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Backstage Experts

Less Is More in the Audition Room

Less Is More in the Audition Room

Having spent numerous years in the audition room, I can honestly say that for many actors, the need to “do something” seems to be an addiction. 

Instead of trusting that the words/lyrics have their own dramatic weight, many actors feel that they have to move about in their auditions (and onstage) in order to impress or to feel in the moment. If you are one of these actors who tend to gesticulate (often wildly) with your hands, or have a penchant to sit/stand/walk about in your auditions, consider this: stillness can be your best friend. 

Many times, I am pulled out of a fascinating scene or song because the actor has decided to move extraneously about the room. If you are going to move, pick your moments carefully and make sure that such movement is motivated. Why are you moving? Is there something that has just been said by you or the other character that motivates you to stand/turn away/come forward? If so, great. If not, then please trust in yourself and the scene, and stand still. Trust in the text. Trust in the power of the moment. 

In the various seminars I teach, a question that often comes up is, “If I don’t move, won’t my audition/scene be boring?” OK, sure, if you stand there the entire time without emoting or flinching a muscle, yes, you will be boring. But this is not the kind of stillness I’m talking about. Nobody wants to watch a statue! Being still on the outside does not mean you can’t be fully engaged and vibrating on the inside. An actor must always have an inner energy that propels them, their character, and the scene forward. 

To illustrate my point, I leave you with the image of a spinning top. From the outside, it looks still and silent but we all know that in reality, the top is twirling furiously and with such impressive momentum. This is the kind of power that I find fascinating in an actor, and, in my experience, helps you book the job. 

Don’t Put a Hat on a Hat
First of all, let me say that I ripped off (borrowed?) this phrase, “Don’t put a hat on a hat,” from one of the directors I have worked with on numerous occasions over the years. Why? Because it conveys so brilliantly an issue that plagues many actors’ auditions: the art of overdoing it. 

With an earnest zeal to impress, many actors simply go overboard and over the top with their auditions. They don’t realize the power of “less is more”—the main theme I am addressing here. This concept of “less is more” applies to any audition, whether it is for film, TV, stage, dance, etc. 

I’ll give you an example. When I’m holding large dance calls for “Chicago,” the first thing I tell all my actors is to trust in the material and what they already bring to the table. I go on to remind them that Bob Fosse’s moves are already incredibly sexy. Ditto for the classic Kander and Ebb words and music. The actors that I’ve brought in are already appropriately glammed up in tight, skimpy outfits appropriate to the world of “Chicago.” In other words, the mood is already set, so there’s no need for anyone in the room to “play sexy” when the music starts and choreography begins! And yet, many dancers immediately scrunch up their faces with curled, snarly lips and “muscle” all the moves, believing that this is what is going to get them the job. Sadly, many times it has the opposite effect. It’s a turn off. 

Remember, there is a grace and class achieved by wise, clean choices. (Only one hat required!)

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Duncan Stewart, CSA, is a casting director, owner/partner of Stewart/Whitley in NYC, and a Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Stewart’s full bio

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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