Four Important Audition Strategies to Know and Follow

by Mark Brandon

Handwritten notes on corkboard

You'll have a far greater chance of success if you are comfortable and confident performing at your audition.

Make sure you are comfortable performing at your next audition and you'll have a far greater chance of success. Follow these four audition strategies and make your next audition a winning one.

It Pays to Know Your Niche.
Your appearance, from the way you dress and speak to the way you carry yourself, is what's called your "type" or niche - how the people who run the machine instantly classify you and your acting style. More often than not, your niche coincides with someone currently in the mainstream. For example, they use popular presumptions like the following to identify you: An impulsive, passionate Anne Heche type. Or, the opposite: a reflective Meryl Streep type. As a male, you may be viewed as a low-key, nearly self-effacing type like Tobey Maguire or a rebellious, edgy Matt Dillon. What this boils down to, is they wouldn't normally cast Matt Dillon as a country boy because his mannerisms wouldn't plausibly fit. Likewise, it would be difficult to accept Tobey Maguire as an inner city gang leader.

In a manner of speaking, you might say this is safe, uncreative image casting, not acting casting. Be that as it may, it's the way it works. Knowing your niche therefore, is essential to landing more parts.

Up to now, you may have thought of yourself as a leading man, but your quirkiness may put you in the niche of a comic relief player. If you're a female, you might think you've been perceived as a professional career woman but your soft, wholesome features make you look more like a young mother. Playing to ways that oppose how you're viewed hampers your chances. The conservative machine can't get a "fix" on just who you are and consequently, what role you're truly appropriate for.

If you're not absolutely sure about your niche, ask other actors and especially your agent about how you "come across." If you can obtain a clear picture of this, you can enhance your performances by gracefully playing with that picture, not undermining your efforts by struggling against it. And just as important, you can arrange for your headshots to play into this whole niche aspect by dressing in an appropriate style of wardrobe for your photo shoot.

Adopt the "En Gard!" Stance
Instantly snapping your script into the most advantageous reading position, with a minimum of movement and hesitation just before you begin your audition, radiates self-assurance. It's almost as if you're confidently declaring, "En garde." And once your script is in position, make every attempt to keep it there. Bringing it up to your face each time for a line, and then lowering it, then bringing it up and lowering it again, is a monotonous habit that invariably distracts those watching you. Your poise will seem far more professional if you keep your script continuously in one spot.

What's the best spot? Directly in front of you. That minimizes sideways head movement, allowing you to pick up your lines with just your eyes. Also, the top edge of your script should never exceed the imaginary plane established by your chin.

As an example, picture the end of a ruler taped under your chin and extending forward, away from your face. You don't want the top of your script to exceed the ruler's height. With every increment you do, you're hiding that much more of your face. And if you do, obviously the casting committee and/or camera will be deprived of a complete view of all your features and expressions as you read.

Because of the unavoidable tension of an audition, you may not always have your script in the most advantageous position. But if you've practiced "riveting" your script in one spot based on these essential angles, you'll never have to give it a second thought. It will have become an automatic habit despite the pressure of any last minute notes or changes. You can launch right into your reading - en garde - with your face completely open. And regardless of whether a casting committee sits on the right, left or middle of the room, you'll always guarantee them a good view.

Imporove your Improve
It's fair to say that nearly half the commercials you'll audition for will invariably require improvisation in one form or another. Consequently, you'll enjoy an enormous advantage by developing strong improvisation skills. As a past casting director, I've been appalled at the high number of actors who sadly neglect this essential skill.

One reason may be that this kind of acting is often misunderstood or taken for granted as just a spur-of-the-moment routine of "winging it" -- that is, spontaneously saying whatever comes up within the context of your character. While that may be the fundamental premise, it's far from being the whole ball game.

Successful improvisation depends primarily upon the nonstop, unbroken flow of discussion or activity that constantly takes place between the performers. An improvised scene will collapse drastically if stalled by hesitance or unmotivated silence.

Also, when you do or say anything during an improv, it mustn't be self-centered, but rather something that acknowledges the other actor's last line. That keeps the flow of performance energy moving and "alive." And don't worry about being clever. It's a needless fear that will only bog you down. An instantaneous and almost mindless response often turns out to be so creative, it beats clever by miles.

It only takes a few basic rules to keep an improvised scene streaming along nicely. Have a look at these 3:

First: Never ask questions. You can cause the delay of another performer by asking something they have to think about for a couple seconds in order to respond.

Secondly: Never deny. If someone in your scene declares something absurd like, they've just landed on earth from another planet, never say, "No, you didn't. I can tell you're a human." That can break the rapid flow between the two of you by making the other actor mentally regroup in awkward silence in order to try another angle.

Lastly: Always build. This is the logical extension of the other two rules. For instance, if your partner declares he or she just landed from another planet, you can build upon it by adding something like, "Yes, I can tell. You have that fresh, just-landed look."

Remember these three vital rules. They're life savers! And better still, take one or two improvisation workshops to really get the knack. The next time you're in a commercial audition requiring something improvised, you'll be thankful you did.

Have Another Audition in your Hip Pocket
Just before your TV series or film audition, you may ask the director his or her point of view in order to confirm the choices you've carefully made for your character. And if you do, you'd better be ready for some curve balls. For instance, what you may have confidently interpreted as lively and genuine warmth on the part of your character, may turn out to be a fasade for guilt. It's not uncommon for directors to give you just such an opposing view. Some chatty directors will even volunteer shockingly new information without your asking. In any event, if you don't have an alternate way of playing the scene, you could be sunk.

The reason for such unexpected particulars is that the director has by then, carefully analyzed the script from front to back while generally, you haven't even seen it. All you've had to go on were a few pages, sliced out from somewhere between page one and The End. So, just mere seconds after getting brand new information, you can be suddenly faced with the challenge of giving a performance reflecting the director's new input.

As any experienced actor will tell you, it's not a simple matter to instantly change a scene the way you've been rehearsing it over and over. You've got overcome emotions and behavior patterns you've been continually reinforcing up to now.

To avoid becoming too entrenched, it's best to rehearse your audition scene in as many different ways as time will allow. Naturally, you'll adopt certain choices as your favorite ones, but make sure you're absolutely comfortable doing your scene at least two very different ways. Thus if you're forced to "change emotional gears," you'll have a far greater chance of success. Instead of ending up trying to frantically alter or even reverse the familiar patterns you established earlier on, you'll glide into the new adjustments with a comfortable sense of deja vu.
Mark Brandon is a native Californian who now makes his home in Vancouver, BC. He has appeared in over 100 commercials, films and TV series. For more audition strategies and career building advice, visit:

The preceding was an excerpt from the best selling acting book, "Winning Auditions - 101 Strategies for Actors" (Limelight Editions, NY) written by Mark Brandon.

Copyright © Mark Brandon. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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