Should You Hold Your Sides During an Audition? It’s Complicated

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Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

I recently had the opportunity to teach a great group of actors. While the focus of my class is on auditioning, it also dives deep into many other facets of the process of acting.

One of the things that continues to astound me is the many different opinions on whether to bring your sides into the audition room. Do you hold your sides? Do you have to hold your sides? Many actors tell me that casting directors have told them they get so worried that they won’t remember their lines if the actor isn’t holding their sides that they get distracted and can’t fully watch their performance. Casting directors and acting teachers have told them exactly how to stand (rock solid, without any movement) and where they need to hold their sides (just below their chest and level with the ground).

I highly disagree. Some say that sides are not allowed in the room. Elsewhere, actors have been told that they don’t really need to memorize the lines precisely for an audition because it is a “work in progress” and we don’t want to see a completed performance. I’ve found that it is different in every country. In England and Australia, an actor would never come into the audition room with their sides. It shows lack of preparation. In the U.S., most casting directors require you to be as off-book as humanly possible and not depend on the sides. Connect with the reader as much as possible. Have your sides handy, turn the pages along with the scene, and use them as needed.

So, which is it? What I’ve come to know is that there are no hard and fast rules for this. There simply is no right or wrong. Over my nearly 40 years in casting, I’ve learned I just want the actor to feel comfortable, be as informed as possible, and do their best. That means they have prepared, and at the very least, know the material front to back. Once you know the material inside and out, you’ll be able to not only immerse yourself in the character, but connect with your reader fully. It makes your audition look more authentic because you are present in the scene. When the actor is continually looking down at his sides, he breaks the spell that he’s trying to create.

Not reading off the sides means you can be on your toes when that rare moment comes along and the director actually gives you notes in the room and asks you to do it again. It means that she sees something in you and wants to give you some redirection. She wants to gauge if you actually can take direction.

On the other hand, holding the sides shows the executives (network and studio) who are watching this audition outside the room that it is a work in progress. You can’t imagine how much they all overscrutinize your performance. They sometimes forget that we’re still playing—this is not a finished performance. When they catch a glimpse of the sides, it plays subconsciously into their viewing skills and reminds them that, “Oh yeah, these aren’t dailies.” It’s subtle, but it often works.

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Marci Liroff
Known for her work in film and television, producer, casting director, and intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world. Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light.
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