The Worst Thing You Can Do in an Audition

Auditioning

Over the last few years, I’ve stepped outside my usual role as an actor and instead have dedicated a lot of time to directing and producing plays. As a result, I’ve spent a ton of time in the audition room behind the table watching actors audition. The experience of seeing hundreds of back-to-back auditions has made it very clear to me that most actors think about casting in a way that works against them, fills them with anxiety and prevents them from doing their best work in the casting room. They walk in with a single thought that sabotages them, when a simple shift in thinking could make all the difference between getting that “thanks-but-no-thanks” email and booking the job.

Here is the insidious thought I’m talking about: “What do they want to see?”

Does that sound familiar? Have you asked yourself or your acting buddy that question after reading a casting breakdown? Have you lain awake the night before an audition trying to solve the casting puzzle, second-guessing your monologue choice or interpretation of the audition sides? If so, you are not alone. It is a perfectly reasonable thought to have when you want something (the role) that someone (the casting director/director) has to give you. It is also perfectly destructive.

When you worry about what the auditors want to see, you give away all your power. You turn the people you’re auditioning for into judges with yellow pads and Pellegrinos, eager to mock you for your failure rather than what they actually are: people who genuinely want you to succeed. You may not believe me, but every casting director and director I’ve ever spoken with about holding auditions has said the same thing. On the other side of the table, we are hoping beyond hope that you will walk in the room and solve our problem, which is that we don’t yet have the right actor for the part.

When actors come in with confidence and rock the audition, we breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there’s someone for the job. When you come in nervous or desperate we still hope that your work will surprise us. Directors and casting directors NEED actors! We NEED you! We get bummed when you cancel your audition or come in less than prepared because you have the power to turn our directorial vision into reality. Let me say it again: Actors have power! Directors can’t do their job without actors.

There have been times (and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this) when I’ve been in that casting room and been completely clueless as to what exactly I was looking for, where I couldn’t even answer the question “What do I want to see.” There have also been times when the idea I had in the morning about I wanted was completely upended by an amazing, confident, artistically exciting performance by an actor who showed me something I could never have come up with on my own. As a director, I love those moments. I love having actors who come in with a point of view that fuels my own creativity. It gets me excited to have that actor in the room, excited to have them inspire me again and make my work better. Again, that is the power you have as an actor.

So, with all this in mind, I offer an adjustment to the question. Instead of asking “What do they want to see?” ask “What art do I want to make with time I’m given?” Instead of worrying about pleasing everyone on the other side of the table, which, by the way, no one in the history of acting has ever been able to do 100 percent of the time, treat the audition as an opportunity to act the way you’ve always wanted to act. Do your work, make your choices, but do it for you! That’s what the actors who find success have in common: They are unapologetically confident in their own artistry. You’re the only one who has your point of view and your particular artistic vision. You are not right for every role, every project or to work with every director. You will find the ones you are right for you by owning the idea that your audition is your time to create something uniquely your own. By shifting your thinking, you will begin to audition with integrity, confidence and, most importantly, joy!

23 thoughts on “The Worst Thing You Can Do in an Audition

  1. This is a very well-written and wonderful article for all actors to read. I apprciate the insight that Andrew gives as a casting director who is also an actor and understands the dynamics of both of these roles.
    This article is a relief as it takes the guesswork out of auditions and frees the actor to do what actors are supposed to do; explore and play, not over-think and worry about being “perfect” for a role; a role that may not even have “perfect” defined for it yet!

  2. Thank you for your advice. I have hear this many times and have not believed it. But coming from a director who posted this comment on line is support i need to change my point of view. What i have been doing isn’t working. I don’t want to be considered crazy, so i will do somthing different. I hope uncle Albert likes that.

  3. I am a high school theatre teach. I always tell my students I am looking for two things: choice and change. Can you make a strong choice and can you alter the choice based on a note from the director.

  4. This article is correct, assuming the casting director isn’t one of the many disrespectful, bitter ones out there. I recently read for a casting director who spent the entire read standing behind the reader, changing their clothes. In my eyeline. It was infuriating. Distracting. I was prepared with a ton of material and this jerk was a distraction the entire time. And this is a casting director of a high profile project, so stopping the audition would have done me no good.

  5. Thank you for this article. As our struggles ensue it’s nice to know the other side of the table is nervous for us. Much like watching a figure skater in competition, attempting to land that big triple. The first role I landed was when I went in relaxed and was no one else but myself. I was able to administer what I had learned. I will save this article and refer to it often.

    Thanks for this post

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. As with anything, there are some people who behave badly (on both sides of the table). I would still say that focusing on what you want to put forward is still going to give you more satisfaction and ultimately more success. In those cases where the CD or director aren’t making the atmosphere a positive one, I think it’s even more important to forget about figuring out how to please them. You can’t win them all, but you can get through it with dignity in tact.

  7. Yeah. But you also leave out the fact that you also have to LOOK the part. You can KILL an audition and be confident and everything they want – except they lack the imagination to see how you can also transform physically into the role. This is great advice for young actors/singers, but you leave out the necessary fact that sometimes, you’re just not their type. And there’s no amazing audition that can make up for this fact.

  8. I agree with you completely Barbara that look/type enters into casting decisions. Of course that’s the case. Every actor has a type or energy or vibe that is uniquely their own and sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, you can put forward the work you’re proud of and that is rooted in your own artistry instead of trying to please people you cannot control. I’m not saying you’ll get every role you go out for, but you will begin to have real confidence and integrity in the process.

  9. wow. thank you, how can we as actors decide we are perfect for a part when usually the part is organic and grows with which ever individual that get the role”rehearsal” doesn’t just mean learn your moves and remember your lines, what starts as one thing can end up as something completely different. That why this advise is fabulous and in many ways common sense. we should enjoy more auditions, not nervously await some ones approval. Be bold, be bright, be fresh and fearless. Enjoy your auditions. Whats the worse that can happen……………

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  11. WOW! Very impressed with this article. My observations working behind the scenes in Theatre, Film and Television, and noticing the anxiety, fear, and stress that actors have when they have an audition coming up they set themselves up for failure. Your thoughts create your reality, and when you question your ability, talent, and go into fear mode to deliver your best performance from deep within, you have lost the chance to shine. This I discovered recently from a Spanish Doctor. Stress, fear, anxiety put you in the fight or flight mode, which activates your Sympathetic Nervous system, and your mouth goes dry and you shut down your immune system and your brain function is out of whack. In order to put you in a state where you can deliver or accomplish anything with passion and confidence you need to activate the Parasympathic Nervous System, which is the calm, level headed, focused thoughts and emotions for what you want to achieve, you must produce saliva, mouth must be wet. This is how you achieve this state. (Try it) take two deep belly breaths you must expand and contract your abdomen for this to work.one you have a wet mouth state your command to your hard drive (Your Brain) what you want to achieve. I tried it at the dentist and commanded that my mouth was anesthesized and that I was calm. I asked the dentist not to give me a needle, I felt no pain or discomfort during the procedure. You can do a demo with just pulling the hairs from each arm, choose which arm you want to anesthesize, produce the saliva and pull the hair on both arms and see if the arm you selected was devoid of pain. I blow people away when I do this demo. Your mind is powerful but you must be in the Parasympathetic state to produce results.

  12. Too true. Decades ago I was asked to create a seminar on audition techniques. Drawing on my years of experience – and just about every book on the subject – I reached the same conclusion, to which I added the point that, “Whatever the auditor is looking for, you can only present him or her with what you are, so be fully and joyously yourself.” I tried passing this on to many people, but the process always seems to drive them back to the ‘A Chorus Line’ cliches: “I hope I get it, what do they want” etc. I hope your excellent post can help people accept their own power and seize the day.

  13. Then there are the directors who have already cast the show with their friends and are just going through the motions to look good. Nothing convinces them to consider anyone else.

  14. My son and I have been doing this for years
    the only thing we still don’t understand on some big audition is you get ready ,prepare and even coach your self to give them the best audition they send three scene to read and when you get to the room they only let read one and rushing it. I still don’t get it

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  16. You have just given the actors who read your article, permission to be themselves. How refreshing! AND although I have been given this advice many times…..today…my mind was OPEN! I truly understand what you said and it will help immensely in my call back tomorrow!

  17. Hey!

    Good article and well written. However there are of course borders to the freedom of interpretation given by the format and style of the planned project. There is a difference whether you audition for a drama or a stand up comedy. But my perspective is (as an actor), I look at the scenes and descriptions (trailers if available) and other information and imagine myself in it. Then I go back at the material, I am responsible for and try to come up with an idea. In my opinion the casting director can judge me better than I can and I cannot read their mind. What I can do is creating a (for myself!) convincing possibility through my performance. Trying an absurd theatrical performance or a commedia-esque artificial playstyle completely out of “assumed” context might be risky and the reactions might go from “OMG that’s amazing!” to *facepalm*-> “Next!”
    However I take responsibility for what I think is convincing and that should be the main point. If an audition happened, I think over, what I actually did and what I might have done differently. Sometimes there are communication problems, when I do not completely understand a proposal on how to play. Sometimes I don’t see having anything done wrong, sometimes I was not having the perfect day due to other preferences, which is to a certain extent, my responsibility. But I think it is an illusion to think that we actors are empty bottles just to be filled by whatever someone wants us to contain. We are bottles with something in it, which has a unique flavour. We can change the design of the bottle and it’s label, but that’s it.

  18. Yup. Yup. Yup. Yes!

    Those are the words above that were flying out of my mouth reading your article. I’m currently in the same situation – I’ve been acting since age 10, graduated with an MA in Theatre a few years ago with an Acting concentration, and then found myself directing more than acting the past few years. And what you say is TRUTH!

    >>Instead of asking “What do they want to see?” ask “What art do I want to make with time I’m given?” <<

    The above is an amazing way to look at an audition. (Yet easier said than done, of course!) And one that I will be sure to share with my students, fellow actors, and be sure to remind myself of when prepping for an audition.

    Thank you for this great article!

  19. Val Verge–I just went through yet another one of those a couple of months ago. There were three roles within my extended age range (40-plus); I read each the way the director indicated. Then he gave one, a part calling for someone no more than 50, to an almost-80-year-old who is on the board; another to another board member; and the oldest role to a former teaching colleague. Asking me to the callbacks was, upon reflection, a complete waste of time and an insult.

    Since then, I’ve “let it all hang out” at a couple of auditions, saying, “I’m doing my own spin on these characters”, and it paid off both times. Got the parts, and I’m really looking forward to each.

    My worst was over a decade ago, with the vocal director who left the room right as I started to sing, and his pal the director who spent my entire reading audition chittering away with a pal who was “auditioning” yet sitting at the table.

  20. Very good advice in this article, and as one that works both sides of the desk, so to speak…might I add that if you go into the audition and make it your own, use that time to dig in and find real satisfaction in the work for yourself…but then do not get the part? Remember, how your audition today might not get you the role that day, but you might just impress the CD or Director enough with your work, that you are remembered and called in for another project down the road.

    And please actors…get training…find a good program or studio and hone your skills and deepen your processes.

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