, you may be asked to audition and read lines with an actor who already has been cast. The casting director wants to see how you look and sound next to an actor who has already been assigned a role.

To avoid confusion and a messy audition, find out where you should focus your attention when you're reading the script. Requesting this information is a good idea if you're not reading with someone or if you have no camera to look at. In general, you want to look near the casting director (so he can see your face) but not directly into the casting director's eyes (so he can evaluate your performance without feeling the need to acknowledge or react to your acting).

You may be asked to read the same script several times with the casting director giving you suggestions to be angrier, more forceful, softer, and so on. This direction is a good thing! You want the casting director's attention because it means he (or she) is interested in you.

Minding your auditioning manners

A lack of courtesy shows disrespect, no matter where you are in life. If directed toward the folks running the audition, however, acting like a spoiled brat can kill an acting opportunity faster than you can say, "Exit stage left." Keep the following pointers in mind whenever you try out for a role:

  • Never touch the casting director or any of his or her possessions, such as the notepad, laptop computer, food, and such. Doing so is rude and definitely works against you.
  • Never smoke or chew gum during your audition. If you must smoke, do it outside where no one can see you and where your smoke won't interfere with others.
  • If you bring a small tape recorder to record and then later evaluate your performance in the comfort of your home, hide the device so that it doesn't distract from your performance. Otherwise, the casting director may be looking at your tape recorder rather than watching you. Don't ask for permission to tape record because it will take time and distract the casting director. Just hide it in your pocket or purse and let it run.
    Some casting directors frown on actor's tape recording their auditions while others don't care. So if you're going to bring a tape recorder, be aware that its discovery could work against you.

Making your exit

After you complete your audition, thank everyone (the casting director, the camera operator eating a sandwich in the back, the receptionist who helped you check in, and anyone else who may be sitting in the room). If you read from a script, be sure to hand that script back to the casting director or his assistant. In general, you want to leave the room exactly the way it appeared when you arrived.

Before leaving the audition, you may have to sign out and record the time you left. Union rules stipulate that actors can be held for only a certain amount of time at an audition, so the sign-out sheet verifies that you weren't kept for an abnormally long period of time. Even if you don't yet belong to an actors union, signing out shows that you are no longer on the premises. After you sign out, leave as quickly as possible, and congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished.

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