5 Tips for Standing Out at an Audition: Lessons from the Other Side of the Table

As most of our followers probably know, we recently held auditions for a few open roles in our webseries, This Is Art. This was not only an exciting milestone for our show, as we got to see our characters come to life in the hands of strangers, but it was also an important experience for me as an actor.

After all, this was my first time being on the other side of the table. For years I’ve been coming into auditions blindly, singing “God I Hope I Get It” on repeat in my head while I nervously lock eyes with this mysterious person whose job it is to judge me. Later, when it’s all over and I’ve received no phone call and my hope starts to dwindle, I always find myself asking, “What could I have done differently?”

Unfortunately, casting is such a subjective business. As actors, we’re trained to assure ourselves that we just “weren’t what they were looking for.” Usually, this is true. I learned that the hard way while casting This Is Art; there were a lot of really talented people who, sadly, just weren’t what we were looking for.

However, I also learned a lot of other important things about casting and auditioning during that experience. I can truly say that after sitting on the other side of that table, I will never go into an audition the same way again. It is now my sincere belief that every actor should get this experience at least once. So my first big acting tip is this: write a fake show, post auditions all over the internet, throw down a few hundred bucks for renting an audition space, and hold yourself some fake auditions!

Ok, maybe that’s not the most practical way to learn these lessons. How about I just share with you all of this priceless knowledge I gleaned from my own personal casting experience?

Now, there are 2 important factors for doing well at an audition:

#1: Obviously, the thing that will help you most at an audition is talent. You have to be good at it. But I hardly possess the ability to help you with that, especially through this blog. Let’s assume you’re confident in your talent (and you should be! You’re an ACTOR! And you’re fantastic!) and just focus on the other thing:

#2: You have to stand out. It sounds easy enough, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. You already know that at every audition you’re competing against everyone else in the waiting room – sometimes hundreds of people! Now think about it this way: That person on the other side of the table, the one casting you, has been sitting behind that table for 3 hours when they see you. Five minutes after you finish singing your sixteen bars and reading your sides, they see another person who looks remarkably similar to you. And so on and so forth, for another 3 hours…

It took being subjected to this for three hours myself before it finally sunk in for me just how important it is to stand out. And here, my friends, are the easiest ways you can do it. From submission to audition, follow these tips and I guarantee you’ll be more than just another 5 minutes.

 

1. Submit yourself, not just your headshot.

When Anne and I first looked at all our submissions on Actor’s Access, we were overwhelmed with just how many faces were staring back at us. Unfortunately, the evil truth IS the truth – our first step was to go through, face by face, and determine which faces we wanted to see in person. We essentially looked at every headshot and every resume and formed a gut-instinct Yes Pile and No Pile. It was grueling and made us feel dirty and shallow. But! Every now and then we’d come across a submission that had a note attached: “I can definitely connect with this character!” or “The project sounds like a lot of fun, I’d love to be involved,” or even just plain old “Please consider me.” These notes were few and far between, but they made the actors who wrote the notes stand out. Often, someone would be heading for the No Pile, but we’d see that they “really loved the concept” and we’d put them in the Yes Pile just because they showed genuine (or non-genuine? Who knows, or cares?) interest. Long story short: When you are submitting to a project or asking for an audition, include something that denotes your interest in the project. If you’re submitting via e-mail, write a cover letter! This takes a little extra time, but it shows you’ve actually read the breakdown and aren’t just blanket-submitting to every project you see. Note: Yes, I’m aware most actors blanket-submit to every project they see. But you don’t have to make it so goshdarn obvious!

2. Répondez s’il vous plaît!

Simply put, if you get called or e-mailed to come in for something, respond! If you’ve recently submitted and know you should be expecting a call, then don’t freak out when you get a call from an unknown number. I called people to offer them audition slots and got treated like a telemarketer. That just… baffled me. It also surprised me how many people I’d call to offer an audition, only to hear “And what is this project?” I get it. It’s that whole blanket-submitting fiasco again. I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that every person who submitted for This Is Art desperately fell in love with our project just because of the breakdowns, BUT I will say that some of the people we called had no idea what a “webseries” is. Pro tip: If you are submitting for something, please know what it is. A little research never hurt anyone.

And while we’re on the subject, keep in mind a little enthusiasm never hurt anyone either. When someone sounded happy or excited to get the chance to audition for my show, or was even just polite about it, it made me all the happier and more excited to see them in the audition room.

3. Remember: You’re at an audition, even when you’re outside the room.

You know that person who sits outside and hands you your sides and tells you when it’s time to go in? For bigger-scale auditions, this person may just be hired to do that portion of the job, or may be volunteering and have no connection to the project. But if you’re auditioning for more independent projects, like webseries, independent films, or small-company theatre, that person outside the room is probably somehow connected to the people inside the room. I’m not saying to be fake to them, or feel nervous around them, but I WILL say that if you’re nice and personable to them, that person might remember you. Remember: People want to work with people with whom it’s easy to get along.

Please allow me a mini-tangent about this stage of the rehearsal process: You know that little sheet you usually get at an audition, with a few questions for you to fill out and turn in with your resume? Everyone is turning one in, and everyone is answering the same questions. Don’t be afraid to use this space to really express yourself. It’s just another chance for you to stand out! The people for whom you’re auditioning may never even glance at that sheet while you’re in the room. But later, as they’re rifling through endless piles of headshots and trying to narrow things down, they will read what you wrote, and it CAN make a difference.

4. Dress the part!

At Tisch School of the Arts, we learned that when getting dressed for an audition, you should always wear what the character would wear if they were getting dressed-up. In other words, you want to look nice, but show a little hint of the character. Even the prominent New York casting director Bernard Telsey once told me a story of the time a girl auditioned for the role of a princess character in a full-on princess gown. It was a little much, but he and his staff remembered her and ended up calling her in for other things.

I’ve always followed this rule religiously. Once I even auditioned for the role of Ophelia in a Steampunk production of Hamlet wearing a huge pair of custom-made Steampunk goggles. I don’t think it’s always necessary to go this over-the-top, but a suggestion of the character in your wardrobe really helps you stand out at an audition.

For instance, the actress Melanie Portsche was auditioning for a role in This Is Art which we had described as a “feminazi.” She came in to her audition wearing a nice black shirt paired with army-green cargo pants and boots. The moment she walked in the door I instantly took notice! During her audition, as Anne and James were complimenting her performance, I jumped in and complimented her outfit. Anne proceeded to hastily cover up for me with a quick “And your acting was good, also!” Of course, I didn’t mean that Melanie’s outfit outperformed her audition. I merely appreciated the fact that she’d put some thought into the character, and it showed in ALL aspects of her audition.

Later, as we were narrowing down our picks, Melanie endearingly earned the nickname “Cargopants.” What really pulled it off for her was a fantastic audition, but the detail she put into her audition, including the way she dressed, really helped her stand out to us so that we could REMEMBER just how fantastic her audition was. In the end, she got the part! She’s now a member of the This Is Art cast, and… hopefully still likes me even now that I’ve told you all this story.

5. For the love of all things holy, Make A Choice!

Seriously, this is the most straightforward tip I can give you. Make. A. Choice. If you get the sides beforehand, read them carefully and Make A Choice. If you get the sides right before you go in, read them quickly and Make A Choice.

Here’s something I think we actors forget: We’re not expected to nail the character perfectly at an audition. That’s not what they’re looking for at all. Instead, it’s more important that we prove our chops as actors (ie, Make A Choice) and that we can follow direction. If you come in having Made A Strong Choice, that shows the casting team that you are capable of Making Choices and it is most likely assumed that, given the context of the script, the Choices You Make will greatly influence the character during production. If you come in Making a Ridiculously Wrong Choice, it really doesn’t matter. The director will probably just tell you “This time, do it this way,” and then you have a chance to Make ANOTHER Choice. That’s Two Choices! In one audition! Do you know how much that will make you stand out?

 

So, there you have it. Five very important tips for standing out at an audition. Most of these primarily apply to auditions for independent projects, like our own, but even if you’re going to a Broadway Equity casting call, following these steps can only help you.

Finally, please keep in mind that even if you stand out really well at an audition you will not always get the part. Sometimes you just “weren’t what they were looking for.” Le sigh. The bright side: when they tell you they’ll hold on to your headshot, or keep you in mind for future projects, it’s probably not a white lie. What benefit do they gain from falsely boosting your confidence? If they’re not interested in you, they won’t pretend like they are. But if you’ve stood out to them – if you’ve proven that you’re a polite, fun to work with, smart choice-making machine – then they probably DO want to work with you.

Anne and I saw a lot of people at our auditions that really inspired us, even if they weren’t right for the part. In some cases, we even wanted to write new roles for them. In most cases, we hung on to their headshots and information so that we can call them in as soon as we have a place for them. It’s not a myth. You’re not just auditioning for the role for which you were called in, you may be auditioning for every role that the casting director will ever cast. That’s a GOOD thing!

Now, since we’re all learning here, I highly encourage you to comment with any other audition-related wisdom you might have.

 

Emily Floyd

@emilythespoon
@followthisisart
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