How to Audition for Shakespeare

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From comedy and tragedy to romance and revenge, William Shakespeare’s work explores universal truths that extend beyond the constraints of time. Known as the Bard of Avon, the 16th-century wordsmith’s plays have an eerily modern flair, lending themselves to adaptation for both screen and stage. 

With such an array of subjects and styles, it can be challenging to establish a foolproof approach to auditioning for a Shakespeare play. Luckily for you, we have an arsenal of advice that will help actors of all experience levels land a role in one of these iconic plays.

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What are Shakespeare’s most famous plays?

According to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare wrote an estimated 38 plays. Of course, some became more famous than others. Our beginner’s guide introduces you to the playwright and his wide range of styles, but these are the Bard’s most famous works:

  • “Romeo and Juliet”
  • “Macbeth”
  • “Hamlet”
  • “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
  • “The Taming of the Shrew”
  • “Much Ado About Nothing”
  • “The Merchant of Venice”
  • “Love’s Labour’s Lost” 
  • “Othello”
  • “King Lear”
  • “Julius Caesar”
  • “Twelfth Night”
  • “As You Like It”

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What is the typical Shakespeare casting process?

As you can imagine, each company has its own casting process since countless Shakespeare plays are mounted at any given time. But no matter what you encounter during your audition, these guides provide helpful tips and tricks that’ll take you from casting call to center stage: 

Our complete guide to performing Shakespeare walks you through everything you need to know, from why actors should study his work to how to read iambic pentameter out loud to how to choose the right monologue for your audition.

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Are there any Shakespeare productions casting now?

At the moment, most companies have wrapped the 2023 season. However, this means they’ll likely hold auditions soon in preparation for the 2024 season. Bookmark our main casting page—we often feature open casting calls from popular Shakespeare companies nationwide, including this prior listing from Shakespeare in the Woods.

We’ve also rounded up a selection of top Shakespeare-oriented theater groups to keep your eye on ahead of any upcoming production announcements:

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What are the best audition tips for landing the lead in a Shakespeare play?

Embrace the art of surrender: For screen and stage actor Corey Hawkins, who has starred in “Romeo and Juliet” and Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” one constant remains when it comes to auditions: surrender. As he told us, you can ace an audition by leaving everything in the room, thereby opening yourself up to whatever may come your way. “You do your work and then you let it go,” he noted. “Everything that will be will be. What’s yours is yours. And no one can take that from you. You can’t receive anything with a closed fist, right? You just have to open your hand and just allow it.”

Be yourself and no one else: Christian Camargo, who starred as Mercutio alongside Orlando Bloom’s Romeo and Condola Rashad’s Juliet, says that many young performers have preconceived notions about how a certain line or scene should be delivered—but that doesn’t mean it’s “really true to their voice or who they are,” Camargo explained. “Audiences pick up on that very quickly. When you are cast for a role, it’s because of everything that makes you who you are in that moment in time. No one else has that. That’s a unique, powerful thing to hold,” he said. “People are interested in you. So be confident and allow your voice to be heard and don’t try to imitate what you should think or feel at a certain moment.”

Understand your character’s words: As D’Arcy Smith, associate professor of voice and speech at the University of Cincinnati, CCM, advised, “This seems obvious, but make sure you take the time to really understand what your character is saying. The Arden Shakespeare series is great for notes on complex passages. David Crystal’s ‘Shakespeare’s Words’ is essential for looking up words you don’t understand, as well as those you only think you understand. Gary Logan’s ‘The Eloquent Shakespeare' is very handy for learning how to pronounce uncommon words. Finally, paraphrase Shakespeare’s words into your own so you can connect deeper to your character’s thoughts and situation.”

Allow your imagination to guide your interpretation: As countless actors and scholars have noted, there’s no one way to bring Shakespeare’s characters to life. Instead of trying to model your performance after one you’ve seen, try to create an entirely new interpretation. Stanley Wells, a Shakespeare scholar and lecturer, said, “To be a great actor you have to have a little extra imagination with the role, that extra touch of originality. It comes when the actor interacts with the words they have to say. There’s no such thing as a Shakespeare character, just the words on the page. Every time a Shakespeare character is performed, it’s a different character.”