The Other Side of the Audition

I’m sure a lot of actors would agree that auditions are scary things. And over the last five years as a jobbing actor, I’ve been to my fair share. You’ve got the cattle-market commercial audition, where you enter the reception and thirty other people who look just like you are waiting to be seen. You’re in and out in less time than it takes you to brush your teeth in the morning. The TV drama audition, where you’re given a piece to prepare from the script that’s three pages long, the night before the audition. Also over in a few minutes.

And for theatre, the standard monologue audition. Everything hangs on that one performance of the monologue you chose. Is it the right one? Could they see me as the character I’m auditioning for in this monologue from a different play that’s my go-to ‘dramatic monologue’?

For our first show, Small Talk, we decided to hold such an audition. We thought it would be the best and most time efficient way to see all of the actors, as we had five roles to fill in a short space of time. Also, we were straight out of university, and didn’t think to hold the auditions in any other way.

It was a great experience to sit on the other side of the audition table. I also finally realised that casting directors and directors are equally optimistic/trepidatious about finding a cast for their new play, as the actor is about getting the part. It also gave me a sense of relief as I realised that, as a casting director, you have an idea in your head as to what that character is like. So as an actor, if you walk in and do an amazing audition but don’t get the part, it’s not because you’re rubbish, it’s because you weren’t right for that role.

With the monologue audition, we sensed a lot of nerves and not a huge amount of openness. Don’t get me wrong, we saw some brilliant auditions of well-rehearsed monologues, but due to the nature of the monologue audition, it didn’t allow for much creative freedom. We also didn’t get a chance to see chemistry between characters, or what that actor would be like in rehearsals. We have a very open and playful approach to rehearsals, filled with improv games and devising techniques that not all actors are comfortable with. Luckily for us, the actors we chose were open to our rehearsal techniques – but had they not been, our first show as a theatre company could have been disastrous.

So, when it came to doing auditions for Matchstick Models and Fat Penguins or Chubby Polar Bear? we decided to take a different approach. We held group auditions of about 14 actors. The first half of the audition was based on our rehearsal warm-ups and improvisation exercises, which undoubtedly got every energised, playful and fully engaged in the present moment (and not worrying about lines or monologues). It also gave us the chance to see how they worked during the exercises; how they responded to us and the other actors in the room. In the second half, we saw each actor individually, and asked them to prepare two scenes from one of the scripts. I stood in as my character for both scenes, to see the dynamic between us as onstage partners.

This holistic approach to auditioning gave us an insight into what the actor would be like in the rehearsal room, how they worked with their onstage partner, and how suitable they were for the role. It gave the actors a chance to loosen up and get comfortable in the audition space, to get to know us over the course of an afternoon, and to show us their dexterity as a performer.

When it comes to making a decision, well, we could’ve cast the play 10 times with the amount of talent in the room. It just came down to how the actor worked in our exercises, and how right they were for the part. Just remember, as an actor, if you’re punctual and you’ve done all the preparation you can, the rest is up to the casting director. Even if you’re not right for the role, they’ll remember you for future roles.

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