Auditions are the main way actors get work. There are different types of auditions - in-person auditions where you perform live to an audition panel, screen tests which are filmed and then sent onto other decision-makers, and self-tests which you organise yourself and submit to a casting agent.
Not only is it necessary for actors to have good technique when they’re acting on stage or set - to get the role in the first place, they need to have some strong skills around auditioning.
Sometimes auditions may come to you at short notice. Your agent sends you a casting call and the audition is in two days’ time, or perhaps you’ve spotted one on social media and applications are just about to close.
So in this situation, you’ve only got a small amount of time to… literally… get your act together! That’s when it’s time to knuckle-down and do the work required.
Here are some tips to maximise your audition opportunities:
1. Read the script. Sometimes you may have a whole script to read, especially if it’s an audition for a play. Read it through, get a sense of what your character wants and needs. You’ll pick up clues on how to play the role. But sometimes, if it’s a screen project, your entire access to the script is a couple of lines and a character description. That’s not a whole lot to work with! But you can still give it some thought - think about each word, because the writer has made some very specific choices. Look for the adjectives (describing words) in your character description: what do they tell you about this character’s personality, or look, or goals and concerns? Then imagine where you might take it from there.
2. Learn your lines. There’s no excuse for an actor who doesn’t have their lines down for their audition when that’s required. You must put in the hard yards to do this, and there are no short cuts. Some actors take a long time to memorise material, while others seem to have photographic memories. Whichever you are, you’ll need to give this task the time it needs.
If you have to present a monologue, you need to master not only the lines, but the delivery of those lines in a compelling way. Remember, it’s never the lines that count - it’s what you do with them.
Sometimes you may only be required to read for an audition, perhaps opposite another actor, with script in hand. We recommend that even in this case, if you get the script ahead of time, do your best to memorise the lines anyway. Then you’ll be more confident in the room, you’ll be able to look up from your script and connect with the other actor, and you’ll be able to show more of what you can do in the short time you’re given to impress the casting director.
3. Research your character. Your casting call may be for a type of character you have never played before. A butcher, say. Or a baker. Or a candlestick maker. You may know nothing about how these characters typically move, or what their daily preoccupations are. It’s so easy to jump online and in a few minutes, get some ideas that you may be able to bring to your physicality or voice in your audition. Then you can move beyond the lines and bring your whole person, your actor’s instrument (voice and body) to communicate.
4. Look up the meanings and pronunciations of any words you are unfamiliar with. Never walk into an audition having to say words you don’t understand. It’s your job to look them up in a dictionary, whether that’s an online dictionary or the old Collins on the shelf at home. It will be obvious if you don’t know how to pronounce a word, or you are delivering a monologue and don’t understand what you’re talking about. You can always try www.howtopronounce.com to hear some suggested pronunciations. Likewise, if you have to use an accent, you’ll need to do some groundwork ahead of time. Access Youtube and other sites to hear native speakers use their accent.
5. Rehearse. Rehearsal is fundamental to the acting process whether you’re prepping for a stage or screen audition. You need to run your lines. You need to experiment with your delivery till you find an approach that gives you confidence. You need to rehearse a few different ways of doing it, because in the room, the director may ask you to try your piece with a different emotion or emphasis. During your own rehearsal you can practise playing against your instinct about the character as well - you can try playing an angry character with sadness, or an energetic character with laziness. You may discover some interesting nuances that you can bring into the room when you audition.
Even if you’re doing a self-test that you’re uploading to a website, your first take is not necessarily your best. Time permitting, you should be able to rehearse and present a test you are happy with.
6. Use an acting coach. If you have a lot riding on an audition - it’s for a big movie, a long-term TV role, a significant musical theatre contract, or a play that’s going to be your big break on Broadway - get some input from a professional. Many auditions are easy to prep alone. But sometimes you may feel more confident if you can work with a coach beforehand. Perform Australia has a number of actors on staff who coach you for auditions, and you can book them here. The initial investment in a coach is worth it if the audition might present a big financial win for you. Any money you spend at the outset will be paid back if you get the role. And if you don’t get the role, you have still invested in yourself for future auditions by spending an hour or two learning how to improve your technique with a professional.
So the key to success at auditions is - prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation creates confidence. If you can walk into the audition room with confidence, that’s your first hurdle overcome. If you are well-prepared, you are not so worried when the audition panel asks you to be creative in your interpretation: the lines are already in your head and heart, the words come easily, and your physicality can be adapted to emotional state.
Good luck at your next audition!
If you want to be a serious musical theatre performer, it’s important that you see as much musical theatre as possible.
Sometimes aspiring performers come to us with significant gaps in their knowledge, having only ever seen a couple of live musicals themselves.
Everyone's familiar with the animated musicals of their childhood - The Lion King, for instance - but there is a rich tradition of musical theatre history which extends to all corners of the earth, and it's awesome fun to become better acquainted with it.
So if you want to be a performer, go see everything - there are live musical theatre productions locally - amateur ones, of course, but also touring professional shows; just check out your local theatre, and even grab a subscription where you may get a little discount on some of them.
And if you happen to be travelling interstate or overseas for any reason, always check ahead of time to see what’s on offer there to broaden your musical theatre horizons.
Plus, there are films of many musicals that you can find online, streaming, or on DVD.
But now - here are five musicals you should know about if you want to study musical theatre.
Why these? Because each one influenced the future direction of musical theatre in their own way. And as a performer it’s helpful to know where your current repertoire sits in the history of the art form.
There are, of course, many, many other significant works in the history of musical theatre in addition to these five. Take the time to watch, listen, and allow them to influence your own artistic taste and practice. Do this, and you'll be well-equipped to start a course like Perform Australia's Certificate IV in Musical Theatre.