7 tips for drama auditions

 3 February 2014

Auditioning for drama school can be a nerve-wracking experience. Andy Johnson is an actor, a director, and the author of 'The Excellent Audition Guide'. He shared 7 tips for engaging an audition panel, and keeping yourself engaged too.

'The Excellent Audition Guide' is available from Nick Hern Books.
'The Excellent Audition Guide' is available from Nick Hern Books.

1. Don’t ‘just start’

Over eighty per cent of the people I see doing an audition just launch in.

They simply ‘do’ their monologue, without giving much thought to the world they’re creating, or the audience they’re playing to.

Some are not that bad – even quite good. But because of the way they ‘just start’, it is plain that they’re only going through the motions.

Your job in any performance is to invite the audience into the world of your character.

This has the effect of creating a distance between them and their audience – and you don’t want that.

Your job in any performance, and especially in an audition, is to invite the audience into the world of your character. The members of the audition panel need to enter that world with you.

They have to become engrossed and absorbed. If you ‘just start’, it is harder for them to do this. You must give them a chance to come with you.

2. Think of it as a two-minute play

To really maximize your chances of succeeding in your audition, you need to think of it as a two-minute show.

More than that, think of it as a show the panel will watch with all the focus and attention with which they would watch a two-hour show, only condensed down into an intense two minutes between you and them.

Therefore, as with any play, your show has to have changes of mood, tone, pace and atmosphere. Change is crucial, even in a two-minute show.

Think about it. Nobody would sit through a play that stays in the same gear the whole time.

Any text or production that flatlines into one mood will prove boring and colourless. This applies whether the mood is sadness, anger, grief, or anything else.

A good show needs to be a journey. It should employ movement and surprise in the telling of the story. Change is good.

3. Evoke the world of the play

Bring the whole of the world of the play onto the stage with you. It’s not just about the bit you’re doing for your audition, in isolation.

An entire universe of events, ideas and moments must take shape in those two minutes. Everything needs to be distilled into an intense, rich experience.

To bring the world of the play onto the stage with your character, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are you?
  • Where have you just come from or been?
  • What happened to bring you here?
  • Why are you here now?
  • What do you want? And how badly do you want it?
  • Who are you talking to?
  • Why are you talking to them? And what makes you start talking?
  • What are you afraid of? What would be the worst outcome for you?
  • How are all these things affecting your behaviour?

Work with these questions often. They will be of use continuously.

4. Fix your focus before you begin

For your sake and that of the panel, take time to connect with what you want to achieve, or even avoid, in your performance.

  • Remind yourself not to wonder if the panel likes you or what you are doing.
  • Resolve not to judge them, or your work. Time and effort spent on wondering, judging and conjecture is wasted focus and energy.
  • Tell yourself that you are not here to get into drama school – you are just here to do your best, most focused and connected work.
  • Assure yourself that nerves are good, because you can use those nerves as a positive force, instead of allowing them to work against you.

When you’ve done this, create the physical world and surroundings of the character. Where are you? What time is it? Are you hot or cold? Is it winter or summer? Get into detail.

If you spend time on this in your rehearsal work, you can ‘pop’ all of this into place in seconds. You will then be in your world and that of the character, not in the dreaded audition room – bonus!

5. Give your character a reason to start speaking

Hear in your head the lines that have just been said to your character. This may well be what is prompting your character to react, to decide to speak.

Hear in your head the lines that have just been said to your character.

Alternatively, run through what has just happened to you and why it happened. This will propel you into why you are speaking and what you, as the character, want.

Remember: we speak because we have to. Just before we utter words, there is a compelling urge, a tingle, to vocalise our thoughts.

We may be reacting to what’s just been said. We may have to seek justice, put facts straight, change someone’s mind or actions, get somebody to do something.

There are many reasons to pipe up. But they are all driven by a thought.

We speak until that thought has been given expression, and then, unless there’s another thought, we stop.

6. See your monologue as a duologue waiting to happen

Quite often, auditionees make their own character the only focus of the monologue.

Get used to including the other person in your thinking and ideas, from early work right up to and including the execution of your audition.

They, the other person, should be constantly involved.

What do they look like, sound like, smell like? Do you want them to speak or react?

7. End the monologue well

A lot of performers end really badly, without style or conviction.

Stay with the end moment. Let the glow settle.

They disengage from the world of the character way too soon after the last line. This gives the impression that they have not engaged at all.

Stay with the end moment, and let the glow of what you have been doing settle. Stay in it and be proud.

  • Don’t step away with any kind of sheepish, self-destructive look.
  • Don’t apologise verbally, or with a self-effacing countenance.

Even if you think you were rubbish, the panel may well have seen something that interested them. In all probability, you will be your worst critic.

Let them be the judge of all that. Free yourself from that burden.

End with a bang, not with a whimper. You owe it to yourself.

Andy Johnson is an actor, director and drama teacher. His book 'The Excellent Audition Guide' is available from Nick Hern Books.


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