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Auditioning - The Preparation

For the sake of this examination we will use the idea of a two-page scene for a guest star role on an episodic. In this model you will have received the sides before the audition and have a couple of days to prepare. There are three things you have to remember before you arrive at the audition - preparation, preparation, and preparation.

If you prepare properly, you walk in to the casting director's office confident you have done the work to create the foundation for a good audition, and you will be considerably more relaxed and creative. As I said in my article last month look at this as a mini performance. Prepare as you would for a shoot.

Once you receive the sides of our mythical episodic immediately see what information they have given you about the scene. Character breakdown will give you a lot of information, and believe what they say about your or any other character. It's amazing how often actors don't take into account what they find in the breakdown. Once you have gleaned what you can you are ready to approach the scene itself. You want to establish a way of looking at the scene that you repeat every time you approach an audition. It's important because it will help you concentrate. It is like establishing a ritual. If you do it will serve you whether you have two days or two hours to prepare.

When you are auditioning you are performing, but it's a very particular, if not peculiar, type of performance. It is very much it's own animal. In the room you will not be playing off another actor. You will likely get a pretty flat read. Equally in your preparation you are your own director. So often actors forget this, get the sides, and immediately start looking at the scene only through the eyes of the character they are auditioning for. They dive into the role. My suggestion is don't start there. Stay outside of the subjective identification with your character in order to first examine the scene more objectively. It will mean once you eventually do look at the material through the eyes of the character you will do so with much greater understanding.

When examining sides for an audition, actors tend to move back and forth between an objective examination of the text and a subjective relationship to the character. It can be very confusing. Add to that what is out there in the "acting ether" that if you are examining something objectively then you will block your ability to related to the character you will be auditioning for, and you have a recipe for immobilization. The key is to separate the two parts of the process. Start with an objective mind-set and move to a more subjective one.

When you begin working on the scene approach it from the perspective of a Detective. Start by reading the page number, so you know where in the script the sides come from. It makes a difference to your understanding to what act it is in. Then read the first seven or eight lines and the last seven or eight lines. Learn how the scene begins and how it ends. The longer the scene the more important this is. Remember you are developing a ritual, a way into the material. When you are under the pressure of time, and you often are around auditioning, reading the beginning and the end first means you will read the whole scene for the first time with greater comprehension.

Next scan the scene for physical actions that indicate behavior or blocking. You will decide late whether any physical actions will be part of your audition or not, but it good to know at the top how the writer is revealing the story through non-verbal clues. It is also good to see the world the scene takes place in. For example if it's in a courtroom where are the judge, the jury and the attorneys? Then scan the scene and see how it is structured, who is talking most, how is it punctuated and are there any stage directions? Once you have completed this read the whole scene.

When you read the scene for the first time do it from the perspective of the writer. Remember you are not yet looking at the scene from the perspective of your character. Stay objective, and stay analytical. Even if you have no other information other than the side itself, surmise why the writer put this scene in the script. What is its purpose? It is important to know because it will help you play the scene from the right direction. This is particularly true for guest star and co-star roles where the roles are more about moving the plot forward than character development. Work out why your character is in the scene.

After you have looked at the scene as the writer, then look at the scene through the eyes of a director. Remember, unless you are getting coaching on an audition, you are your only director so it's ok to think like one. Do it not so much in terms of action but predominantly focus on how would you have the other character be played. This is important because you will be in there with a casting director who is probably going to read fast, and maybe even flat. You however will be responding as if you are acting with Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep. You have to respond to a performance tone you may well not get from the reader. To do that you have to understand how the other character would behave if acted well. You also look to see how you would direct someone to play your character.

Lastly you should look at the scene as if you are an editor. If you were editing this scene where would your close ups be? When you look at it this way you will find the major turning point in the scene? Also identify places where should you take a moment. Understanding editing is one of the most useful things a film/TV actor can know.

Once you have done looking at the script as the writer, the director and the editor you can now investigate the script from the perspective of your character. To do this you must develop a backstory, a history that brings the character to this moment. Make it evocative, and sensorially rich. Don't worry about taking the character from birth to now with a laundry list of events. Create four or five really evocative and peak moments. Fill them in with as much detail as you can. This will be your story you will remind yourself of before you go in to the audition. It should include what happens right before the scene begins. It is not important the story is what the writer had in mind, just that it evokes a connection in you.

You will be surprised by this point how well you already know the scene. You have looked at it from different angles and different perspectives. Absorbing the scene will now not be too difficult. At this point you want to look for one more element to add. This is something you only do consciously in the auditioning process. Mostly, on an almost subconscious level, there is a desire to "get through it as quickly as possible". Then at least you will have survived so this is a mindset issue. Often nervous energy will accelerate everything you do. However, you can develop of the concept of "controlling the time" and this will help you. All it means is looking for places inside your lines where it makes sense for you to consciously create a "pause or non-verbal moment". As I said you do this consciously as the actor. Obviously it has to make sense in the situation. If you see the scene as a road then these moments are like lampposts you can hang onto if you are going down the road too fast. It enables you to settle in to the "moment to moment movement" through the scene. You want one to these "moments" to be early in the scene.

Remember this is a performance you are preparing for. You should get almost completely off book, even for a preliminary read. Still carry the script (you don't want them worrying you are going to forget your lines) but get off book. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it is a subliminal professional clue. It tells them you take the work seriously, and have taken the time to prepare for this audition. Secondly, often you are called back for producers the same afternoon as your preliminary audition. So train yourself to prepare for the first audition as if it is the callback. It also means if you get an adjustment or clarification of the scene you can use the time between the prelim and the callback to work on that rather than jamming to get off book.

You can practice this way of preparing. It is best to do this in the context of a class, where you can get feedback, but you can't do it on your own. Pick a short scene from a script you don't know (thereby approximating the situation you have with sides), and go through this preparation process. Remember what I said in the earlier article, auditioning is the work! You need to become very confident in your skills in this area, so practice how to prepare till it becomes second nature.

There is one last thing I will share with you about preparation. But I will do that at the beginning of next month's article which will deal mostly with the waiting room and being in the room itself.

By Richard Seyd
Article printed with permission from iActingStudios.com and Rick La Fond. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. - iActing Studios is a premiere provider of Online Acting Classes. They feature hundreds of hours of in-depth classes; hosted by professional instructors and coaches who've taugh some of Hollywood's most famous A-listers.