In this final installment of our series on auditioning, the topic is general protocol—the kind of professional behavior that will show you off in the best possible light. Here's the breakdown.
The Day of…
Think of yourself as the character from the moment you wake up, suggests Los Angeles coach Margie Haber (in How To Get the Part… Without Falling Apart, Lone Eagle Publishing Company, 1999). And try this: Put in your pocket or purse an object that reminds you of your character. "Knowing it's there can ground you," says Joanna Merlin (Auditioning, Vintage Books, 2001).
Make sure you have on hand a list of your clothing and accessory sizes for filling out the appropriate forms.
Of course get as much information as you can from your agent about what's required.
For film, TV, and commercial auditions, dress appropriately for the character, without going overboard—although some actors have indeed costumed themselves to the max and nailed the role. "If you're going to read… for a Western, don't show up in a low-cut cocktail gown or a flashy sports coat and turtleneck," says Tony Barr in Acting for the Camera (HarperCollins, 1997). "Dress right, because you want the casting group to recognize immediately that you look the role, so that all attention can be devoted to your performance and to your personal quality."
You might want to pack a minimal change of clothes in case you discover you've made the wrong clothing choice. Patrick Tucker (in Secrets of Screen Acting, Routledge, 1994) recommends that your alternate ragbag include "a tie, a sweatshirt, classy or junky jewelry, a silly hat…."
For general theatre auditions the rule is to dress unobtrusively so your clothes don't distract from you. That is, don't wear a T-shirt with slogans on it, overly seductive clothes, or clothes that hide your figure so much that your real shape is totally concealed. The late Jill Charles once told me that at an audition for summer stock in New York, more than half the women wore clothes that were just plain unflattering. "This is the last industry where we're allowed to ask to see a photo," she said. "The physicality of the person plays a large part. So why would you go to an audition not looking your best?"
Don't wear clothes that show perspiration stains; it's distracting and makes you appear nervous. Also make sure your hair doesn't flop in your face. Note: Always wear to the callback what you wore to the first audition.
Even before you enter the audition room—before you enter the building—you may be under scrutiny. A director once noted that he had to walk through the greenroom on his way to a theatre audition. Impressions were made right then and there. One director told me, only half-joking, that he forms impressions when he passes actors in their cars on the freeway, walking in the parking lot, or even standing at the next urinal in the john. Tucker advises getting into "presentation mode" when you get within 100 yards of the audition venue—a casting person may be coming back from a coffee break and bump into you. He also suggests practicing walking across a room, shaking hands, and saying hello—that's just how quickly first (and lasting) impressions are formed. Make sure you don't have a wet-fish handshake.
Here's what not to do, and it's hard: Don't socialize. You want to, because it distracts you from your nervousness. Also you run into old friends. The atmosphere turns into one big kaffee-klatsch, and you don't want to be a party pooper or appear uptight. But you have to get into the habit of saying, "I'm sorry, I have to look at my script. Can you hang around afterward?" or "I'll call you."
Instead find a private space where you can do what you need to prepare. Ed Hooks (in The Audition Book, Back Stage Books, 1989) recommends physicalizing, either in the hallway or outside the building: Make noise, do jumping jacks, breathe, do tongue twisters. There's always the restroom, even a stall, for complete privacy.
Merlin has several more suggestions for working while you wait. Turn the room into a warm, familiar place by connecting with something tangible—a lamp, a rug, a picture on the wall—that reminds you of a place you know and like. That way you'll feel less alienated. She also recommends viewing the reception area through the eyes of your character.
Many actors read their lines over and over while waiting. As a refreshing alternative, says Merlin, read the other character's lines instead.
Enter as yourself, not the character—although some particularly brilliant actors have pulled off the latter, risky approach. (Also, see below for an exception to this rule.) Be pleasant and friendly but not overly aggressive or chatty. Michael Shurtleff, in Audition (Bantam Books, 1980), says directors want to know if you're easy to work with and take direction. You want to convey, "I am affable and rational… imaginative and cooperative. I don't pout or become hostile." Be prepared to be asked a few questions; the auditors may want to know how you come across when you're not acting. It's not your answers that are important; it's your general demeanor.
Haber lists five behaviors that make a bad impression: displaying palpable fear, being overly chummy, showing "attitude" (resentment at being there), brooding, and being impersonal and detached. If you tend to be overly friendly, consider this: The director of a Shakespeare company once told me, "We're casting a rep company that's going to be together for seven months. I'm not interested in surface charm. I want to get to know the person." I imagine that goes double for TV series and sitcoms. Obviously they won't get to know the real you in the course of a two-minute audition, so your best bet is to be natural yet professional—calm, open, and friendly but not buddy-buddy.
Practical matters: Don't ask where to put your things. Try to leave your stuff outside the audition room, but if you can't, dump it just inside the door so you can gracefully gather it up as you leave.
If slating, make sure to say your name (and if appropriate your agent's name) clearly. The videotape of your performance will be sent on, and, as Tucker reminds us, "if they do not like the way you introduce yourself, well, there is always the fast-forward button."
You should have prepared the scene at least somewhat in advance, so you won't need to ask any questions.
Regarding the enter-as-yourself rule: Steve Carlson, in Hitting Your Mark (Michael Wiese Productions, 1998), writes specifically about auditioning for commercials: "I can usually tell within the first five seconds after an actor has entered the room whether or not he is right for what I'm looking for." He says other casting people have that experience, too. "That makes it very important to 'be' the character as much as you can when you first walk in the door…."
What does that mean exactly? Wear the right clothes, of course. But Carlson goes even further: "If you are playing a tough, angry lawyer, don't walk into the room with a big smile on your face trying to get everyone to like you." He adds, though, that in casting commercials, an important trait is indeed likeability. After all, you're selling their product. "Remember," he says, "that most of the 'reads' they want are low-key, natural, and easy…. Come into the room with that easy manner (if it fits the character, of course)…. You want to convey the same manner as the character."
If your character leaves at the end of the scene, don't use the real door.
When you do leave, say goodbye pleasantly, don't ask follow-up questions, and thank the person you read with. "You should concentrate on making a snappy impact, and then get out quickly," writes Tucker. "This makes us like you, for it gives us time to go to the bathroom or have a cup of coffee."
If you think you did poorly, don't show it. Remain calm and cheerful. I once saw a very good actor deliver an audition monologue and then mutter and curse to himself as he was leaving because he thought he blew it. I doubt if any of the auditors would have wanted to hire such a volatile type. Tucker sometimes hears actors moan and groan in the corridor after the audition. "It is very off-putting for us to hear… someone indicating that the occasion of meeting us was so very painful," he remarks.
Other tips: An accent that's not your own almost never works in an audition. Unless you're Tracey Ullman, I suppose.
If you're reading with the casting director, don't touch him or her. If you feel you must, ask permission in advance. BSW