WITH EACH new season of plays, the actor is awash in dreams. Hope fills each Thespian like a nagging allergy. No, that’s not right … Hope fills the air like moths drawn to an open flame! Definitely not it. Anyway, hope fills the air, especially if that season runs the gamut from dear old Hamlet to Jesus Christ Superstar. The actor longs for his or her breakout performance.

Only one problem: the auditions. Preparing for the auditions. Surviving the auditions with your fragile dreams intact.

The script — that’s what we should be looking at, right? How do you get a line on what the director wants? How do you unlock the text so you can enter the nirvana of performance? Here’s the user’s guide.

Step 1: Just read it.

Don’t imagine yourself in it. Don’t salivate over the moment when you go down to the kitchen in the dead of night and find your mother drinking blood out of a teacup and realize she’s a vampire. Just read it and let the story do its work on you.

Good, you did it. Now read it again — same drill — no counting your lines or imagining your costume. This second time you begin to realize how the story works and how it creates its impact. But you’re still not in it. Here’s the bad news: You have to read it once more. OK, take the day off, but definitely do it tomorrow while the first two readings linger in your mind.

The good news is during this third reading you’re allowed to finally possess the role you want. The story is in you. You get the story. Now listen carefully to how your character unfolds and functions. You’re now asking yourself two questions:

  1. Why, story-wise, does my character need to be in the scene?
  2. Does my character win or lose in the scene? Don’t make a big deal of it. Just let the questions sit inside you while you read.

Congratulations. You have finished level one and can move on to level two.

A Thespian participates in college auditions at 2017 ITF.

Step 2: Study relationships.

The level of difficulty ramps up a little, right? Now go through the script and pick out your character’s most important relationships with others. A small part probably has one relationship and a large part probably has three to five. What does your character want from each of these relationships? Pull out your trusty bound notebook (the key to all acting success) and write down the key relationships: Hamlet/Ophelia, Hamlet/Gertrude, Hamlet/Claudius, Hamlet/Laertes, Hamlet/Horatio. Write down your answer to the above question. This will be key in your audition. Put a star by it so if they request you to read a Hamlet/Ophelia scene, you have a thought about it. Important: At this stage, don’t just think about your character, think about your character relationships.

Step 3: Identify character traits.

Onward and upward! You’re at level three. Answer this question: What three characteristics are important in this character? Sort of in this vein: He is revengeful, confused, and depressed. She is jealous, shrewd, and funny. He is sexy, dominating, and selfish. She is ambitious, logical, and shy. You get the idea.

You’re not stuck with these characteristics. You could change them tomorrow or add a fourth. But right now, use your top three choices. Next, go through your character’s scenes and see how these characteristics might inform those scenes. The key scenes, mind you — not the one where she feeds her English bulldog.

Surprisingly enough, your creativity is probably engaged by now, and you are beginning to get excited by the possibility of getting the part and doing the role. Good. You need to care about this audition, and caring gives you the energy to keep working. Sidebar: Does all of this seem like too much work? Guess what — there are 40 other people auditioning for the role. Do you want this part or are you simply doing a little fantasizing?

A Thespian participates in college auditions at 2017 ITF.

Step 4: Prep your audition piece.

Now get down to work on the audition itself. You’ll find yourself in one of three scenarios: You’ve been given the audition scenes, you’re guessing what they will be, or you’re just supposed to do a general audition piece.

Scenario A: You’re just supposed to do a general audition piece, and the fools will cast from that. Remember where you wrote down three qualities you think the character possesses? Do an audition piece where you can apply those qualities. Does it seem that the pieces you have can’t use those qualities (though you’ll be surprised how many can)? Get a new piece.

Scenario B: You’ve been given the scene they want you to read. Better. Go back to your thoughts about the relationships. Use them in the scene. Have an agenda in the scene: How does my character want this scene to turn out? Does my character win or lose (play that)? Get those three qualities on the stage. And know the lines! If you really want the part, know the lines!

Scenario C: They are going to ask you to audition from the play, but the sadomasochists in charge haven’t told you which scenes. Prepare what you think is the coolest scene your character has. Also prepare your character’s funniest or most emotional scene. Three times out of four, those are the scenes they’ll ask for. If you’ve guessed wrong, be brave, say you’d really like to do a different scene (one you have prepared). Many times, they’ll let you.

Step 5: Read again.

The last necessity. Two days before the audition, go back and read the entire play twice. Yes, twice. Twice in the same day. You are ready to generate ideas that result in good acting. You are really ready. You have enough information about the part and play to come away from these final two readings with great ideas to include in your audition. I guarantee the ideas will come.

Thespians participate in a workshop at 2014 ITF. Photo by Susan Doremus.

I know this is a lot of work, but do you want a part or not? If you haven’t fully prepared, you have no realistic right to feel badly if you aren’t cast. You don’t. Period.

Good auditions are a direct response to the script and role. Let your creative response to the text be the audition. Of course, that means you’ll have to read the text four or five times if you truly, no kidding, no fantasies, no shortcuts, no fooling yourself, want the role.

Hope won’t get you the part, but the text will. Open the play and begin to read. 

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