Many of you ask me if we expect you to be off book. For the first audition, we expect you to be completely familiar with the material, have read the script if available, and have made distinct character choices. You can look down at your sides for reference. But, as you come in for call-backs 2 and 3 times, and certainly for any test at the network or screen test on a film – yes, be off book. You can still hold your sides if you need to, but be off book. As you know, competition is SO stiff, and if the next guy is more prepared than you, then it doesn’t make you look very good. For us, your behavior in an audition is indicative of how you’d be on the set.
Why would you NOT want to be as prepared as you possibly can? I always say, THIS IS YOUR JOB PEOPLE! Why would you come in and do a "sort of good" attempt at the material when you can be GREAT?! You've spent years training, you've done the work, you've studied, now go out there and be as fabulous as you can.
Being off book allows you to connect to the person you're reading with. It makes your audition look more authentic because you are PRESENT in the scene. When the actor is continually looking down at his sides you sort of break the spell that you are trying to create. As the viewer or reader, it takes me out of the scene when an actor is reading off the page or continually looking down at his sides - usually at a crucial moment in the scene.
Being off book means you are going to be on your toes when that rare moment comes along and the director actually gives you notes in the room and asks you to do it again. Yay you! It means that he/she actually SEES something in you that makes them want to see the scene again with their re-direction. It means they want to see if you actually CAN take direction. Because you know the material like the back of your hand, you'll be able to LISTEN and weave those notes into your already fine-tuned and thought-out performance because you're not struggling with the lines. Currently I work with a director who is very articulate in "actor speak" and he'll give you 10 notes on a scene and expect you to integrate them into it. Try that if you don't really know the lines? Your head will explode!
Hot tip #1: Hold the sides in front of you. Turn the pages along with the flow of the scene so that if you do get lost, you can easily dip down and find your place and continue along, with ease and grace, and we don't have to stop and start over. If you get lost - how you get back on track is also something we look for. If you have a total meltdown and start apologizing and freak out and dissolve into a puddle because you got lost or have to start over - that gives us pause because we wonder how you will be "on the day" if you aren't handling things well in our little office when the meter isn't running yet! We're all human, we make mistakes. How we handle them is the key.
Hot tip #2: Holding the sides also shows the executives (network and studio) who are watching this audition outside the room, that it is a work in progress. It's not a finished product. You can't imagine how much they all scrutinize your performance. Since they're removed from the work space (our casting office) they sometimes forget that we're still playing - this is not a finished performance. When they catch a glimpse of the sides, it plays subconsciously into their viewing skills and reminds them that - oh yeah, these aren't dailies. It's subtle but it works.
Hot tip #3: Your memorization skills also come into play when you're actually shooting. I cast a tv series last year and I couldn't believe how often lines were flying-in as we were shooting the scene. Both producers were writers on the show and they were changing-up dialog while shooting. If you don't have this skill-set now, go get it! Develop it. It'll be the sharpest tool in your bag that'll take you a very long way in this business.
Hot tip #4: Have you ever been given a scene and the other person in the scene has a long speech and they skip over the whole speech and just read the last line?! You're all prepared to be listening and responding to the speech and they've jumped ahead and you're totally thrown. Ask FIRST before the audition starts if we're going to be doing this whole speech or all this dialog within their speech - then you'll know whether they are going to skip over it or not. I usually advise my coaching clients to ask the CD or reader: "Can you please read the whole speech as it'll help with my reactions?" Good idea, huh?
For me - one of the key elements in an audition is whether an actor is LISTENING. Whoever these CDs are that are skipping over large chunks of dialog so that they can get to your lines are SO missing the point here. I love to see the look on the actor's face as he's comprehending and reacting to what the other character is telling them.
There are many ways to memorize lines - you have to find the system that works for you. Practice. You can learn a scene or a monologue every day and it'll help your brain start to become comfortable with this process. Here is a long list of ways to learn lines. There's also a great app called Rehearsal which is great for memorization along with other wonderful bells and whistles. Figure out which one works for you and start sharpening your skills.
In closing, please know that we're not just looking for the actor that can memorize all the lines. That's just one very small part of your performance. How you interpret the scene and the character and make it your own is what we need to see as well. Along with knowing the material well, you've got to be able to change things up if/when the director gives you adjustments. I see some actors get so locked-up in the way they've rehearsed it that they can't make any changes. We need to see that you will be able to adapt to any changes that come along.
You can read a version of this article on BackStage Magazine.
You can read a version of this article on BackStage Magazine.
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