Auditioning Part One: Getting it ‘Right’

“I just want to make sure I get it right!”

The audition process can be a terrifying experience for most actors, especially those new to the industry or those who haven’t booked a job for a while. Here I hope to alleviate some of that pressure and make auditioning something to enjoy.

Before I delve into this from a creative point of view I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that this issue is as much a human problem as it is an actors’ problem. Unfortunately the fear of getting it ‘right’ comes from a place of insecurity, a need to please and to seek validation from external sources. When you realise that you don’t need the approval of others, your work – and life – will flourish.

In approaching your audition from the point of view of “what do they want?”, you are no longer approaching the material with wonder and curiosity, you’re approaching it from a place of “what can I do so that they will like me” and suddenly your creative process becomes a task of pleasing a stranger, creating stress and anxiety – neither particularly great for auditioning.

One of the main reasons that this way of doing things is completely flawed is because you literally have no idea who you are trying to please – it’s all based on your own assumption “I hope they will like it and cast me.”

Who are “they” anyway? 

It isn’t just one person. The decision will be determined by Casting Assistant, Casting Director, Director, Writer, Producer, Exec Producers. So which “they” are you tailoring your performance for? Whose interpretation of the work are you trying to get “right”? 

Can you see how impossible this all is? It’s madness.

So let’s have a look at getting it right in a healthy way.

Serve the scene

As discussed in my last blog on objectives the character wants something. It is your job to try and achieve that objective, truthfully and with courage, thus pushing the narrative along and creating the illusion of character. 

If you are in line with the character’s objective and your decisions within the scene are in service of that goal then any creative choices you make can’t be wrong on a technical level. It then becomes a question of preference and how the writer/director “sees” the character. Trying to guess that is like having one of those late night conversations on how the world came to be – frustrating and pointless.

Make a bold choice

Now unfortunately there are, in life, always going to be people who make stupid choices and call them bold and, worse still, there are always going to be directors/tutors who tell you to make a bold choice and allow you to make a stupid one and congratulate you for making a tit of yourself in service of your “fearlessness”… But we’ll try and overlook that and actually give some sense to the meaning of a bold choice.

Remember this: the text is doing ONE job. YOU are doing another. If you remember this very simple truth you will more often than not make an interesting choice. 

Any person/actor with an average level of intelligence can interpret a scene and identify what tactics the character is using, eg: provoking, pushing, being direct.

Therefore you can hand that script to anybody (within reason) and have them read it out loud and we will see the character being, on some level, provocative, pushy, direct.

Ask yourself this, if anybody can do it, why would you?

Offer something new to the scene. You can always play the text, playing the text is easy, the work’s already been done for you and if the director wants to see the simple read then trust yourself to give it to them.

(I will elaborate on how to make a bold choice in Part 2 of this series.)

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Seneca

Everything in life is preparation, prepare your script in a way that is in line with the writer’s intention whilst offering something new and I guarantee 9/10 you will have a great audition.

Objectives: If you’re excited so are we

Finding an objective is one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of preparation for an actor. Regardless of the approach/philosophy or practice, finding the character’s objective is paramount for understanding the text and enabling yourself to “step into” the shoes of the character. So why does it still trip so many actors up?

Firstly, for anyone completely new to acting an objective is 1 of 2 things and sometimes both. What does the character want from the scene? What does the character want from the other character(s) in the scene?

Why is it 2 things?

More often than not the objective requires one character getting something from the other character in the scene. This is typically what an objective would be. However it is important to take into consideration the master objective too, the through thread of the story, the hero’s journey. By the character getting what they need from the other character it may well enable them to get closer to their master objective.

I’m going to use an example from Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Please watch the clip below (up until around 1:30 as this is where the objective changes) and come up with your own objectives for both characters:

Okay, so a seemingly self explanatory scene, some of the more common suggestions from my students were:

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Alonzo wants to defend himself.

Jake wants Alonzo to understand he doesn’t agree with him.

Jake wants Alonzo to follow the rules of the police.

Okay cool, so there were some other options/variants but mostly in the same ball park and whilst these are valid objectives they’re not hugely exciting and won’t help in enabling you to find the stakes in the scene.

Once you’ve made a decision on an objective that you’re happy with I want you to get into the habit of asking yourself why?

This small added step will revolutionise your ability to choose a strong objective.

Acting’s about humanity right? It’s why we watch films and theatre, we want to relate, want to see human beings experiencing life to perhaps exorcise our own demons, to not feel so fucking lonely, to see that “oh shit, people feel like that too.” I chose depressing reasons on purpose, of course sometimes it’s nice to just relax and have a glass of wine too, but we still want to be moved.

As actors it’s our job to put that humanity into the script, our own humanity – because that’s all we have. So lets make our objectives something to get excited about. Choose an objective that turns you on. Yes. You should be excited by your work or else what’s the point? 

Here’s my suggestions for this scene:

Alonzo wants to show Jake that it’s a fucking dog eat dog world, get real or get killed.

Jake wants Alonzo to wake up and see that he’s completely morally bankrupt and no better than the criminals

Okay? Bit better. That’s something that makes me want to get up and perform. I understand that, it sparks a feeling in me, something deep and primal! And just like that I’m loaded and ready to go, no emotional prep, no sitting in silence for 5 minutes whilst I “get into character” – give me the script and let me at the other actor. 

That’s what an objective should be and that’s why you should always ask yourself Why?

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Why?

He thinks Jake’s soft. He thinks Jake lives in a cotton bud world. He thinks Jake’s green. Alonzo wants Jake to stop being so naive and get with the program etc. You see my point here, let’s tap into the imagination, let your mind run wild for a moment and then come back to the text. 

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Get your prep right. And it starts with the objective.

Thanks for reading.