To Audition, or Not to Audition, That is the Question.

December 7, 2022

by MOH staff writer, Casey S. Hibbert

As an actor, one of the best books I have in my library is Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. It’s by far one of the best books an actor can own. 

The first step to a better audition is to give up character and use yourself.

Michael Shurtleff

This could not be more true. We all have something we can relate to in just about every scene or monologue. Use what you know. How would you react in this situation? What experiences do you have in your life that would help to solve this character’s problem? Using some of my personal experiences in my 10+ years as a professional actor, I’m going to try and shed some light on the process of auditioning. 

To be a good actor means you have to suffer through quite a bit of disappointment and rejection. If you can’t face either of those with your head held high, maybe think about doing something else. This is not meant to be mean, this is meant to prepare you for what’s to come. I wish that I had someone to prepare me like I will try to prepare you as a reader. 

Now, all that being said, the only way you’re going to know if you are meant to be an actor is to try. We don’t know if we are going to be good at anything if we don’t try. Being an actor is full of “well that didn’t work, how about I try ________ instead.” Preparing for an audition is the same. We, as actors, need to be in the moment.

Consistency is the death of good acting.

Michael Shurtleff

You can rehearse your monologue to death, but it’s a good possibility that once you get up in front of the director and those at the audition, everything you practiced could go out the window. Be in the moment, use the space around you to create your story. Even if you use the same monologue for multiple auditions, those you are performing for will be hearing it for the first time. You need to be in that moment and do your best to draw the audience in. Make it so they can’t take their eyes off of you. If you are able to do that, I guarantee that your audition will be the most memorable. 

That is a good place to start, but what makes an actor’s audition memorable?

As a director, I want to be drawn into your world. If you are able to draw the audience into your reality in that three-ish minutes, you will be the most memorable audition of the day. Keep in mind, directors will sometimes see hundreds of auditions. So, you need to be able to capture their attention from the moment you walk onto that stage. Confidence is key, but don’t be over-confident. There is a delicate balance between being too confident and not confident enough. The best thing I learned from a world-renowned opera singer is “check your ego at the door.” Every actor believes that they are the best and everyone else is second-fiddle. I mean, come on, the reason we got into this business is for all the accolades! But I have seen incredible actors lose out on parts because they didn’t check their ego. I watched it happen many times. No matter how good you are, it doesn’t pay to be a diva. I have heard that from many directors throughout the years.

One question that I always asked myself is “how in the world do I prepare for this audition?”

It took me a while to get a good routine for preparing an audition. Finding the monologue was always the hardest part for me. It was a process of figuring out what best suited the show I was auditioning for and what I was going to enjoy performing. I’ve always tried to shy away from using monologue books. I tried to use monologues from shows that I was familiar with or performed previously. The characters from monologue books, in my opinion, are hard to solidify because you don’t know what their background is. Shurtleff kind of touches on this.

Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle, and it is up to you, the actor, to provide what comes before.

Michael Shurtleff

If you hold onto that, you should have no problem creating a backstory for your monologue. Keep in mind, it won’t always be just one monologue. Depending on what you are auditioning for, you may have to prepare 32 bars of a song in your key. That is, of course, if you are preparing for a musical audition.

It is also a good idea to prepare maybe two extra monologues. Many times I have had directors ask me for something other than the two monologues I performed for them. Oh yeah, you will usually need to prepare a comedic and a dramatic monologue just to show your range. Keep that in your noggin as well. Now, once I found the monologue that worked, I spent many hours in front of a mirror. I know that sounds silly, but it is one of the best ways an actor can rehearse. If this is the path you choose for your career, be prepared to rehearse in front of a mirror, in your car, while on walks, and even while you’re taking a poop. Serious. I can’t tell you how many times I have rehearsed a short scene or monologue while I am emptying the pipes. “All the world’s a stage…” You can literally rehearse anywhere. 

Memorizing is always a chore for an actor.

Ha! One of my favorite moments, this actually happens more often than not, is during a lineup after a show. There is always the one person who asks “how did you memorize all those lines!” My response has become, “I made it all up.” The person always looks amazed. It is really all about repetition. My process is line-by-line or sentence-by-sentence. Over and over again until you know it is firmly planted in your brain. I remember some monologues for years. You can always have a friend or spouse help you as well. The more repetition, the better it will stick. And, of course, nowadays, there is an app for that. Believe it or not, there is an app to aid in your preparing for an audition. 

Now, you may be asking who in the world will be at the audition?

Usually, it is the director, stage manager, and possibly an assistant director. But it also depends on the type of audition you are attending. If you are attending a “cattle call audition” for a university, it will most likely be the head of the university theatre department and possibly another theatre professor. If you are attending, say, a summer stock audition, it will be the artistic director, stage manager, and probably a pianist. Likely, the summer stock will be doing a musical, so in addition to that monologue you prepared, you will have to prepare 32 bars or measures of a song in your key. Usually, the audition notice will tell you what you need to prepare. I have been to big cattle call auditions where the artistic director and managing director of the theatre are the only ones there. Nowadays many theatres will also allow taped auditions, especially if you are far away and you can’t make the call for in-person auditions. These are sometimes the best because if you don’t like what you just did, you can always try again. But at live auditions, you won’t be able to redo your audition. You usually get three or so mins to wow the audience. So, again, preparation is key. 

Over the course of my 10+ years going to hundreds of auditions, I have learned quite a few dos and don’ts.

Hopefully, this will help you avoid some of the heartaches I experienced in my early years of auditioning.

  • If you are attending huge cattle call auditions, avoid using overdone monologues and songs. Directors will have seen that monologue or song done 100 times, so find something unique that showcases your abilities. Here is a really great blog about overdone monologues and songs.
  • ALWAYS have a few extra monologues in your Rolodex. There will always be a director at some audition that will want you to perform something other than what you prepared for the day. I always prepared two or three extra monologues just in case.
  • Sometimes it is good to ask the auditioners if they can see you. There will be times when you get onto the stage to perform your monologue and they have a single spotlight on the stage. So it became a habit to ask if I could be seen. Won’t happen every time, but it will happen.
  • Practice transitioning between monologues. There is nothing worse than someone who turns upstage to prepare their piece. Practice something other than turning upstage to get into character.
  • Be ready to face a lot of rejection. You won’t always get the part, so don’t get discouraged. To get better at auditioning you need to go to every audition that you can, even if you don’t think you are right for the show, go anyway. You won’t get good at auditions if you avoid going.

Competition is healthy.
Competition is life.
Yet most actors refuse to acknowledge this. They don’t want to compete.
They want to get along.
And they are therefore not first-rate actors. The good actor is the one who competes, willingly, who enjoys competing. An actor must compete,
or die…Peacefulness and the avoidance of trouble won’t help in his acting.
It is just the opposite he must seek.

Michael Shurtleff
  • Go big or go home! Be memorable. That is always one that got me. Make strong choices that make you stand out from everyone else. Don’t be afraid to look like a fool. If you are afraid to look like an idiot, find another career.
  • And last, but certainly not least, (and my favorite) be prepared to do your special skill. If you put a special skill on your resumé it’s guaranteed a director will ask you to do it. I have been to multiple auditions where I was asked to do my Chrisopher Walken accent, to juggle, or to balance something on my face. Speaking of standing out, if you have special skill that is unique and a director asks you to do it, you will for sure stand out from the crowd. 

This is all just from personal experience. Every actor is going to be different and find what works for them. Not everything that I have done will be the same for you. My goal was to help shed a little light on what it takes to audition. I always suggest to young actors who want to audition, read Michael Shurtleff’s book. It is the best audition book out there and will help you through your career. I referred to the book many times throughout my career, and even to this day, I continue to use that book. This is just my opinion, there are many other books out there and I have a few of them. I leave you with one final quote, probably my favorite from Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff.

To go into acting is like asking for admission to an insane asylum. Anyone may apply, but only the certifiably insane are admitted.

Michael Shurtleff

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