I’ve seen a lot of auditions. Thousands. Many are forgettable. Some are memorable, and some are etched in my memory for all eternity. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today, I’d like to start with the bad. I want actors to know that everything I write is meant as a tool to help you be your best, and sometimes, pointing out mistakes can help you to grow.
About six years ago, I worked on a play at an off-off Broadway theatre. The playwright/ producer had scheduled some auditions before I came on board, so I came in on my first day to see these actors. We saw a lot of actors for the role of a cocky college student, but none were really right for the role. The last young man of the day came in the door. I believe he was a friend of a friend of a friend of the playwright. I’ll call him Clueless. Clueless came in and began his monologue.
Mistake #1: The piece was from a film. That’s not the end of the world, but when someone is auditioning for theatre, it’s best to choose a piece from a play.
Mistake #2: It was not a monologue. Clueless had taken a dialogue exchange from the film and simply edited out the other person’s responses.
It’s clear that Clueless had no idea how to audition. He was young, new to acting, and completely lost. Most actors are far more savvy and experienced than Clueless was, but his mistakes arose from a lack of experience. When an experienced actor comes in unprepared, there are no excuses.
A few years back, I was at an open call that was running late. We let the actors know that we would see them all, but they would only have one minute for their monologues and then we would be forced to cut them off. So in comes Mr. Method, who like everyone else knew he only had one minute to show us what he could do. Rather than launching into his monologue when I gave him the go ahead, he sat down and “prepared” himself. While Mr. Method was getting into character, the clock was ticking. He finally started to speak with 15 seconds left in his minute, and after just a few sentences, I cut him off with a polite “Thank you.” He looked shocked. He had spent all of his time preparing rather than acting. Mr. Method thought his indulgent behavior would not count against him, and he was wrong. If we’ve made it clear that we’re pressed for time, and you only have one minute, don’t waste that time getting into character.
A couple of years ago, I was working on a play festival. It was the first round of auditions, and an actor came in to read for the young male lead. The scene involved a couple who were in lying in bed after having sex. The Joker introduced himself to the audition reader, and then hugged her and touched her in a way that was inappropriate. He said, “So we just had sex, awesome.” Then, when it was time to start the scene, he proceeded to groan and moan and thrash around on the floor, and then he produced a cigarette from his pocket and handed it to the reader before launching into the dialogue. Not only was it a bad audition, but it made everyone in the room uncomfortable and embarrassed. It’s one thing to be funny in the scene. It’s a whole different thing to put on an improvised sex show. The Joker was an experienced actor, but his attempt to be funny and memorable just made him look like a fool. Sometimes when people are laughing, it’s not because you’re funny, it’s because they’re uncomfortable.
So what is there to learn from these stories? Most actors don’t make mistakes this egregious, but it’s important to understand that the impression you make can be a lasting one, so it’s best to really use your time to act. Don’t get locked in your head. Be prepared when you walk in the door, don’t spend your time in front of us getting ready, and don’t make a complete fool of yourself by injecting your ego into the audition. Next time, we’ll look at some good audition stories, and stay tuned for the ugly.