A Major UK Casting Director on Ways To Impress in Auditions

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Auditioning. The pressure of it never really leaves you, and even the most seasoned performers still suffer from nerves and anxiety before and during a casting. There’s always, in the back of your mind, the promise of a job or a recall, or even just being seen again by the panel. A good casting panel will always understand the pressures on a performer in the audition room, and should work to make you as comfortable as possible to get the best out of you on the day. 

“If you are invited into an audition then that casting director believes you could book the role. This is hugely important to remember – nobody wants you to fail.”

As casting directors, we get asked a lot what we are looking for in an audition, and our first answer always has to be: talent. Casting directors spend literally hundreds of hours looking through CVs, headshots, and showreels, searching for people they think will be able to do the job. If you are invited into an audition then that casting director believes you could book the role. This is hugely important to remember – nobody wants you to fail. On top of the hours invested by the casting director is the time and money from a producer, paying creatives and studios for these auditions. Primarily, we are all looking for somebody who can do the job and therefore the first thing we are all looking for is talent.

Easy right? Well, there are other things, too, that we are looking for in an actor during their audition, and here are six ways you can present yourself at your best for your casting:

1. Be on time!

This sounds really obvious, but you’d be amazed how many hours casting directors waste waiting for people who arrive late. That said, we are human, and we understand that other castings can over-run, trains can run late, or you might have got lost. Always try to arrive 20 minutes prior to your audition time – this will allow for bad traffic or Google Maps sending you to the wrong address. There is nothing worse as a performer than running into an audition room late feeling flustered and already on the back foot.

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If you are running late, call your agent, if you have one, and let them know; or if you have been given the mobile number of somebody on the panel then send them a text.

Then, leave the lateness at the door! As we said, we know that things happen outside your control so if you do arrive late to an audition, you still have to bring your best into that room. Take a moment to compose yourself – most times we will see other people while we wait for you, anyway, so take five minutes to change your clothes if you need to, look over your scripts, and put yourself in the right mindset for the casting. You can apologise once to the casting panel for being late but then forget it. It’s heart-breaking as a casting director to wait for someone you’re excited about seeing, to find they are so consumed with the anxiety of being late that they can’t perform at their best. 

2. Look like your headshot

This one should be a no-brainer, but many people don’t update their headshots regularly. Often, casting briefs are very specific in terms of age ranges or look, sometimes as specific as hair colour, and so we need you to walk into that room looking like the photo on your CV. We always say if you put money aside to dye your hair and cut your fringe, you also need to put aside money for new headshots that represent you. Don’t try to look like somebody else, or a younger version of yourself. We are bringing you in based on the fact that you are the right casting for this brief, and so it only infuriates casting directors when you come in looking different. Trust us that there is a role out there for you, but you must look like you on your headshots.

3. Don’t be put off if we try to talk to you

Actors often feel on the back foot if a director or casting director suddenly starts asking questions in the middle of the audition. Common questions include: “What have you been up to recently?” or: “Tell me a bit about yourself.” Some directors love to chat to every auditionee to see if their personality is the right chemistry for them, and sometimes we will take time with someone who seems particularly nervous to talk to them about themselves in order to distract from the anxiety of the audition. This is not a trick, so give honest answers. If someone asks you about the piece or the character then talk honestly about your thoughts and feelings. Remember – we just want you to be at your best in the audition.

4. Be prepared

This advice should probably fall right under Talent. Your preparation for the audition tells the panel a lot about you. Very often, recall material is sent out at the last minute, so a panel should always be understanding of the timeframe you’ve been given to learn. Work as hard as you can to be familiar with any new material so that you can work with the director in the room.

And do your research! If it’s a scene from a play, try to read the rest of the play before your audition. Know who the other characters are, know the history of the piece, try to know who the creatives are in the room. All of this will only help you more in the stressful scenario of an audition.

Generally, a panel won’t mind if you hold recall material as long as you’re not stuck on the page. Don’t feel that you need to ask to hold it unless you’ve been told specifically to be off-book. If you are given several days to prepare for an audition, there is an expectation that you will come prepared – your recall tells the creatives a lot about what you will be like to work with. We have seen some of the most talented actors lose out on jobs because they didn’t fully prepare for their final audition.

Oh, and it goes without saying – we do expect you to be prepared on your own material. Do not try out a new song or monologue in an audition if you are not 100% comfortable with it. This also goes for checking any keys in songs! 

5. Listen and take direction

This is so important. Following on from the advice to be prepared is the advice to be prepared to change what you have learned! Even if you do a perfect rendition of the song or your sides, a director will often work a bit with somebody they really like to see how they take direction, and how much of their own creativity they bring to the role. When you are learning a song or script, try it in different accents, with different emphasis, and with different punctuation. If you feel the character might be sitting down, also learn the sides standing up!

“Be prepared to change what you have learned! Even if you do a perfect rendition, a director will often like to see how you take direction.”

Learn to free yourself from the text. We’ve never seen an actor lose a job because they forgot the lyrics of the song, but more often than not, people get attached to the rhythms or the style; they have learned something in and cannot come away from it in an audition. This is one of the most important factors of audition technique, and if you can learn to quickly take direction in an audition room then you will be unstoppable!

6. Thank the pianist

This one is for the musical theatre actors: we notice the people who thank the pianist and they notice it too. So much of choosing somebody for a role includes seeing aspects of their personality that we think will blend well in a team and will work well with others. By showing respect and courtesy to the pianist, you show us your great teamwork.

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Rosie Pearson
Rosie Pearson is a founding partner of Pearson Casting CDA CSA, an award-nominated freelance casting house based in Liverpool, London & New York, and working across theatre, film, commercials and live performance. Recent theatre includes SIX The Musical (West End & UK Tour), Rent (Hope Mill Theatre) and By The Waters of Liverpool (UK Tour).
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