I recently participated in a theatre’s season auditions. For this set of auditions, actors had the chance to perform a prepared monologue, if they had one. Then, they were paired up for cold readings of a scene. My wife, Kelsey, was one of the many directors in attendance. On the drive home, I found myself in the unique position to be able to hear, first-hand, a director’s raw impressions of the monologues and cold reads that were presented. In an effort to hone our craft as actors, I thought it would be interesting to share Kelsey’s thoughts here (with her permission, of course).
“My decision about you is made in five seconds.”
Five seconds is all that it takes to form one’s official first impression. Sound like a lot of pressure? Well, it is. You can’t afford to “warm up” halfway through. You need to be “on” even before you introduce yourself.
Advice: Think of your audition beginning when your name is announced, and you start to walk up. Believe it or not, this is when directors will form their initial thoughts about you. So confidently take advantage of those fragile seconds. Furthermore, keep your monologue brief. A minute is more than enough.
“Don’t preface your monologue!”
Did I mention that five seconds is all it takes to form one’s official first impression? Why would you waste those seconds talking about the piece instead of performing it?
- Don’t say if it’s comedic or dramatic. It should be obvious, and it really doesn’t matter.
- Don’t apologize for your sad monologue after someone else’s funny monologue.
- Don’t talk about the character’s emotional state. If he’s depressed, then show it. Don’t tell it.
- Don’t share that you wrote your monologue, if you did. They want to see how you perform it.
Advice: If you must say anything, just say the name of the piece, and maybe the character. And smile. First impressions, remember!
Rare exception to the “No Disclaimer” rule: If there is a vital bit of plot background that is necessary to share so that the viewer can understand the context, then share it… I guess… BUT! If it’s absolutely necessary, I’d suggest that it’s better to just find another monologue that can stand on its own.
“Your cold read didn’t change my mind about your monologue.”
Once a director’s opinion of you has been made—in those first five seconds, remember—it’s very hard to change it. In fact, of the nearly fifty actors that Kelsey saw, only two swayed her opinion (slightly) with their scene work. One was for the better, and one was for the worse. The key to changing a director’s mind lies in the fact that directors are looking for different things in a cold read than they are in a monologue. A monologue shows what you could look like as a finished product. A cold read shows your raw instincts. Kelsey wants me to bolden, italicize, and blow that up as I repeat it.
A monologue shows what you could look like as a finished product. A cold read shows your raw instincts.
Advice: Show me something new in your scenework—keep grabbing my attention with bold choices that I haven’t seen.
“Stage your monologue.”
The staging choices you make (movement, gestures, blocking) show the director what she can expect to work with if she casts you. If you are uncomfortably hugging the upstage wall, she thinks, “It’s going to be a constant fight to bring you downstage.” If you shift your weight and wander, she thinks, “I’m going to have to struggle with them standing still.” Likewise, if you move confidently and make dedicated choices with your movement, she thinks, “Oh good, staging this actor will be a pleasure.”
Advice: At the very least, stand still and confidently. Best, find a coach or a second set of knowledgeable eyes to help you stage your monologue.
“Similarly, move in your cold read scene.”
There were far too many eyes buried in the script, reading, and far too many feet planted in the same place the entire scene.
Advice: Make some dedicated, conscious crosses in the space. Allow the script to inform your movement, and move! Don’t know where to move or when? Check out this simple exercise to help inform some basic movement. The directors know you haven’t performed this scene before; remember, they are looking for instincts here. If you are a stagnant, reading head, you look like you have no instincts.
“Overall, it doesn’t matter what you bring. It’s all about how you bring it.”
The words don’t matter. The story doesn’t matter. What the director is looking for, and what she will see, is your presence, your confidence, and your craft. Hone those, and you can expect a callback in the near future.
Advice: To bolster presence, check out the exercises in this article. To boost confidence, rehearse your monologue until you don’t have to even try to remember it. To hone your craft, I hope you find Stagebite as a valuable resource. But if you can, find a personal coach or talk to an actor from a recent or current project that you admire. The beauty of our craft is that it is both intensely personal and profoundly communal. If we neglect to embrace one or the other, we will not grow.
Many of the surprises surrounding auditions come from an actor not understanding what the director is looking for, or how to present himself in light of it. Of course, all directors are slightly different and may prioritize different things, but the core values of presence, confidence, and craft remain the same. Did any of Kelsey’s points surprise you?