Everything UK Actors Need to Know About Auditions

Photo Source: Joelle Avelino

Auditioning can be stressful and difficult, so we’ve created this guide to help centre you as you dive into that world. From preparation to memorisation to organisation, we’ve answered some of the most fundamental questions about the audition process. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just considering drama school, this guide provides tips and tricks to make the daunting audition seem less so.

And while auditioning isn’t going away, it is changing. With technology updating seemingly every second, an actor needs to be on top of what parts of the audition process they can control, and be ready to let go of what they can’t. Rather than treating auditions like an annoyance, learn to enjoy the opportunity of honing your craft and demonstrating your best self.

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How do I get an audition?

Backstage has a customisable search engine for casting calls posted by casting directors, directors, or producers looking for actors to audition for their productions.

You can find opportunities by location, type (theatre, film, TV), gender, age, and pay scale. You create an online CV, upload your headshots and showreel, and can easily submit yourself for any casting call you match.

If you don’t yet have an agent, you are your own advocate. Using Backstage and other online resources is the quickest way to see what’s out there and start finding auditions. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are increasingly being used as well, so make sure you are social media–savvy.

Think of yourself as a small business. Figure out your unique selling point—your USP—and search for opportunities that are right for you. Do your research: agencies and casting directors have preferred methods of contact, so make sure you get in touch with them in the right way. Read up on your favourite television series and films, and see who is casting what. If you’re always getting cast as a cop, find out who is casting the cop TV shows and reach out—you never know how the timing can work out!

Casting director workshops are also a great way to become familiar with the industry and to understand what they’re looking for in auditions. These workshops are on offer all the time, so keep abreast of these opportunities and invest in them. Classes are also a great way to connect with actors and find out what everyone else knows. You can hone your skills while networking—the one-two punch!

Finally, go to the theatre. Watch TV. Go to the cinema. Soak up your craft in any way you can. It’s all research!

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What do I need to audition?

Before an audition, ensure that your showreel, headshot, and CV are the best they can be.

Be as prepared as possible, make clear acting choices, and be ready to shift perspective. And when it’s time for the audition, don’t be late, be early. These are the essentials:

Showreel
Your showreel is most likely what will get you in the door. A CV is important, but if the casting director (CD) isn’t familiar with you or your work then it’s your reel they’ll assess you on. Invest in making your reel as professional as possible and hire a showreel company if you don’t have video material from previous jobs. Your reel is an opportunity to sell yourself in the most honest way.

Headshot
Like your showreel, your headshot is you on your best day. Make sure it looks like you and that you show up in the room looking like your photo. Read our comprehensive UK Actor’s Headshots Guide, and when it comes to choosing a photographer, read our guide to the best headshot photographers in London.

CV
By cultivating your CV to be readable and clear, you’re saving the casting director time, which is their most valuable commodity.

When you’ve got those tools in order, stack the dice in your favour on the day by considering the following:

  • Be Prepared: Every moment in the audition room is important. Come in positive, with a smile, and with your material as memorised as possible. Of course, it isn’t always possible to be completely memorised, and the casting side of the table knows that. Perhaps you only got the sides the day before. But give yourself as much time as possible to be familiar with the text and give it your all. If you’re on top of the work, the CD still might feel that you aren’t right for the role, but might very well remember you in the future and call you back in.
  • Make A Choice: “Know what you want to do and do it,” say casting directors Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun. “Then leave yourself available to make discoveries. Know that your homework is done. Now let your preparation meet the moments.” There is nothing more boring for the casting team than an actor who comes in with the lines memorised but no choices made – if they wanted a robot they’d hire one – so make the choices and show them something!
  • Be Flexible: Just like in a rehearsal room, you will get notes at an audition. Take them on as readily as you can. Showing that you’re malleable is one of the best ways to be remembered and liked. Your interpretation is only the first step, and often casting directors and directors will want to ensure that you can step away from your own choices. Remember that acting is play, so an open mind will work wonders.

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What can I expect at an audition?

First and foremost, expect professionalism, from yourself and from those across the table.

Make sure your phone is off, that you have all the materials you need, and that you’re on time. These simple things can be the difference between getting a recall or getting the wrong reputation.

If you’re unprepared, you demonstrate both an unprofessional attitude and that you don’t take your work seriously. Time is the most valuable commodity during auditions, so make sure you’re never wasting it.

Enter the room confidently and brightly, greet whoever is in the room (remembering that it could be one single casting assistant or an entire production team, including potential co-stars), and be ready to start quickly.

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How should I prepare for an audition?

Research, research, research.

Know exactly who is on the team producing the project. Check out what else they’ve made so you can identify their style. Find out if you can get a copy of the full script. Investigate if anyone else has already been cast.

Then: prepare, prepare, prepare. Memorise your sides like your life depends on it. Make clear choices for each moment. Think about alternative ways to play if you’re asked to approach it differently. Create a character like you would for any full production, and transform.

What should I wear to an audition?

It’s good to think of auditions like any other job interview – you want to look professional and put together. But it’s also a good idea to dress somewhat for the role.

Expert Marc Cartwright says: “I think actors should consider the part that they are auditioning for and then wear something that fits the part. I’m not saying get into costume, but if you are going out for a corporate lawyer, for example, don’t come to the audition in a T-shirt and jeans. Take out as much guesswork for the casting director as possible.”

By wearing the appropriate clothing, you demonstrate forethought and preparation. You show that you’ve made a choice. Hinting at the character is always helpful, but don’t go overboard.

“If it’s on camera, try to wear solid colours—no sparkles or logos,” says Cathryn Hartt, Backstage Expert. “Try to stay away from bright white and tiny stripes, which have a psychedelic effect when you move. For drama, wear darker colours or earth tones. For comedy, wear brighter colours. For commercials, look and see what people in your category are wearing in commercials and keep that in your wardrobe.”

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How should I memorise my lines for an audition?

Speaking the text out loud is always the way to go. Your mouth’s muscle memory gets involved and it speeds up the process.

Run through the script with another actor, if you can. If that’s not possible, technology can be your friend. WeRehearse.com is a platform that will connect you with other actors who can help you memorise your lines, and apps like LineLearner and Memorize Lines by Heart allow you to upload scripts and record the other parts with pauses for you to say your own lines.

“The secret for me is to whisper my lines and read the other character’s lines out loud when I’m recording, so I don’t get too caught up in the way I’m saying my lines, but I know how much time I have to say them,” says Backstage Expert Matt Newton about using an app for memorisation. “I will literally put my iPad on a chair and pretend I’m running lines with someone. It’s so much better than a tape recorder.”

Good old pen and paper is also another option: Writing out your lines can help you to memorise.

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How do I calm my nerves before an acting audition?

Prepare. The more prepared you are, the less you can stress about the process.

Remember that there is only so much of an audition you can control. If you’ve nailed your part so it’s ready to go, you’ve done your job. Knowing your text, dressing well, drinking enough water, and having something to eat beforehand are great ways to stem the tide of audition anxiety.

Then, breathe. “Take centred, focused breaths that actually calm you,” says acting coach and Backstage Expert Craig Wallace. “A good breath to try if you are feeling a little edgy is a ‘heart breath.’ Sitting still, breathe deeply and slowly into your solar plexus or heart centre, and then, just as slowly, let it out. Do this a few times, really letting the breath fill the entire area of the heart. When you surround the heart with your warm, expansive breath, it feels protected, and you begin to feel safer in your body. When it’s time for the audition, you’ll feel more secure, centred, and strong in your body, mind, and heart.”

Some actors create audition playlists to help get their head in the game and calm any nerves that are sneaking up. Visualisation can also be a great help. Take yourself through the entirety of the audition, including what you’ll do when you leave the building. Ultimately, remember that though it feels high-stakes, the worst that can happen after an audition is that you don’t get cast. So then, what’s next?

How do I self-tape an audition?

The UK Actor’s Guide to Successful Self-Taping will tell you everything you need to know.

Self-tapes are becoming an increasingly popular first round for auditions. Here are the essentials you need to know:

Ensure your home setup is the best it can be.
When you’re taping, you’re only concerned with your acting choices.

Choose a spot in your home that can be your “self-tape corner.”
Your setup needs good lighting (natural light is best, but LED lights can be purchased online relatively cheaply) and a neutral background with nothing distracting visible. Sound is the most essential part of a self-tape, so investing in a lav microphone isn’t a bad idea.

Phone or Laptop
You can use your phone or laptop to shoot if you don’t have a camera, but make sure you have either purchased a tripod or your camera is set up somewhere stable. A shaky cam is difficult to watch and is the fastest way for a CD to close the window and move on to the next tape. Frame yourself well when you shoot: usually, chest up is the way to go for a tape, unless otherwise specified.

Never record a self-tape without a reader.
Put them just off-camera so your eyeline is not directly down the barrel. Make sure the mic picks them up, but that they aren’t louder than you!

Each self-tape is different.
Each will have different specifications from the casting team. Make sure you slate appropriately, send the file in the right format, and keep within a time limit if they’ve asked you to.

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How do I handle a bad reader in auditions?

You don’t want this to wrong-foot you, so give it some preparation and thought in advance.

It is bound to happen someday. Not all readers are actors, and sometimes they are an assistant who has been chosen for the job that morning. It’s an actor’s job to work with what they’ve been given. You might try incorporating it into your performance: Imagine the scene partner has the qualities of the reader. How would it affect what you have to say?

“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,” says acting coach and Backstage Expert Paul Barry. “Imagine instead treating your reader in a casting as the actual character opposite you, regardless of how they perform as an actor. Let’s say you’re auditioning for the role of their lover in a film. The reader is mumbling? Imagine your lover, for whom you hold great affection, is mumbling. The reader stammers and accidentally skips a line, which throws the scene into confusion. Imagine your lover can’t express himself or herself as eloquently as you’d hoped, but you are flattered that they’re trying…. You can turn anything you receive into anything you want. So do it.”

The most important thing is not to be thrown off. Show that you’re capable and flexible by getting on with the work despite the poor partner. This will be memorable to a casting director.

How do I get the casting director’s attention?

Preparation, professionalism, and performance.

Do your homework, come into the room like a pro, deliver some impressive acting choices, and be on your way. Remember that it’s never personal: If a casting director seems like they aren’t paying attention, it has nothing to do with you.

“Remember, these people are under a lot of pressure,” Secret Agent Man reminds Backstage readers. “They have to get the job done while fielding calls from their producers, the director, the studio, the network, and guys like me who are trying to get their clients in the room. So if the casting director is eating lunch during your audition, it means he’s hungry. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you. That’s why it’s a mistake to read into every little moment that occurs before, during, and after your audition. That road leads to madness. And nine out of 10 times, you’ll be totally wrong.”

We are all human, so treating everyone in the room with empathy is a great way to approach the audition.

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What should I do after an audition?

Reflect, rejuvenate, and move on!

Reflect
Some actors keep an audition journal. You can take notes on what you were auditioning for, with whom, what you wore, and how it went. Address what you did well and how you could have done better.

Rejuvenate
Chat with people who love you. Connect about something outside of the industry. Have a coffee or a drink, and reinvest some time in life apart from acting. This will keep you grounded and prevent you from ruminating too long on the audition itself.

Move On
Remember how much of the process you can control. The majority of that is how you feel and how you respond. Spending too much time obsessing over an audition is the quickest way to become cynical or anxious. Think about what’s next and look forward as positively as you can.

How do I audition for film and television?

To audition for film and television, delve into whatever information you’ve been provided and know your sides like the back of your hand.

Make choices, but be prepared to change your entire interpretation of the character as well! Get your cold reading skills sharp so you’re ready if they hand you a new side on the day. It’s also essential to know who’s in the room.

Know your stuff.
For film, this can be tough, as you’re rarely given a full script or even much more than a brief synopsis from the CD. Ensure you’re as familiar with all the information you’ve been given as you can be. Prepare a few questions in case you’re given the opportunity to ask before the audition, but also know that there may not be time for that. 

Be malleable.
You might be asked to read another scene on the day that’s different from the sides you’ve been given. Remember that while casting is going on, script changes are still happening all over the place. If you’ve honed your cold reading skills, this should be breezy. Be prepared to shift your understanding of the character you’ve created, or play entirely new choices. Demonstrating you are flexible is a great way to be remembered.

Be aware of who’s who.
Often you’re in the room with just the casting director, or even just their assistant. But you may find yourself in front of a table with a producer, a director, a casting director, and others. If you’ve done your research, you’re in the know about who is who. Later in the audition process, you might even be called in for a “chemistry read” against co-stars.

Find your inner Sherlock Holmes.
“One of the rites of passage in this business is experiencing the thrill and panic of receiving a script in the afternoon for an audition the next day,” says acting coach and Backstage Expert Denise Simon about a common occurrence during pilot season. “It is even worse when very little has been revealed about the project and the casting director sends just a few pages of sides. When this happens to you, don't panic; instead, become a super-sleuth. Have a parent or friend work with you to look into your lines for clues on making the most interesting choices possible.”

Check your diary.
Television series can run for years, and films might shoot for months at a time. Be prepared for commitment and know what you’re signing up for. Have a frank conversation with your agent and the people closest to you. Remember: “Coronation Street” has been on air since 1960!

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How do I audition for theatre?

For theatre auditions, you need to have your sides fully prepared and at least two monologues in your back pocket.

For musical theatre (MT) you need at least two songs—usually a ballad and an up-tempo—as well as whatever you’ve been asked to prepare.

Let’s take a closer look:

Know your sides.
Increasingly, theatre auditions are favouring scenes instead of monologues. If you can get your hands on it, read the entire play. If it’s a new play, ask for a copy to read. Being familiar with where the scene you’re reading takes place within the larger narrative is essential.

Be a monologue master.
Though sides are becoming more popular for theatrical auditions, monologues are still used to weed out early applicants. Monologues are a great way to show your fluidity with text and your imaginative ability. Shakespeare and other classical auditions almost always utilise the monologue audition, so be sure you’ve got a fair few in your back pocket. For drama school, you usually need at least two. They’re often broken up into particular divisions: classical/contemporary and comedic/dramatic. If you’re really on top of it, you’ve got four pieces memorised that you can whip out at any time depending on what the casting team is asking for. Backstage has the Monologuer, a great resource for finding speeches.

For MT, organise your book.
Ensure your repertoire is composed clearly and cleanly. Use a folder to organise all your music, with cuts and jumps obviously marked. Make it as easy as possible for the accompanist to play for you. As with monologues, ensure your repertoire is genre-spanning and shows you off. Having something from the golden age, something contemporary, and a rock or pop song is a great place to start. Make sure you choose a song that matches the production you’re auditioning for. The director of “Dear Evan Hansen” may not be interested in your selection from “The Pajama Game.” 

Prepare.
Know the part you’re auditioning for and match your audition material accordingly. Research the play and make sure you understand the character you’re creating. Make bold choices, and, as always, be willing to take adjustments on board in the moment.

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How do I audition for commercials?

Commercial auditions are a different game to film, TV, and theatre. It’s much more about the look and personality of the actor than their specific trained skills.

As such, when you approach these auditions, you must think about being likable, energetic, and trusted.

“You need to have lots of energy for commercials,” says Hartt. “Always be positive. Even if you are doing a serious pitch, it should be inspiring, not depressing and down. Lack of energy and positive light in a commercial translates to boring or not liking the product.”

Commercials often rely on very specific comedic timing. “Commercial timing is actually basic comedic timing: Make a face...then talk,” continues Hartt. “Be quiet when you are making the face so that it is actually a clean beat. Then say the next phrase. Not only does this put the right clean timing in, but it is easier to remember your next line when only saying one phrase at a time. When you actually do this technique, it doesn’t look like you are taking those beats. It just puts a little pop in your performance that makes us love you. (Sometimes you can put that beat in it by just slightly shifting the angle of your face.)”

At the beginning of your commercial audition, you will almost always slate. This includes saying your name and representation, showing each profile and your hands. Practice this short sequence so you come off smooth, presentable, engaging, and able to hit your marks with ease. Your slate is your introduction to the casting director, so it’s your first opportunity to get in their good books.

“Saying your name seems so simple, which is why many give it no real thought,” says Backstage Expert Carolyne Barry. “This can be a mistake because the slate provides important information about who you are. It depicts confidence, or lack of; essence; a personality; and so much more.”

Like any audition, your familiarity with the text is essential. Try to look the part and be ready to go with the flow. Sometimes, commercial auditions are solely about the faces you can make, so don’t be afraid to play!

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