Every professional actor has their own list of audition techniques and tips, and anyone working in the business long enough can tell you that there isn’t a singular correct way to audition.
That said, there are a number of common mistakes I see actors commit all the time. The good news? There are simple fixes — that often go back to the fundamentals.
Whether you’re fresh out of acting school or an old hand at facing the blank faces of the casting team across a headshot-strewn table, I’m here to share my advice on the top seven common audition mistakes — and how to counteract them.
- Trying to be what you think they want you to be.
A character doesn’t exist onstage without a real-life human embodying them. Casting rarely knows what’s “right” for the role until they see it, so don’t try to present the character you think they want to see. Present your version. Every character you play only exists because of the personal connection you bring to it, so don’t cut the “you” out.
We all struggle with feeling we have to play a role a certain way, but that’s just not true. You are so much more powerful when you walk in and say “this is what I do” instead of “is this what you’re looking for?”
If you’re really diving into the material and bringing yourself into the role, your audition won’t be the same as anyone else’s. That’s what makes you stand out from the crowd.
- Ending with your strongest material.
Even if you’re a quadruple threat, you know certain skills come off stronger than others.
If you’ve got an audition packet with a bunch of different sides in it, start with the one you feel strongest on. If you start with the weaker piece, they might not even ask to see the rest of your stuff — and then you’ve missed that opportunity. Trust me, I’ve been there.
You know the material that makes you shine. Trust that instinct. No matter what you hear in the hallway or what you think they want to see, put your personal best forward first.
- Over-preparing to the point of inflexibility.
Obviously, you need to be fully prepped on all your material before you get to the audition, but don’t get so stuck in one interpretation of the material that you can’t perform it any other way. Directors love to throw you a new style or motivation in the room to see how you handle change.
It’s your job to step into the room with a clear idea of the character, but you’re auditioning for a collaborative process. They want to see that you’re ready to bring your opinions while also staying open to everyone else’s.
- Feeling inferior to the casting table.
It’s so easy to walk into the audition room and feel like you have to thank the table on your knees for the chance to be there, but it’s a two-way street. Auditions are just job interviews. You want the job, but casting also wants to fill the job. They’re grateful when you come in and blow them away because it makes their lives easier.
Understanding that gives you space to breathe and give your best self. Stop thinking of auditions as trying to please the powers that be and start thinking of them as a group of people trying to come together to create a work of art. Bring what you have to the table and don’t apologize.
- Letting your nerves take control.
So many actors get nervous and rush through their material, or worry they’re wasting casting’s time and so don’t take a few seconds to center themselves. Bottom line? You’re throwing your whole audition off when you do that. When you’re in the room, know that it’s yours.
The people behind the table called you in because they want to see what you can bring to their piece. They didn’t call you in to make you feel sorry for taking up their time. If it takes you five seconds to calm your breathing before you start, take it. Casting will always care more about a solid audition than losing five seconds of silence.
- Treating auditions like the end-all.
When you’re only spending a few minutes in the room, you can’t think of the audition as “the work.” The real work comes in evaluating yourself in between auditions and taking the time to improve weaknesses and acknowledge strengths. If you’re a killer singer and you nail it every time, then you don’t need to be stressing about the high notes.
Take the strengths you can trust and look at what parts of your audition might not be as successful. Are you stepping into the room with confidence? Are you giving space for storytelling? Do you have a plan for calming your nerves? Are you fully in your body?
Answering these questions is the work.
- Taking the cliched advice for granted.
We spend so much time hearing the same mantras over and over again that after a while, they start to lose meaning. But how do mantras become cliches? If something has been repeated that many times, it’s likely communicating an important truth.
Three that stand out to me are:
- Look good in what you feel comfortable in.
- Book the room, not the job.
- Be in the moment, then let it go.
All of these sound like cheesy one-liners, but when you allow yourself to embody them, your audition immediately improves. You should audition in comfy clothes that make you look great. You should focus on giving the best possible audition instead of booking the job. You should try and forget about the audition the second you leave the room.
It’s all good advice. Don’t treat it as worthless just because you’ve heard it a million times.
So what makes a stand-out audition?
More than anything, I think the key to giving a great audition is to embrace that there’s no such thing as a perfect audition. If you’re bringing your whole self and staying open to inspiration, it may be messy — but in a glorious way.
Stop worrying so much about the polish and start digging into the grit.
Roderick Lawrence is an actor, filmmaker, and Blacktivist whose long resume includes Simba in The Lion King, Ramses in The Prince of Egypt, Guy in ONCE, and an appearance on Comedy Central’s Broad City. He also created, produced, and starred in the multi-award-winning short film Silent Partner, which premiered in August at the Oscar-qualifying RSF Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (www.silentpartner-film.com).