General Auditions Dos and Don'ts
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
By Melissa Hillman
Theatre Bay Area General Auditions are right around the corner, and many of you are preparing for what will be the most important audition you'll have all year. As someone who's watched thousands of actors audition over the years, I've seen a lot of great auditions and a lot of truly awful ones, and despite the number of audition workshops going on in the world, lots and lots and lots of actors make the same, easily avoided mistakes. Here are my top 10 audition tips to help make your Generals audition—and all your auditions throughout the year—look professional and polished.
Melissa Hilman. Photo: Lisa Keating
Before we begin, let me start by saying that, for the auditor, every audition is a set of problems that needs to be solved. If you're casting, say, "Measure for Measure," you have a minimum of 13 problems that need to be solved—13 parts that need filling. Each and every person who walks through that door is a potential solution to one of your problems, and trust me, all casting directors are rooting for you because of that. There's no adversarial relationship—quite the opposite! We want you to do well.
1. Be polite to every single human you see.
This seems like a no-brainer, and yet I saw an actress flip off Berkeley Rep casting director Amy Potozkin in an ill-advised bit of road rage on my way into the Generals last year. This is the sort of thing my businessman brother likes to call "career-limiting behavior."
2. Dress appropriately.
By this I mean that you should wear something clean, comfortable and reasonably professional. You don't have to wear something uber-dressy, but you should look presentable. You should not look like you just tumbled out of some strange bed in the SFSU dorms and barely managed to get on BART in time. You should wear something that makes you feel confident and that you don't have to fuss with. You don't want to be futzing with your sleeves or pulling the Picard maneuver every few seconds, because then we'll start to watch that instead of watching you. For this same reason, you shouldn't dress provocatively. When you dress like Jenna Jameson on the red carpet at the AVN Awards, pretty much all anyone will notice is your outfit. That finely tuned Rosalind goes right out the window. Also, please do not wear something "costumey." I know many of you have used this kind of thing successfully for commercial auditions, but I do not recommend it for the Generals. While an audition is indeed a type of performance, it is first and foremost a job interview. A special note for the TBA Generals: Please avoid anything shiny or reflective, such as sequins. The last few times I've seen this at the Generals, the light bounce made the audition almost unwatchable.
3. Do a well-rehearsed monologue.
Under-rehearsed monologues always look terrible, as they are without fail filled with bland choices, blank spots where you're hunting for lines and unmotivated pauses. I know you think you can totally pull it off, and maybe you can, but you'd be in the tiny minority. Be mindful of the difference between doing it in front of the bathroom mirror and the pressure of doing it in front of all of the Generals auditors.
4. Face forward so everyone in the room can see you.
No, you can't do your audition to an empty chair stage left or in complete profile stage right. Whoever told you that's okay is wrong. Also, please never "use" us. Don't look directly at the auditors. It makes us uncomfortable, and that's the last thing you want. We stop thinking about you and your monologue and become fully absorbed in the fact that you're staring at us. We do not wish to be part of your scene; we want to watch you and take notes. Place your mark over the auditors' heads.
5. Make bold, interesting, motivated choices.
Some early-career actors make bland, boring choices in audition monologues, fearing that bold choices will lock them into one "type" or another. However, all they've shown me is that they're bland and boring. Make bold and interesting choices! Show me your chops! On the flip side, don't make wild, unmotivated choices in the mistaken attempt to show virtuosity. Unmotivated screaming, weeping, maniacal laughter, or randomly chosen physicalizations, for example, are not showing you to the best of your ability. Also, please don't bring props. Again, I know some of you have had success with this for TV auditions, but it's not done in the theatre. I actually saw someone whip out a prop gun during the Generals one year. Not a good idea.
6. Choose your audition pieces wisely.
Choose pieces that focus on your desired area of specialization, whether that's period-specific, type-specific or what have you. In addition, when you choose your audition pieces, bear this in mind: many of the Generals auditors will have never met you before, and our only real taste of you will be your audition. Try to avoid choosing pieces that, while potentially awesome in a performance situation, could be unsettling in a monologue situation. I understand that this sounds unfair, but life is unfair, bubbeleh.
Avoid monologues that are creepy or insane unless you have a sharply contrasting companion piece. Exceptions are very well-known monologues, particularly Shakespeare.
Beware of monologues with lots of overt sexual talk and/or swearing. Many auditors, including myself, don't mind that at all, but many do, and who they are would surprise you.
Avoid monologues that are insulting, racist or otherwise controversial. Yes, I understand that the character doesn't necessarily reflect your personal opinions, but again, you want to avoid making a roomful of auditors who have never met you before uncomfortable. A great example of this is Carter's monologue about his mother from Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig." While some people love this piece, enough people are put off by its hateful content to make it an extremely poor choice for Generals, or any audition where you're not absolutely sure it will be well received.
7. Beware the classic pitfalls everyone warns you about:
Avoid accents unless you're truly expert. Nothing pulls an auditor out of a monologue faster than a poorly done accent. Additionally, many auditors talk about how they sigh wearily to themselves whenever someone busts out a Southern accent (unless the play calls for it), because they are astonishingly overused in audition situations.
Avoid the monologues that are ludicrously overdone. I realize that this is subjective to the individual auditor, but by and large, all your standard lists are generally applicable: No Durang tuna fish monologue, "Laundry and Bourbon," "Spike Heels," "Cowboy Mouth," "Shadow Box," Popo Martin. I exempt classic pieces from this, because there are only so many from which to choose. If you want to do Julia or Launce, be my guest. Just be the best damn Julia or Launce you can be.
Never do a self-written monologue. Even if you're the next Marga Gomez, a self-written monologue tells me exactly nothing about how you would handle standard material. It's simply beside the point of most auditions.
8. Know what you're talking about.
Please don't come in pronouncing words—or even the name of the playwright—incorrectly. Read the entire play if at all possible. If the play is unpublished, you can bet there is something about it somewhere online, and Google is your friend. Even a brief review from six years ago can tell you valuable information about the play's tone, about the characters, etc. Once I judged a high school Shakespeare competition where two girls did the willow scene from "Othello" as slapstick comedy. Painful.
9. Make sure your headshot and résumé are professional.
A great headshot is worth the money. While you may look gorgeous in the DIY headshot your boyfriend took of you in the backyard in front of a bush (why is it always in front of a bush?) it simply doesn't look professional. And that shot from ten years ago is no longer usable, no matter how much you spent on Botox. There are many fantastic headshot photographers in the Bay Area. In my opinion, Lisa Keating is one of the finest in the country. Check out her work at lisakeatingphotography.com.
Poorly formatted résumés are a rampant (and distressing) problem. Many actors have excellently formatted résumés posted online that you can use as examples. Check out cindyim.com, valerieweak.com and reggiedwhite.com for properly formatted résumés. Too many actors leave off their most recent email address, the names of directors, or the names of the theatre companies. Please also make sure that you have the name of the producing company, not the venue. La Val's Subterranean Theatre and Exit Theatre are venues, not theatre companies. Finally, make sure that everything on your résumé is spelled correctly. An actor once auditioned for me with my name misspelled on his résumé. If you're not good at spelling and grammar, find someone who is.
10. Exude confidence.
Don't apologize for being there, either verbally or by the way you present yourself. We know it's nerve-racking, but do your best to feel confident and enjoy performing for us. We're all rooting for you, truly.
See you at the Generals!
Melissa Hillman is the artistic director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley. She also offers audition coaching; visit melissahillman.com.