Congratulations! You made it through a nerve-racking preliminary audition. But now you’ve been asked to attend another round of evaluation: the callback audition.

If you’ve never been, callbacks can seem intimidating. Here’s what you should know ahead of time, and how you can make the most of it.

What Are Callback Auditions?

Most shows have auditions, for which actors might be asked to prepare a monologue and/or (if the show is a musical) a song. Casting directors and other members of the production team use auditions to evaluate actors’ potential and make decisions about who will fill each role.

A callback audition is a second wave of testing: an opportunity for directors to finalize a cast list. Quite literally, actors are “called back” to the audition space to continue vying for a spot in the production. For some directors, callbacks are merely a “final cut” for certain roles. Others use callbacks exclusively to fine-tune a cast list they’ve already made.

Theater audition director

Who Gets a Callback?

Generally, actors who receive callbacks for certain roles are the finalists for those roles. However, some actors may be asked to read for multiple characters.

What Will You Be Asked to Do?

Unlike auditions, you likely won’t need to memorize any materials ahead of a callback. Most callbacks involve readings from the play or musical: You’ll be given the script and asked to perform certain scenes from the show for the production team, likely alongside other actors who have also been called back. Sometimes you’ll be given some time with the material, other times, you may receive the material at the callback and be asked to perform a “cold reading,” without much prep time at all.

Note you may be asked to read for a role you didn’t audition for. Follow the director’s request, even if you aren’t interested in that role; they may simply be experimenting, and you can always decline a role if you don’t want it. (Who knows? You might be surprised to find you like playing an unexpected character!) Mostly, you want to appear receptive to the creative process of the director, display an apt ability to make strong choices and take risks, and be game, willing, and pleasant to work with.

7 Tips for a Great Callback Audition

Much of the same audition etiquette advice also applies to callbacks. Be courteous and professional, arrive early, and bring your acting resume.

Specifically, keep these principles in mind:

A Thespian participates in Thespy adjudication at ITF 2023. Photo by David Slaughter

A Thespian participates in Thespy adjudication at ITF 2023. Photo by David Slaughter

  1. Carefully follow all instructions: Prepare any materials as instructed and stay active and engaged during the callback itself.
  2. Know the show: Now that you’ll be performing lines from the show itself, it’s even more important to understand the show and your (potential) role in it. Familiarize yourself with the character(s) you’ve been asked to read for. You won’t be expected to know every nuance of a character yet, but study at least the basics: the character’s motivation, their brief biography, and their dramatic arc throughout the show. If you have time, read the whole script, or watch a recording of the performance. Of course, if the show is a brand new original work, you may not have the ability to learn much ahead of the callback. Do as much research as you can.
  3. Be flexible: As in auditions, directors are evaluating how well you take criticism and can adapt to their vision. Listen to and incorporate their suggestions for how to read a line or approach a scene—even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Try things various ways, if you get the opportunity to read more than once.
  4. Support your fellow actors: If you’re asked to read with another actor, treat them courteously and respect their creative decisions. The casting director will likely be assessing how you and other actors interact—both your on-stage chemistry and your level of professionalism—so be open and respectful. (After all, they may soon be your castmate!)
    A group of Thespians prepare for adjudication at ITF 2023.

    A group of Thespians prepare for adjudication at ITF 2023. Photo by David Slaughter

  5. Try not to be nervous: Receiving an invitation to a callback audition is a good sign! The director saw what they liked in your audition and wants to spend more time assessing you for a role (or multiple roles). While certainly not a guarantee you’ll be cast, a callback reflects you’ve passed the hardest part of the audition process: making a favorable impression on the casting director.
  6. Stay true to yourself: Again, the casting director saw something they liked in your audition. Don’t suddenly present yourself differently from how you did then, and definitely don’t try to copy a famous actor’s performance of a role. (A casting director isn’t interested in your imitation of Hugh Jackman’s Harold Hill. They want your Harold Hill.)
  7. Follow up: The production team will almost certainly confirm how they’ll inform you on their casting decisions. But if they don’t (or they haven’t contacted you in the time frame they originally announced), it’s appropriate to reach out for clarification. Just be sure to check all locations information may have been conveyed already, like a callboard or your spam folder!

What if I didn’t get a callback?

Don’t panic if you didn’t receive a callback. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be cast—the director may simply feel they’ve seen enough of your performance and resume to make a casting decision. Or perhaps the callbacks are only for certain roles or ensembles rather than the full cast.

Once you’re through the callback process, learn how to prepare for a table read or handle not getting the part you wanted.

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati.

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