The Milwaukee Generals are almost upon us, so I thought now would be a good time to revisit some thoughts on auditioning. Here are my thoughts from a couple of years ago. I’ve done a bit of judicial editing, but my thoughts on this process haven’t changed that much. Hope it helps.
Having sat through the Milwaukee Generals for the last several years, I’ve come across all sorts of things that auditionees do which sabotage the work at hand. I’m continually amazed by some of these gaffs, but to be fair, how could they know? I understand just how hard and awful the process of auditioning is having been an actor for the last 35 years. To that end I’ve decided to share some of the dos and don’ts of auditioning. I throw in the caveat that these are strictly from my own viewpoint and that while they deal with auditioning in general, they are specific to the peculiarities of myself and the Milwaukee Generals.
I’m dividing this “tutorial” into three parts: the Introduction, the Headshot and Resume and the Audition.
If you have the chance (and that’s a big if) take a peek at the room you are going to walk into ahead of time. Auditioning is an intimidating thing and walking into a room blind is hateful. Find out where the auditors are going to be sitting and figure out where you are going to sit or stand. Find out if there is a chair available and what kind it is. Nothing worse than preparing a piece that requires you to spin a chair around and sit on it backwards only to find out that the chair has arms. For those of you new to the Milwaukee Generals, you are walking into a room to face a group of auditors in a horseshoe configuration.
If you walk into the room and you find that there are auditors behind you, you’ve come in too far. Back up so that we can see your face.
Take your time introducing yourself and your pieces. Know that we are furiously passing your headshots around as quickly as we can, flipping them over and pouring over your resume and then trying to catch what pieces you are going to do and in many cases trying to jot that info down. We see a lot of auditions over those couple of days and it’s extremely difficult to keep them straight. Give us a chance to remember you. I’ll never fault an auditionee for taking his or her time introducing their pieces. When in doubt, wait until the majority of us have finished and are looking back up at you before you begin your first piece.
Don’t undress in the room. This is a rather new phenomenon that has started happening lately. When you walk into the room, be prepared to go. I don’t want to see you come in, and then slowly take off a coat, scarf, shirt or any other item of clothing as you are introducing yourself. That’s weird and distracting. Leave that stuff outside.
This is for both your intro and exit; don’t apologize for your audition. Look, you only get one shot at this, so no matter how poorly you’ve prepared or think you’ve done during the audition, do it boldly and with a smile on your face. I can’t tell you how many people come into the room with the body language of, “Uh, hi. I don’t really know why I’m here and I’m sorry to waste your time.” Conversely I’ve seen a lot of people who have finished a perfectly fine audition and then ruin it by sheepishly excusing themselves on the way out. Don’t do it! It sucks all of the energy out of your audition.
Generally speaking, goofy introductions and/or exits will fall flat and have a good chance of being irritating. I know it’s a defensive thing, but just don’t do it. Come in, smile and introduce yourself. When you are finished, say thank you. Resist the urge to ask us if we have any questions or if there’s anything else we’d like to see. Trust me; if we have those questions we won’t let you leave the room until we know the answers.
Give us the info we need. It has become fashionable of late to name the play your audition is from, but not the part; or worse yet, not tell us anything at all. This seems particularly true of Shakespeare. Don’t make it a guessing game. Conversely, don’t give us too much information. In most cases I don’t need to know the author and I certainly don’t need to be told that Hamlet was written by Shakespeare. And occasionally an auditionee will give us a summary of the piece they are about to give. Nope, don’t do it.
While we are on the subject of introducing your pieces, proceed to do your pieces in the order in which they were introduced. Different auditors are there for different reasons. Shakespeare companies have less interest in your modern/comic piece and are waiting for the Macbeth you are going to do. If you say you are going to do your classical piece second, do so. They may use that brief period of time while you are performing your first piece to scan your resume and see what other classical pieces you have done and where.
Oftentimes the audition goes wrong during the intro. I spend a whole day with my students having them do nothing but walking into a room and introducing themselves. This is surprisingly difficult, and few people spend any time on that part of their audition. Auditionees actually stumble over their names, forget what pieces they are doing, mispronounce the playwright’s name (which is just one more reason that info is unnecessary), mumble their info in such a way that we can’t understand it or turn their back and drag a chair across the room while making their intro. Enter the room. If you are going to use a chair make a decision; either get the chair, pick it up and set it where you want and then introduce yourself, or introduce yourself and then get set. Trust me; we will welcome the extra time to look at your resume.
Unless we stand up and stick our hands out, no need to come over and shake our hands. As I’ve stated, we’re going to a whole lot of people over the course of this very long day. There are also upwards of twenty people in that room and you won’t want to shake all of our hands.
The Headshot and Resume
Look like your headshot. It’s bothersome when you don’t. You’re a little heavier than you’d like to be? So what. Maybe we’re looking for just that heavy person. It’s going to be very difficult to remember you later if you don’t look like your headshot.
Staple or glue your resume to your headshot. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to get a loose resume. Or worse yet, one in which the resume is paper-clipped to the headshot actually covering the headshot. It does nothing but make you look unprofessional and your audition might fail right there before you even get in the room. And take the time to trim it to fit. I file these away and those odd sized ones just might not make it into my filing cabinet.
While we’re on the subject of attaching your resume, don’t attach anything else. I’m really happy you’re currently employed with your one-man show, but I don’t want a flyer or postcard attached advertising said show.
Leave whitespace on your resume. We’re doing everything we can to remember the interesting things about you in case we should want to cast you. If you jamb-pack your resume from margin to margin we have no room for such notes. It also makes them hard to read and smacks of desperation. “Look how much I’ve done!” We don’t need to know everything you’ve done and if you have stuff on there from twenty years ago you might think about some judicial editing.
Use a decent sized font. We’re at this all day and my eyes get tired. If you give me an 8 point font I’ll want to throw your resume in the discard pile then and there. Also, weird or funny fonts are irritating. It just adds an extra hurdle where I don’t need one. And if you use comic sans I will throw your resume away.
There is a somewhat uniform way of setting up your resume. Feel free to diverge, but just know that doing so will increase the likelihood that I won’t be able to find the info I’m looking for. At the top should be your name and under that your vitals. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, telephone and email address. If you are a singer you may want to put your vocal range. Do not give us your address. In this day and age that simply isn’t safe and every now and then you send your resume to an unscrupulous person who turns around and sells your resume to other places. Don’t include your age or tell us what your age range is. That’s our job and why would you want to limit yourself that way? Likewise, don’t include the dates of your productions.
Below your name and vitals should come the body of your resume which is your stage experience. There are four things I want to know here: the theatre you worked at, the show you did, the part you played and who directed you. Set them up in neat columns so that I can easily scan through them. Don’t be afraid to list multiple shows with one theatre, that’s a good thing; that says that you worked at that theatre and they liked you enough to ask you back. I am very leery of the auditionee that has 30 theatres listed and has only one show at each of them.
Below the stage experience section should be your education and special skills. Still in high school? It’s okay, we won’t hold it against you, so don’t be ashamed of it. Tell us where you went to school and who some of your teachers were, but leave your GPA off. Those names may open up a conversation. I’m not really interested if you took a weekend class here or there. Special skills should be special. I don’t know how special having a driver’s license is. Fire eating is more impressive (although at this last audition every other person had that listed) and I certainly want to know if you can speak a foreign language fluently. I assume a good actor can learn dialects, so for me I don’t really care.
You may have a lot of film and/or TV credits; you may have a lot of directing credits. I don’t care. I’m here to audition stage actors. In this day and age you should be able to have several different resumes at your disposal. If you are coming to the Milwaukee Generals, cater your resume to your clients, which are almost exclusively theatres.
Have enough resumes. We don’t like sharing.
Don’t lie on your resume. You will be busted and then you’ve lost all credibility. If you took a weekend class don’t make it sound like you received a degree. If you took a beginning improv class don’t say you are part of the troope. If you were Gregory in Romeo and Juliet once upon a time, don’t claim that you are a trained fighter. You’re not. We know, we always know.
So now we come to the heart of the matter. First know that within the first ten or fifteen seconds we know if we like you or not. Sometimes we’ve already made up our minds during the intro. That’s just the way it goes. Knowing that, limit the length of your pieces. They really should be no longer than a minute a piece. I spent one whole afternoon timing auditions. I would look down at my watch when I started to lose interest and it was always between 55 and 65 seconds. Even if you’re great, going beyond that is too much. In the past, many people were going over three minutes and that was just for one of their pieces. Leave us wanting more.
In picking your pieces be very selective. If you choose something offensive it is likely to offend and turn off at least a few people in the room. Have a really good reason for picking such a piece. Of course if you are still looking for a piece right now you are probably in trouble.
Don’t do stand up. I’ve never seen it work and theatre is not stand up. I’ve also never seen a piece that an actor has written for themselves work.
Contrast your pieces. That doesn’t mean that one has to be modern comic and the other classical dramatic. You can contrast two modern funny pieces and I will be quite delighted. But standing during one and sitting during the other is not contrast. Show us two different sides of yourself and hopefully those two pieces are different than your introduction. Remember that your intro is a chance to show us a different side of yourself that will be contrasted by your two pieces. Prove that you can act.
Don’t do serial killer monologues. They are overdone and not usually all that interesting.
Don’t find a monologue in a monologue book. They generally aren’t very good and they are overused. Nothing like seeing the same bad monologue four times in the same day. Read plays, lots of them, and find something that speaks to you.
People bend over backwards trying to find the obscure Shakespeare piece that no one has ever seen. In doing so they generally go to some of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. You know why they are lesser known? Because they’re not as good. You know what I’ve never seen? Someone audition with “To be or not to be.”
Don’t wear anything that is more disturbing or more interesting than you. I’ll spend the whole audition wondering, “Why did he wear that?” instead of watching your audition. Look nice, but make sure you are comfortable and can move around. And unless you live in a suit and tie 24/7, don’t wear a suit and tie. It always comes off as amateurish.
Your pieces should actually be scenes in which you are engaged in some kind of action as opposed to telling us a funny story. I want to see your struggle, not your charming me with a funny anecdote.
Feel free to use me as your point of focus. I will always sit in one of the corner seats for just that reason. But know that not everyone is okay with that. However, if you stand two feet in front of me and confront me, you’re going to lose me. I’ll still stare straight at you and be the best audience member I can be, but I’m no longer really watching you. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re crazy enough to jump the table and others in the room are concentrating on the same thing.
After you are done with a piece do not say scene. Worse yet, do not wave your hand in front of your face and say scene.
Do make your transitions clear and clean. Do something, usually a physical move, to let us know one piece has ended and the next has begun. Of course if they are highly contrastable pieces, that shouldn’t be a problem.
If you have an emotional piece and are able to go to that place, good for you. If you end that piece and take a long time coming out of it and composing yourself, showing us just how hard that was, I will no longer love you.
If you get off to a bad start ask if you can start over. We will always say yes.
No props. We’ll see the letter in your hand if you are invested in your scene. And never, ever, ever…NEVER! bring a gun into the room. Especially not one loaded with a half-charge blank which you then hold to your head and pull the trigger. Sigh. It now needs to be said.
And that’s my spiel. I’m sure other things will come to mind and I’ll update this from time to time. I also welcome observations from other auditors whether they agree with me or not. Know that during the course of my stumbling career I have made many of these mistakes myself, and it was only because some kind person took me in hand that I got past some of them. I’m still an awful auditionee.
Be bold and good luck.
P.S. The people in the room really want you to be good. We’ve got a lot on our collective minds during the course of that very long day. Please don’t read anything into our dour faces. And know that if you come in with a bright smile and a chipper attitude we will immediately light up.