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The Beginners Guide to Theatre Acting
February 5, 2011 5:13 AM   Subscribe

Thespians of Metafilter: What should I, a humble stage acting newbie, expect when auditioning for a role with his local theatre company?

In April our town will host its annual arts festival, and the local theatre company will be putting on a production of King Lear. The troupe advertised on a mailing list that I follow that they are seeking local people who would like to audition for a role. The notice specifically indicated that no previous acting experience is required and that all audition pieces will be given on the night. Apart from that, the details on the process were quite vague.

But being a fan of Shakespeare, and declaring 2011 my year of new experiences, I am determined to give it a go!

The auditions are in the middle of next week, so I don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare. I have no real acting experience; unless you count my role as ‘Shepherd No 2’ in my pre-school Christmas play. But I am quite at ease in speaking and being creative in front of a crowd.

I am keen to hear any tips, advice or insight into what can I expect.

Specifically.

- Is it worth watching a film version of the play beforehand? I am familiar with the plot (Old man loses his shit when one of his daughters doesn’t feed his ego), but perhaps watching a film version will give me more insight into the characters.
- How do you like to prepare for an audition? Immerse yourself in some actors mindset? or keep your brain flexible for improvisation
- Are there any good, quick reads that might get my brain in gear?
- A beer beforehand. Brilliant plan to loosen up? or a well-worn path on the road to disaster.

Any advice on auditions, stagecraft or insight into what I might expect will be gratefully received. I have had a look at some previous AskMe questions: but they mostly seem to involve singing in musical theatre and discussions of the finer points of acting by those who are familiar with the process. I need more the Cliffnotes version!

I’ll be sure to let you know how I go!
posted by TheOtherGuy to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You will be nervous. Just accept that, and if you imagine yourself auditioning, include nervousness in your imagining. It helps some people to have someone to talk to beforehand, just to say, "I am really, really nervous. Nervous! Really nervous." Just saying that can help. "Beforehand" can be that morning, or right before you go to read your piece.

You may not get cast - that's fine, auditioning alone is thrilling, for living through the fear if nothing else. You may also get a better role than you'd anticipate given your lack of experience. This is still exciting, and you should be excited, but please don't go around telling everyone how surprised you are to have been cast despite your lack of experience -- this will not endear you to your castmates, even the similarly-inexperienced ones, and it's really awesome when the cast all likes each other.
posted by amtho at 6:16 AM on February 5, 2011


When you get your lines, don't just read them over in your head. Be sure to read them out loud, even if it's in a quiet voice in the corner. We frequently put emphasis on weird parts when we're reading in our minds. So if you have a chance, head to a corner away from everyone else, or step outside if you're given the time, and go over the lines out loud.

They'll most likely give you some snippets from the play that aren't too hard to parse. But make sure you get the gist of what the lines are saying. Since you're a fan of Shakespeare, you're already a step ahead of a lot of new auditioners -- you'll have an advance knowledge of certain vocabulary terms and structures that can confuse people.

You may have to wait in a room with other auditioners beforehand. Be warned, almost every audition will have people there who want to talk non-stop about their resume, their previous roles, their various successes. Of the biggest audition-braggarts I've ever met, one is a hack who always gets bit parts in community theater productions (and always wonders why), while one is a star of a hit TV show. You never really know how much of their talk is real and how much is bluster, so don't let anything they say get under your skin. They're either trying to intimidate you so you'll do poorly, or they're so insecure that they feel the need to pump up their own ego and get you to fawn over them. Or a mix of both. If/when you find that person, just move to the other side of the room.

Having also been on the other side of the table, I can tell you that the people watching the auditions really, really want you to do well. I think a lot of actors go in with the idea that the people doing the casting are expecting failure, and are looking forward to something to laugh about later. But it's truly the other way around. We're delighted to see someone do well. The best case scenario is to have so many people give amazing auditions that it's difficult to make decisions.

Break a leg!
posted by themissy at 6:56 AM on February 5, 2011


- Is it worth watching a film version of the play beforehand? I am familiar with the plot (Old man loses his shit when one of his daughters doesn’t feed his ego), but perhaps watching a film version will give me more insight into the characters.

It couldn't hurt -- but make sure that you confine your research to just plot, for your own edification. In other words, don't watch if you think there's any risk of you going in and doing an imitation of one of the actors in the film you watched. The people casting the show want to know how you would be in the role, they aren't interested in your Kenneth Branagh impersonation.

- How do you like to prepare for an audition? Immerse yourself in some actors mindset? or keep your brain flexible for improvisation

A mix of both, perhaps. The only "auditions" I've been in were in college, and everyone was a little different -- I came in with a speech of my own that I'd prepared, and some directors just left it at that -- others gave me notes and asked me to do it again. One guy gave me the note to give the speech again "but pretend that what you're saying is meant to convince someone to help you escape from a kidnapper," a circumstance that had absolutely nothing to do with my speech. Everyone's a little different, so be ready to punt a bit.

Incidentally -- don't read anything into it if the director asks you to try a speech again, with a few changes, but on the other hand, don't read anything into it if they don't. Sometimes directors get a good sense of what you can do right away, and sometimes they just want to check something else. There's no hard-and-fast rule.

- Are there any good, quick reads that might get my brain in gear?

I know that there are books meant to help actors "give a good audition," but I can't say as I've read any myself (I turned away from performing while I was still in college, and didn't bother to pick them up); but I do know that they're out there.

- A beer beforehand. Brilliant plan to loosen up? or a well-worn path on the road to disaster.

Save it for after the audition so you can toast yourself for having gotten through it. Not that auditions are awful experiences, but they are nervous-making things. Treat yourself to something afterward.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on February 5, 2011


First, some quick don'ts:

- Don't worry about your insight/understanding/interpretation of the play/film. The director doesn't care.

- Don't smell like alcohol.

- Don't read the Cliffnotes version. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Second, some things your director will be thinking at the audition:

- Is this person going to drive me crazy? (So pay attention and behave like a reasonable person capable of working as part of a team. Some virtues: professionalism, patience, flexibility, resilience.)

- Can I stand watching this person on stage? (Try not to force anything. The audience can tell.)

- Can I understand what this person is saying, both in terms of words and content? (Read the play, out loud if you can stand it, at a comfortable pace, several times if you have the patience of a saint. But this is optional, since you can't possibly do this for every audition, and most don't do it for any.)

- Can this person act? Can they take direction? Do they have "presence"? (Talent, experience, and technique. Come in with an open mind, prepared to learn.)

- Do you look, sound, and move in a way appropriate to a character they're casting? (Don't sweat it.)

In short, auditions are stressful because it feels like you're being judged on your merits, when in fact you have almost no control over the situation. Relax, be reasonable, and go in with an open mind. If you're an overachiever, try to become familiar with the play and especially the language.
posted by tsmo at 11:34 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Read the play so that you're familiar with the smaller characters. The more prepared you feel, the less nervous you're bound to be. And just know that there tend to be more women than men in theatre, but this play has so many more men in it. So you've already got a pretty good shot just by being male.

Some technical things:

1) They're not going to expect you to memorize the sides (audition pieces), so just read it to yourself, then out loud several times while you wait so that you're familiar enough with when you speak, the story that the scene is trying to tell, and your role in telling that story.


2) When you hold your side during the audition, don't hold it in front of your face. Hold it out at about chest-level or lower, glancing down at it when you need to. When it's not your line, look at the other actors in the scene (or the person reading the sides with you). Again, if you've read the side several times in the waiting room, you should be familiar with when it's your turn to speak.

3) React to other people in the scene and what they are saying and doing. It doesn't have to be big; you just have to show that you're listening and paying attention to what's going on around you. ("Being in the moment.")

4) Stay in character during the scene, but not when the director (etc.) is talking to you. Be yourself, a likable person whom they would want to have around during the rehearsal period. (I know that should be obvious, but you'd be surprised.)

Break your legs!
posted by zerbinetta at 3:01 PM on February 5, 2011


I'd add that for Shakespeare, don't push an English accent unless they ask for that*, and respect sentences as written, as opposed to how the lines are broken up on the page (by that, I mean that a period ends a sentence, whereas a line break should signify nothing as to how the line is spoken).

*Okay, so you're in Scotland. Change that to "speak naturally, unless asked otherwise." My advice stands for Americans, though

In my community theater audition experience, it helps to be a guy (more women than men involved, where I've been), helps to be in your 20s or 30s (easier to age you up than down with makeup), and helps to read the lines with competence as opposed to characterization. I can almost guarantee you that the big, complicated parts (Lear himself, for instance) are probably pre-cast to some extent, and that a competent reading for a character who motivates the story along with his ten to twenty lines is preferable to someone's overwrought caricature of Shakespearian tragedy.

If you can sound natural speaking the words and seem like someone who will show up for all the rehearsals, then there's probably going to be a part for you somewhere in the show.

If you don't get cast, and this seems like something you'd like to do someday? Ask to join the crew. Theater folk are good people, if a little insular to their group at times. Helps to build that trust factor through hard work and reliability in order to get that onstage speaking role next time.
posted by GamblingBlues at 3:18 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Okay, so you're in Scotland. Change that to "speak naturally, unless asked otherwise." My advice stands for Americans, though

To complicate things, I am actually an accented Australian. I was wondering about the accent question. But being a university town there are people from all over the world involved so it should be fine.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:12 AM on February 7, 2011


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