7 Expert Tips to Nail Your Audition Sides

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Whether you’re going in for a theater, TV, or film audition, chances are you’re going to be reading excerpts from the project in front of its creators or casting directors (or both). These materials, known as sides, are crucial in getting cast. What an actor brings to the table when delivering these selected scenes demonstrates what they'll bring to the entire project—and can sometimes seal the deal right then and there.

Yes, a lot rides on the effectiveness of your sides, but that's no reason to panic. We’ve rounded up some of our expert’s most useful advice so you can walk into your next audition confident and ready to nail what’s on the page.

1. There is such a thing as being too prepared.
"Do not over-rehearse your dialogue. Yes, of course, you should be prepared and make strong choices with the material. However, you must not be so attached to your choices that you can’t take direction in the room. In my workshops, I teach the importance of improv training specifically for this reason." —Danielle Eskinazi

2. Don’t tense up.
"Practice reading relaxed while sitting, standing, and walking. Check that body parts (shoulders, hands, neck, jaw, toes) are not tightening. Perform simple tasks while reading. You’ll be doing the same when auditioning or rehearsing. Avoid repeated gestures (or any gesturing, for that matter). As is often the case in acting, when reading aloud, the voice should always be more expressive than the body. Don’t continually bob or move about. Find stillness. Take it easy... relax." —Burke Moses

3. Exclaim less.
"Actors think an exclamation point means volume. No. It can mean, in varying degrees, indignation, surprise, astonishment. If you choose volume, then you are painting by numbers." —Greg Apps

4. Don't forget to bring the actual sides.
"My biggest pet peeve nowadays is actors not bringing their sides to the audition. Because we are firmly in the digital age, a lot of actors are going through their lines on their iPads or phones, but they should always bring their sides to the audition. Somedays it's like we are Kinko's! But seriously, when you are printing sides for 12 people, it becomes an annoyance. I also think that actors should always carry a couple of headshots with them, as you never know who might want an additional headshot." —Daniel Lehman

5. Never be afraid to use the sides.
"What if you have just five minutes to study the sides? Well, stress never makes an audition better. So while it’s certainly far preferable to know the lines, if you don’t, then worrying about it won’t make you know them any better. I think it’s the worry—not the lack of memorization—that stiffens your performance. You have the sides; use them. Don’t be afraid. It’s not a crime. (In fact—and I hope you all know this—you must always hold the sides, even if you know the lines cold.) If you forget a line, look down to the page and read it." —Michael Kostroff

6. Stay calm, even if you lose your place.
“Hold the sides in front of you. Turn the pages along with the flow of the scene so that if you do get lost, you can easily dip down and find your place and continue along, with ease and grace, and we don’t have to stop and start over. If you get lost, how you get back on track is also something we look for. If you have a total meltdown and start apologizing and freak out and dissolve into a puddle because you got lost or have to start over, that gives us pause because we wonder how you will be ‘on the day’ if you aren’t handling things well in our little office when the meter isn’t running yet! We're all human. We make mistakes. How we handle them is the key.”Marci Liroff

7. Dealing with a mediocre scene partner is part of the job.
“You will probably never know why your scene partner in a casting stared blankly at you and whispered a line that was in capital letters on the page leading to what you had hoped would be your emotional crescendo. The fact is though, it really doesn’t matter. One might just as well move to a small village in Japan and complain that the locals don’t speak perfect English. They’re just not going to, so give it up. Like all acting technique, you need to learn to be self-sufficient in the audition, and overcoming issues with a reader is one of the most useful skills you can attain. Imagine never again being thrown by a reader behaving contrary to your expectations or skipping your favorite line. Imagine a situation where even sides delivered in random order could not throw your performance. Imagine someone tossing flaming banana peels at you in the middle of a scene, and knowing you just had the best audition of your life.” —Paul Barry

Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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