This article contains my thoughts on auditioning. While many of the thoughts I have here pertain to auditioning in general, (and by that, I mean auditioning for theatre, not film) they are particularly skewed toward the beast that is the Milwaukee Generals. My goal is to help those auditioning avoid the many pitfalls that await them once they set foot into that intimidating room.
My first piece of advice is that you must already be working on your audition pieces. As I write this it is January 13th, 2014. The Milwaukee Generals are on February 24th. That gives you just over a month to whip your pieces into shape. I hope it goes without saying that an actor should constantly be working on audition pieces and looking for new ones; you can’t have too many in your back pocket and you never know when you’ll have an audition pop up on short notice. Too many actors attempt to learn a piece on short notice and it never goes well. There are just too many things that can catch you off guard during the audition itself, and unless you know your pieces stone-cold, you are likely to go up during the actual audition.
Having a good audition piece isn’t enough though; you must have a great audition piece. Each year I sit through this very long day of auditions and each year there are only about three people that knock my socks off. I see a lot of really competent auditions that I can’t recall the next day. Find a piece that you can absolutely kill and work it until it’s in your bones.
Now on to specifics. I’m dividing this article 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 that the only chair available has arms. And for those of you who are new to the Milwaukee Generals, you are walking into a room to face a group of auditors in a horseshoe configuration.
If you are going to sing go right to the pianist and work out what small things you need to before your introduction. At this point we are probably still passing around your headshots.
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. There are as many as twenty different companies in the room and seconds before you enter we are handed a stack of your headshots and resumes. We are furiously passing those 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 dozens of auditions during the course of the day 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 time introducing his pieces. When in doubt, introduce yourself and your pieces and 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’ve seen people enter, and then slowly take off a coat, scarf, shirt and any number of other things as they are introducing themselves. That’s weird and distracting. Leave that stuff outside.
This pertains to 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 air 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. I don’t need to know the author, I don’t need to know the scene and I certainly don’t need a synopsis of what has come before. 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 may have less interest in your modern/comic piece and are waiting for the Macbeth you have promised. If you say you are going to do your classical piece second, do so. Those auditors may use that brief period of time to scan your resume and see what other classical pieces you have done and where.
The one thing most people come up short on is 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 at all on that part of their audition. People 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 as to render it unintelligible, 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. Those little stumbles can send you reeling. Suddenly a voice in your head is saying, “I can’t believe I messed up my name” and now you’re not focused on your audition and things can go south in a hurry.
Unless we stand up and stick our hands out, no need to come over and shake our hands. We’re going to see about a hundred people during the course of the 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? Not a problem. Maybe we’re looking for just that 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 or print it on the other side. It’s incredibly irritating to get a loose resume, or one that is paper-clipped to the headshot actually covering the headshot. Don’t let something like that get in the way. Also take the time to trim the resume to fit. Most of us keep these resumes on file so help us out.
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. Those extra attachments only serve to get in the way of the info I’m looking for.
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 productions on your resume from twenty years ago you might think about some judicial editing.
Use a decent sized font. We’re at this all day and our eyes get tired. If you give us an 8 point font we’ll want to throw your resume in the discard pile then and there. That also goes for weird or funny fonts. They’re just hard on the eyes. Be funny in your audition, but let your resume be professional. Jarring print just adds an extra hurdle where the auditors don’t need one.
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 we won’t be able to find the info we’re 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 unscrupulous folk. 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 consists of your stage experience. There are four things I want to know here: the theatre you worked at, the show produced, 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. There are folks who are really great at auditioning and not so much at the acting part. They tend to work at a lot of theatres once.
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 as that won’t help you get cast. The names of your teachers 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 or you may have a lot of directing credits. I’m not interested. 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 have the ability to make copies, so if a theatre doesn’t get a copy the day of, you’ve lost that opportunity.
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 troupe. 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 on the long end. 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 a piece.
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 someone has written for himself 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 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.
Close with your best piece. I know that I said we’ve generally made up our minds in the first ten to fifteen seconds, but our minds can be changed. That second piece that kicks ass will make us forget the first piece. Of course if you want to be one of those three people we remember, make sure both pieces kick ass.
Don’t do serial killer monologues. They are overdone and not usually all that interesting.
In the same vein, I suggest avoiding the monologue that goes into great detail about a recent sexual exploit. Taken out of context of the rest of the play they tend not to work. Teenagers doing such a monologue is doubly troubling. They don’t shock us, they just make us tune out.
Avoid monologues from monologue books. 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. If you do find a monologue in a book and it’s actually from a play, go find that play and read it. Know where it comes from and in what context.
People bend over backwards trying to find the obscure Shakespeare piece that no one has ever seen. In doing so they generally pick something from one 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. Skirts that are too short, blouses that are buttoned too low and clothing that is too revealing are all traps. Let me concentrate on your piece, not worry about a piece of you falling out. And men, avoid the suit and tie affair unless you live in it daily. There’s looking nice and there’s looking awkward.
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. Not everyone is okay with that, but I generally am. 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 you worked at that piece, 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 fire. Sigh. It now needs to be said.
If you are a singer, sing, or if you can sell a song, sing, but pick the right piece. I’ve seen all too many folks with perfectly lovely voices choose a song in which they can’t hit that one note and I’m stumped as to why they would make such a choice. Surely they knew they couldn’t hit that note before they began, so why go there? It’s better to sing something you can really nail that might require less of a range. Leave the auditors wondering. And songs do need to be acted as well. Invest in the song as much as you would any monologue.
Some Final Thoughts
Milwaukee is a special place. I’ve lived in a few different cities, Los Angeles being the worst offender, where auditors were unforgiving if not outright rude. In such situations hostility pervaded the rooms and there was an attitude of, “I dare you to be good.” I have never understood that philosophy. Know that you are walking into a room of very kind people. We want you to succeed, we want you to be great and we will do everything in our very limited power to make sure your experience is a positive one. We have a selfish reason for doing so; we want to get your best audition. I hope that will empower you to take risks and to not beat yourself up if you trip up a bit. We really are pulling for you.
Be kind to everyone you meet there. As I try to teach my students, everything is an audition. Folks in Milwaukee work in all different aspects of theatre, and the other actor you meet in the commons that you are rude to may be the director of the next play you audition for. Many of the people who are helping run the auditions are current interns at the Rep earning next to nothing, and the person actually putting the whole thing together is on the Artistic staff at the Rep. It’s a really trying day in which just about everyone is on edge. Put on your best face and be kind.
It always breaks my heart when I see a talented person from another city show up to the Milwaukee Generals, and by that I’m talking further than Chicago or Madison. I’ve seen people travelling from as far away as Florida. It breaks my heart because unless there is a very specific need for a type we can’t find here, you are not going to get hired. Such is the economy and the state of affairs in the world of theatre. The experience of auditioning is always useful, but to go to the expense and time of travelling such a long distance with no chance of getting hired seems a fool’s quest. If you are interested in auditioning for a specific theatre, I would suggest you contact that theatre, find out what their season is, and if there’s a role you might fit, schedule a separate audition with that theatre.
The caveat to that is if you have housing in Milwaukee you should let that be known in no uncertain terms during your introduction. And on that note, if you live here and are still hanging on to an area code from your last home, make sure we know that you are local, otherwise we’ll assume you live in another city and put you in the discard pile.
When you are done with your audition, find some time and space alone and play the whole experience over in your head. What went right? What went wrong? What could you have changed? And perhaps most important of all, did I do everything in my power to make this a kick-ass audition? If the answer to that question is yes, congratulations. That’s all you can ask and if you don’t get cast it may have absolutely nothing to do with your audition and you can be assured that you left an impression. If the answer to that question is no, you should perhaps rethink how you’ve prepared. Did you allow enough time to rehearse? Did you commit to the piece 100%? Is the piece right for you? Be constantly willing to honestly critique yourself.
And in rehearsing, it’s important to perform these monologues in front of another. Don’t perform them in front of a bunch of different people looking for criticism, that will just lead to confusion as we’re all looking for different things. Find one person you can trust (teacher, fellow actor, director, lover) and get up and do it. Even if they love everything you are doing and have nothing new to offer, the experience of doing it live will help you to no end in the actual audition.
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 them. Be bold and good luck.
P.S. I’m pasting the guidelines for signing up for these auditions below. Please note that this is a separate date from the auditions themselves. Please also note that people were lined up as early as 6:00 am to procure a slot and these were all filled by about 9:00 am. You have been warned!
The 2014 Non-Union Milwaukee General Auditions will take place on Monday, February 24th, 2014, from 9:30am to 6:30pm, at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. This is a Locals Only audition – only Non-Union actors that do not require assistance with travel and housing should attend. These auditions are intended for adult-aged, non-union, locally-based professional actors.
We will again implement an in-person sign-up process for this year’s auditions. On Saturday, January 18, 2014, from 9:00am to 12:00 Noon, interested actors will be able to sign up in person for the 2014 Non-Union Milwaukee General Auditions outside of Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret – www.milwaukeerep.com/planvisit/directions.htm – on the 2nd floor Arboretum of the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex, accessible via elevator or via the escalator near building security. Please note that the doors to the Milwaukee Center are scheduled to be unlocked at 6:00am, and are not under the control of Milwaukee Repertory Theater. A line formed very early last year, and there is no reason to expect otherwise in 2014.
Slots will be available on a first-come-first-served basis – all slots will very likely be filled well before 12:00 Noon. This span of time is provided only as an estimate of the time commitment necessary for this sign-up process. Attendance on January 18 will not guarantee an audition slot. Interested actors must present a valid form of photo identification (driver’s license or state-issued identification is recommended) in order to obtain a slot. In addition, please note that an individual is eligible to request one slot only – requests made for other individuals will not be honored.
There will also be 25 Waiting List slots available. Sign-up for these slots will occur in the same manner as outlined above, once all auditions slot have been filled. Obtaining a Waiting List slot does not guarantee an audition, but preference for any slots that open at a later date will be given to those actors on the Waiting List.
Should there be audition or waiting lists slots available after this sign-up period, they will be made available via an additional in-person sign-up at The Rep’s administrative offices. Additional details will be announced on this page should any slots remain. This situation is highly unlikely to occur.
Slots for this Non-Equity day will fill quickly. Please plan accordingly.
Audition slots will be 4 minutes long, and will consist of any two of the following:
- One contemporary monologue
- One classical monologue (preferably Shakespeare)
- One musical theater selection – 60 to 90 seconds in duration. An accompanist will be in attendance.
Please note that the actor’s introduction and any time necessary to communicate with the accompanist will count as part of the 4 minutes. Please prepare and time your selections carefully, as actors who exceed the audition time of 4 minutes will be stopped.
Actors should plan to bring 30 headshots/resumes – please check the website listed below often for updates on the number of producers attending. This list is subject to change at any time.
Actors who choose to audition with a musical theater selection and desire accompaniment should come prepared with sheet music.
Questions? Please visit this website frequently for additional information. For additional information, please email Michael Kroeker, Artistic Associate, at email@example.com. Due to the volume of questions, please allow two business days for a response.
All interested actors should visit this page regularly for information and updates.
COMPANIES EXPECTED TO ATTEND IN 2014 (updated 20Dec13)
The Alchemist Theatre
American Players Theater
The Bunny Gumbo Theater Company
Cooperative Performance Milwaukee
First Stage Children’s Theatre
Forward Theater Company
Great River Shakespeare Festival
In Tandem Theatre
Lori Lins Talent Management
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Next Act Theatre
Pink Banana Theatre Company
Rhode Center for the Arts
Skylight Music Theatre
UPROOTED Theatre Company
The World’s Stage Theatre Company
Youngblood Theatre Company
Zoological Society of Milwaukee/Kohl’s Wild Theater