Even if you’re new to the acting world, you’ve probably already heard someone mention “sides.” No surprise there—sides are an integral part of the audition process. You can’t land roles without auditioning, and you can’t audition without sides.
What are Audition Sides?
“Sides” are an excerpt of a script that an actor is expected to perform at an audition. This excerpt could be an entire scene, or just part of one. Depending on the project, sides can also include more than one section of the script for an actor to learn.
Sides are often pulled from the project that’s currently being cast, but they can also come from a different script—or even be written specifically for the audition at hand. This happens when the script is still under revision, the project is confidential or involves a lot of improvisation, or the script is being written only once the cast has been assembled. Sides are used in all different types of auditions: for theater, film, TV, and commercials.
How Long Are Audition Sides?
Sides vary in length, but usually run at least a couple of pages. Since they're usually pulled from an actual script, that’s what they look like: a script. This could be a screenplay if it’s an on-camera project, or a play if it’s a theatrical production.
Acting Sides for Practice: Some Examples
There are plenty of real-life examples of audition sides available online to give you a better sense of what to expect.
- “No Strings Attached”: This 2011 rom-com stars Natalie Portman as Emma and Ashton Kutcher as Adam. The beginning and end of the selection are clearly marked on the script.
- “Rex Is Not Your Lawyer”: This sides for this shelved NBC series include three different selections for auditioners to perform.
Where to Get Sides for an Audition
For TV and film auditions, you will get the sides a day or two in advance. These will come from your agent or manager, if you have one. If you’re going to an open call—or you’ve submitted to a role and secured an audition—the sides will likely be posted online for you to download.
For other types of auditions, such as theater or commercials, you may receive the sides at the audition itself. This is called a “cold read” and requires a different type of preparation.
How to Rehearse Sides
Sides are usually pulled from a full-length script, meaning that it’s up to you as the actor to fill in the missing details about the character or the scene. The easiest way to do this is to read the whole script, of course—but that’s not always an option. In that case, you’ll have to play detective.
- Start by locating the page number in the top right corner. Unless they are dummy sides (which means the scene was written specifically for that audition), this is “a huge clue that will help you know if the scene you’re working takes place at the beginning, middle, or end of the story,” acting coach Clay Banks explains. Most feature-length films are 100 pages long. The first 25-30 pages are act one, the next 40 are act two, and the last 30 are act three. “If you understand general patterns in character arc, a page number is a simple clue that can get you calibrated.”
- Check to see how your character’s name has been styled. If it’s in all caps, that means it’s the first time the character has been introduced in the screenplay—and indicates to you that they are at the beginning of their arc. Combined with the page number, this can really inform your decisions as you prepare your sides. For instance, if you see a page number in the 70s or 80s, but your character has just been introduced, “he or she will likely assist in the resolution of the plot.”
- How you interpret the sides can make or break your audition. “Sleepy Hollow” and “Miss Juneteenth” star Nicole Beharie recalls a time when she “read the sides—there was no script—and my understanding of the sides was [that] the character was really uptight, almost like a librarian: glasses, cardigan, very stern.” But when she showed up to the audition, everyone else was in jean cutoffs, sporting wavy hair and smoky eyes. “I realized I’d read it completely differently—as opposed to being cool and snarky, I thought she was really uptight and stern and factual. It wasn’t extremely clear in the character description what she looked like. I could tell, when I walked in the room, they were intrigued: ‘What’s happening here? Doesn’t she get it?’ I did not get that job.”
Do I Have to Sides for an Audition?
It’s a straightforward question with a complicated answer. Some industry experts say they prefer you come to the audition off-book, while others say it doesn’t make much of a difference. In general, the more of your sides you’ve memorized, the better—but occasionally glancing down at your sides during an audition is always better than flubbing or completely forgetting a line. Casting directors often allow (and sometimes encourage!) actors to hold a hard copy of their sides during an audition.
Now that you’re audition-ready, find open casting calls on Backstage!