“How To Avoid Audition Suicide”
-The Fourth Fatal Audition Mistake-
So far in this series, we’ve met three of Mother’s ten Fatal Audition Mistake Children: Never Be Late, Never Make Excuses and Never Do Something You Can’t Do. These are absolutely mortal mistakes and you’ll meet her Forth Fatal Audition Mistake Child below. First, I thought you might want to get acquainted with two of her Children’s close friends. There are eight friends all together and, while they aren’t necessarily fatal, they can certainly bring you very close to death’s door.
Two Near-Death (You Hope) Audition Errors
Stage Manager (announcing): The next actor is Steven Boyle. Steven Boyle.
Peter: Hi, my name is Steven Boyle; that’s B-O-Y-L-E, Boyle; not boil as in boil water. My selection is from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. This is the balcony scene where Romeo sees Juliet on the balcony. I’ll be playing Romeo.
“But soft! What light…”
Repeating your introduction
If a Stage Manager or Audition Monitor takes the time to introduce you by name to the Directors and, as in this case, repeats the name so the Directors have time to be sure they have the right headshot in front of them, it often becomes funny (not so good funny) when an actor’s first words repeat what has just been said loudly, clearly and possibly twice. You run the risk of tempting a Director to whisper, “No kidding.” Throughout the day, the Directors, stage managers, and all the other audition personnel are focused on time and efficiency. Anyone who wastes their time or messes up the normal order and efficiency is the enemy. By repeating your name and then compounding the (minor) mistake by launching in to a protracted spelling lesson, you are wasting time. It’s possible that Steven was attempting a little humor and, delivered the correct way, he may have succeeded. However, the directors heard your name and they have a picture in front of them with your name (probably) on the front and back, presumably spelled correctly. Save your attempt at humor for the end of your brilliant monologue. If your joke dies before your monologue, you might die then as well. If it dies after a brilliant monologue, no one will care about the joke and you’ll be called back (if they need you…etc.).
If you are introduced incorrectly, you are on a slippery slope and how you proceed will say a lot about you to the Directors. If your name is Jillian Pietro (Pee-ETT-ro), and you are introduced as Jillian Pietro (PEE-tro), for instance, what can you do? You can come on stage with a smile and a little laugh and look towards the announcer and say, “Actually, my name is Jillian Pietro.” Or, you can take your place and repeat the introduction, correcting the mispronunciation. Or, you can ignore the entire thing and introduce your scene. Done correctly, any of those will work with most Directors however, correcting the Stage Manager is very dangerous territory. Clearly, you are right and the Stage Manager’s pronunciation is wrong; why rub it in? It makes you look petty by ridiculing a person who is “in charge” of the auditions and working extremely hard – a person who has to figure out the pronunciations of hundreds of first and last names for the next two days. You might get away with it if your name is spelled “Yxytiannaou,” and you might get a laugh. Similarly, correcting the pronunciation when repeating your introduction runs the same risks and is unnecessary – no one cares how your name is pronounced in auditions. If they call you back and want to coach you in the callback, THEN they’ll ask for the correct way to speak to you. At this point, these Directors will probably never see you again, much less have a conversation with you.
Lastly, if they introduce you as Jillian Pietro and you are Susan Jones you have to correct them so the Directors get the right paperwork in front of them – and you should wait until they have your headshot before continuing. If you don’t wait, you run the risk of them shuffling papers for the first twenty seconds or more of your monologue. Remember, they may not have been given your headshot – someone could have made a mistake. If that’s the case, they are likely to stop you in the middle of your scene and now, the wheels are off the wagon. You can put them back on but this is not a good way to begin an audition.
Using Well-Known Audition Pieces
Shakespeare is variously credited with writing thirty-seven plays. Each one of them had a lot of speeches – many of them monologues – some, just long speeches in a dialogue. A lot of the speeches – most of them – are pretty good! Thousands of them are really good. Why pick one that every casting director (and most non-theatre people) can recite without thinking of it? Auditioning with a well-known Shakespeare monologue is as close to suicide as you can get without taking off your clothes while you do it. Truthfully, it is the well-rehearsed understudy of a Fatal Mistake, waiting in the wings in full costume, ready to come on stage. If you choose to use one of these monologues, you have a ninety-five percent chance of being rejected in the first ten seconds – that’s the definition of very risky. Can you get away with it? I couldn’t say. Someone can. Five someone’s out of one hundred can but ALL the stars have to be aligned for it to happen and stars don’t really do that. First of all, the Director must have asked for a classical piece. In this case, hopefully you were restricted to choosing a Shakespeare piece because if you could have chosen anything “classical,” there was a much larger world of dramatic writing from which to choose. Next, you have to be perfect. That’s all, just perfect. Perfect in looks, body type, movement, voice, poetry, lines, focus, inflection, pronunciation, communication, power, timing and soul. Can you do that in these two minutes on this day? That’s all it’s going to take: perfection. You have a (slim) chance. Your slim chance becomes a lot slimmer if the casting director has directed the play or (God forbid) has played the role. Their idea of perfection rests firmly in their personal past, not on your audition stage.
You will not have a chance if you introduce your scene as Steven Boyle did, above. You will be dead one hundred percent of the time if you introduce Romeo and Juliet as a play by William Shakespeare. “Oh, that Romeo and Juliet!” If that isn’t enough, Peter goes on to describe the balcony scene and the two characters – which is insulting and brings a question of your sanity to the minds of the Directors. Lastly, thankfully, Steven tells us he will be playing the part of Romeo. Thank you, Steven – you have lost your mind and need attention. Steven’s monologue will have to be beyond perfect to survive.
But enough of this silly near-death chatter; it’s time for something deadly.
Fatal Child Four – Never Talk To An Empty Chair
Most Directors feel that actors who don’t know what they are doing are not the best choices for casting. Actors who perform an audition scene talking to a chair as if it was a person will not be called back (unless they are the perfect-looking Santa Claus from Part Four of this series. Talking to a chair is a clear sign of inexperience and a fatal mistake.
“But why? This is a scene I played in college and did a really good job! He’s talking to his father in the scene- that’s obvious!” Yes, it is. It could be the most famous father-son speech in the history of theatre! Powerful stuff. But when the monologue includes a line such as, “Don’t you understand?” Every Director – every person in the audition hall – is thinking, “Well no, Tom; I can’t understand. I’m a chair.” We can’t help it. If we don’t say it – whisper it – the person next to us does. And so it goes, line after line becomes a dialogue between you and the rest of us in the audition hall, playing the part of the chair.
Closely tied to talking to furniture is talking to imaginary people on stage. Some actors try to recreate a scene they’ve played or seen others play – a fabulously dramatic moment when two characters square off and one of them delivers a killer speech. This time, the “other person” is standing (so, no chair) and the auditioning actor faces the imaginary character and delivers the speech just as s/he saw it done in the past. The critical flaw is that there isn’t anyone there and the Casting Directors watch an actor talking to space; getting angry with space; pleading with space turning their back on space. Unless the line is, “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” or the play is Harvey, the audition isn’t going well.
Acting is often a triangle with two actors talking and including the audience in the conversation. Both actors hold the audience with their speeches and their reactions to the other’s speeches. “I say this; what do you say?” “Really? I say this; what do you say now?” The audience is captured by the challenging dialogue – if there are two actors. When there is one actor, a monologue, the bond is only with the audience – it’s meant to be that way: the audience hears the thoughts and inner passions of the character brought to life through speech. If an actor is auditioning, the bond must be with the audience, not space.
Use the audience as the second actor. Talk to the audience as a whole as if it was only one person. Make that connection with the audience. “I say this, what do you think about that?” Wait for the audience to fill in their thoughts. Wait for the connections to be made. Never talk to imaginary characters; it doesn’t work and it actively disconnects the audience from you. You push the audience away when you don’t include them and they become bored. There’s no good ending to that story.
A third fatal possibility is including the audience too much. There are times when the audition is in a small space and the Director is very close to the auditioning actor. They could be a matter of a few yards away or they could be just a few rows back in the theatre and very visible. Some actors use someone in the audience for their “stage partner” and talk to them. They connect deeply with that audience member or Director and deliver their very powerful speech, funny story or, their tragic confession. They suck the soul out of that audience partner. The problem is that everyone in the room has a job to do today and you are the only one auditioning; everybody else is doing something else. Most of the other people are, in some way, evaluating your audition. When you demand that they become your acting partner they often feel compelled to join you to help you out, but they resent it. Soon after joining they realize that somehow, they are now part of your success or failure. They have to stay with you, laugh when they are supposed to, be shocked or be sorry. If they don’t do their job well, you may lose your concentration and break. They didn’t sign up to be your stage partner and they don’t like it and they get pissed off (The Mother of All Audition Mistakes).
Talking to empty space or furniture is a simple, deadly mistake. Forcing the Casting Director to become your stage partner is almost certainly a deadly mistake. There is no saving an actor from these mistakes. There is no excuse for choosing to talk to furniture or air. Do not ever think you can get away with it. Can I be any more clear? It is a fatal mistake.
(Next: Fatal Audition Child Five and Friends)