March 09, 2015

Audition Tips

This weekend I saw nearly 300 high school seniors auditioning for college theatre programs at SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference). On the whole, I saw a number of fantastically talented students, many who seem very kind, and excited about this crazy art form that I love. So, you know... that's good.

But of course, after about number 88, you start to realize there are some types of monologues you are just praying will stop. I thought I'd share some of my observations from the point of view of an auditor. I can't say that EVERY theatre professor/recruiter will agree with these, but I'm betting they'll be on board. (Special thanks to my new friend Amanda Wansa Morgan, from Ole Miss, who was very fun to sit next to during the first portion of these auditions.)

So, here are the tips. A list of 9 DON'Ts followed by 1 big DO: (and then a SECRET of auditions)

  1. Don't cry.  I know, you want to show your emotional range.  And what actor doesn't fantasize about that UGLY CRY moment where they lay it all bare on the stage and the audience is left flabbergasted?  But the truth is, those moments are earned by the full length journey that a character takes throughout the course of a whole play.  I only care about your crying if I know you, if I feel your pain with you because I've gone with you on a part of your journey.  In a 1-2 minute monologue, we don't have that.  And no matter how good you are, we won't have it.  So mostly, crying monologues just feel whiney, hard to understand, and uncomfortable.

    If you absolutely must do a sad monologue, than do everything in your power to play against the sadness.  I'm much more moved by a person who is trying not to show that they are sad, than by someone who has just given themselves over to screams and tears.  If I see you deliberately trying to hide sadness, or any emotion, really, than I might take notice.  But, in truth, it'd be better not to do a sad monologue at all.
  2. No monologues about suicide.  I know it's a serious topic.  But it feels cheap, like an after-school special (does that reference make sense anymore?).  It feels like you are using the seriousness of suicide to make me take you seriously.  And it doesn't work.  It just makes me feel uncomfortable, and not in a good way.
  3. Or cancer.
  4. Or rape.
  5. Or being molested.
  6. Don't choose "adult" material.  I'm no prude, but in most of these auditions you have a lot of older professors watching a much younger actor or actress (often 18 or younger).  When you talk about sex, or your body,  it's difficult to like your monologue without feeling a bit creepy.  We don't want to be creepy.  We want to see the best in you. We want to feel great about helping you along the way of your career.  But not this way.
  7. Don't scream or yell!  It feels like a cheap way to get my attention, and I might spill my coffee a bit, which makes me like you less.
  8. Don't be quiet (even for dramatic effect).  Whenever a song or monologue was too quiet during the SETC auditions, I'd lean in to try to hear better, and my new friend Amanda, from Ole Miss, would say "it's a secret".  Don't have secrets.
  9. Don't stand still and don't move uncontrollably.  So many students walked up to the downstage center spot, looked straight ahead, and delivered their monologues nearly motionless. MOVE!  Theatre is a visual as well as auditory art.  If you can't use your body to convey a character, then I have no idea if you can act.  I always tell my students, "If you could have performed your monologue just as effectively over the phone, it wasn't very good."

    On the flip side of this, don't move all over with no apparent control of your arms and legs.  You should make CHOICES about when to move, when to gesture.  Your ability to identify the moments and movements of the monologue are what I'm looking for.  Have someone direct your monologue for you.  Find someone you trust to find the move points and give you feedback.
  10. And finally the DO ... MAKE US LAUGH!!! I used to think this was just a suggestion, but after watching 270 or so students I have decided this is the only IMPERATIVE in an audition. Pick a funny monologue or song, and make us laugh the whole time.  If you can make us laugh, I don't need to see that you can "do serious" as well.  Comedic monologues done well require serious acting, it's all I need to see.  (I'd even go so far as to say that if the audition calls for contrasting, make the language/period contrast, but make them both funny.)

    Which brings me to the secret... 
SECRET TIP:  More than you think, and certainly more than most adjudicators will admit, we are looking for students that will be a joy to work with.  And I honestly believe that if you do a crying, weeping, or screaming monologue, there's a part of us that feels like you may be like that in real life. And we would rather pick the guy or girl who has us laughing in the middle of a long day.

So, when picking a monologue, pick a character who you'd have a lot of fun hanging out with. Seriously. It sounds stupidly simple, but I'm 98% positive it will work better than a screaming, weeping monologue about someone who committed suicide after aborting her baby. 

A few bonus tips that are purely my opinion:  
  • No songs from Phantom, Guys and Dolls, or Les Mis.  
  • No monologues from Our Town or The Fantasticks.  If you notice the professors saying the monologues along with you, you have chosen something too common.  
  • I love Dr. Who as much as the next guy, but I think bow ties are done.  (I know, I'll get some pushback here.)  
  • I used to be a real stickler with my students about choosing monologues from produced, full length plays and avoiding monologue books (where the monologues were written as stand alone pieces just for audition).  I'm not sure I feel that way anymore.  The Make Us Laugh rule seems so important that if the monologue does that, I don't think I care where it comes from.  I'd be curious to hear what other theatre professors and casting directors think of this. 


merce1513 said...

Well I looks you have a rough audition day, to have to listen depressing songs, etc. I am the parent of a voice/violin student she went to auditions this week. I wonder why there is so many students going to music. I wonder if many students have not got much music education, or coping a lot from show that American idol of the Voice. What happened to the art that comes from years of study and dedication.?..My daughter has been studying music since age 6 her voice is beautiful but not load, but there is a lot of competition from loud voices, she sings early music , would she has a chance?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate learning audition tips about selecting monologues. As a 17-year-old, it's difficult to find age-appropriate material that isn't trite or over-used (Fantasticks, Our Town...). There just isn't that much out there for our age. Suggestions?

Addie Ross said...

My daughter is auditioning for the college of her dreams, and she couldn't be any more nervous! I have been trying to help her out, but I don't know what the professors are looking for. This was the perfect article for me to find, and I am going to share it with my daughter for sure. It was interesting what you said about not crying, I always thought that that was a big part of acting, was showing true, deep emotion.