Some Audition Tips for School Leavers

I see a lot of auditions for drama school, I pop in and work for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and do first and second round admissions for their BA Acting and Musical Theatre courses.


It can be a really exciting job, attempting to spot the next great talent, but it can equally be demoralising as I see a lot of young people who come in either under-prepared or, even worse, badly prepared and don’t give themselves the best chance to show off what they can do.




The brilliant Ali De Souza has made this video here about auditioning and I thoroughly recommend watching it.


Ali’s notes are more about what to do on the actual day, so I thought I might write a few (hopefully) helpful tips about how to rehearse your scenes and what an audition panel is looking for. I would say that these notes are mainly aimed at those who are just about to leave school and perhaps have little experience in the way of auditioning. I should note that these suggestions are from my own personal experience and are in no way official or 'correct'! I am going to take the most common problems that we see and try and tackle them.



Lack of connection

I can’t tell you how important this is. It’s at the very core of what makes an actor an actor - but what do I mean? It’s about making the connection from the actor to the text as truthful as possible and not hiding behind ‘acting’. We learn far more about somebody’s potential as an actor if they sit/stand still and speak and let the emotion of the text guide them than we do from somebody who has been told to “stand there on this line, rub your hands on that line.” Those sort of gestural gimmicks distance the actor from what they are saying and the acting becomes demonstrative.

Find a speech that means something to you. You may not have experienced what the character has experienced but there’s something about it that calls out to you. Get the text under your skin so you don’t need to worry about recalling the lines and, crucially, forget about ACTING. Speak from a place of truth. If the speech makes you fall to your knees sometimes and other times it roots you to the spot and other times you sit on the chair and don’t get up but then other times you don’t use the chair then let that happen, don’t force anything. Of course, in time, you will need to make sure you can be seen and heard, but adding ‘moves’ to a scene just to give you something to do is not the way to becoming a truthful actor and makes it very difficult for us to see what truly lies behind all the gestures and over-thought blocking.

Given Circumstances

Who are you talking to? Where are they in the room? What size is the room? Where have you just been? What’s your status in the room? The number of given circumstances that can be brought into a scene is limitless, but prepare yourself to get the basics right. Know who you are speaking to and know where they are in the scene. If you are talking to the audience then talk to an audience.


The number of times I’ve watched Hermione’s speech from The Winter’s Tale ("Since what I am to say...") that has totally missed she has just given birth is probably heading into the thousands now. Same with Rosalind in As You Like It ("And, why I pray you..." - easily the most done speech) rarely being played as a female pretending to be a male. It’s simple little things like these that can really make your piece suffer.


So take your time before you begin, nobody is rushing you. Imagine where you are, who you are, what you are trying to achieve in this scene (your objective), where the other characters(s) is/are and then begin. Entering the world imaginatively is key. Give yourself time between speeches to make the shift.

Don't do a speech that is too tricky to get into the moment of, and also watch that you pick a speech that is not too far out of your casting bracket. I, personally, wouldn't worry about doing Juliet if you think that that's something that you can relate to and it works for your casting. We don't actually see the most famous speeches all that often, and even if we do, your version will be different to somebody elses.



Not Going to the Theatre

The RCS Acting and MT courses are mainly theatre based. You’ll be spending a long time working on theatre technique and talking about theatre. So if you have shown no interest in watching theatre then that’s going to worry us. How can you say  you are desperate to do something that you know nothing of? I always think of somebody who wants to be a football manager but never goes to watch football. It’s key.


And this isn’t just about those who happen to have great drama departments that takes them to see plays, it seemed that everybody from central belt Scotland (this year) has seen Trainspotting and The Curious Incident! So what have you seen that is a little off the beaten path? Did you go and see a Shakespeare play perhaps, maybe even something the RCS offers? The Citizens do brilliantly cheap tickets for students, so if you saved up a bit that shouldn’t be too big a stickler. Of course it’s different for people from smaller places, but if you are keen to be an actor, and to get a classical training, at least show some interest in the art-form. You will also learn a great deal about what theatre acting is. What sort of acting you like, what works for you and what doesn’t.

Perform

Continuing my football analogy, you wouldn’t expect to go and have trials for Celtic Boys Club having maybe played half an hour of football with your dad two years ago. So why would you expect to be able to do something similar with acting? Get as much experience under your belt as possible.


Most towns have opportunities either in youth theatre or community groups. If you are wanting to do the acting course and your school only does big musicals, then take part in them but also see if there are ways to get small plays on. Maybe you and your pals can get something together and the school will give you a space? If you get on the course, and then graduate, making performance opportunities for yourself is going to be key for at least some of your career, so why not start now? Short films are another good way of getting experience under your belt, there are various Facebook groups that you can join where people are looking for actors.


So if you feel you're lacking performance experience, do everything you can to fix that. Seek out the opportunities and if you don’t find any, make your own.


There’s More Than Acting

We see a great deal of people who are clearly very passionate about theatre and are extremely talented, but just not actors. A number of people would be better applying for the CPP course at the RCS as they clearly enjoy making their own work and are politically engaged, or there are people who would really flourish on the design course or would make excellent theatre technicians or those who might be better going and doing a theatre studies course and becoming a director/producer/playwright etc. You get the idea.


There are a plethora of career opportunities within the arts and, because it’s the most obvious path to take, many people are immediately drawn to acting, even though they may not have the chops or (and this is vitally important) they might not be able to handle the volatile life-style. So be honest with yourself. What are you best at? What will allow you to truly succeed in a horrendously competitive market?


Enjoying acting isn’t enough. You can enjoy it as a hobby any time you want, and that’s great. If you want to be an actor then it needs to mean everything to you. Otherwise you’ll most probably fall at the first hurdle, even if you make it into drama school.

Listen To The Questions

You don’t receive written feedback from RCS (for a number of very good reasons) however, when being interviewed or, if you are called back, re-directed, have a think about what was asked of you. No two people have the same audition and normally the questions asked are either a reflection of your personal statement or of what we have seen in the room. For example:


“What, for you, is the difference between acting for the theatre and acting for television.” If I was asked something like that then I would be thinking that perhaps my performance was a little too small for a theatre course. It may be detailed and I may be connected, but they still need to hear and see me.


“Who is she talking to in this scene?” Perhaps I didn’t connect with the other character, or I forgot that I was talking to somebody else and drifted into my own world.


If you don’t get in first time (and the norm is probably 3-5 times of trying, although there are always exceptions) then how are you going to be better next year? Reflect back, look at what your options are to further your training, and come back again stronger and more prepared.

Conclusion

To sum it up, pick a piece you care about and can (in whatever way) relate to, connect to it as truthfully as possible, know the given circumstances and give yourself time to create them imaginatively, go see as much high quality live acting as possible, do as much live acting as possible (get a feel if it’s really the best career choice for you) and reflect on your conversation with the panel to help guide you in the future.


I hope that’s helpful. Good luck!

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