my 10 golden rules for audition panels
Phil Willmott published a brilliant article in The Stage this week giving actors advice, tips and insight from what it’s like on his side of the audition process. It’s a great article, full of genuinely handy information, things that may clear the fog a little bit for the unsuspecting performer standing in front of a stern-lipped panel.
I was inspired by this article (and my pals at Simon and Howe) to give an opinion from the actor’s side of the table. We’re aware that there’s loads of us and a few of you, but you’re the ones with the power. So, from this side of the table, here’s my golden rules.
1) Say hello.
We know that you see hundreds of people, and we’re aware it can be gruelling. But every single person that walks into your audition room is a completely new human being, someone who YOU have called for an audition. You hold their hopes, dreams and their ability to pay their electricity bill in the palm of your hand. Yes, you may have had a long day, but at the same time, you have no idea how the day of that auditionee has been. I once was pulled out of my rare family holiday for an audition, had to travel 4 1/2 hours back to London, incurring me a personal cost of £120 and was in the audition room for less than two minutes. The panel didn’t even say ‘hello’when I walked in, merely barked, “What have you got?” and when I gave them the choice of contrasting songs I’d prepared (which they’d requested), said “Yeah…either’s fine.” and went back to their conversation. I sang, and I sang well and was then immediately dismissed. And then spent another £120 travelling back to resume said family holiday (and no, I didn’t get the job!). You may have had a long day, but other people also have lives, dwindling bank accounts and other commitments that they’ve gladly sacrificed for the opportunity to be stood in front of you. So please don’t be rude. At the very least, show a preference for a song and say hello.
2) Have a chat
If you have time, PLEASE invite us to have a chat with you. In one of the best auditions I ever had, I was invited to sit down with the panel whilst they browsed through my CV and asked me about what I’d been up to, what made me tick and generally who I was. I left that room thinking, “Even if I don’t get that job, that was a LOVELY experience.” It is SO nice for us to be treated like intelligent, creatively passionate people rather than just a headshot and a pair of lungs/legs.
If you’ve asked us to prepare stuff, either actually see/hear it or, if you genuinely don’t have time, apologise and explain why you don’t have time. When you ask us to prepare stuff for auditions, we don’t just ‘wing it’ on the day. We spend time, effort and money doing that. We take time off our paying day jobs to learn scenes, we stay up until the early hours rehearsing songs, we hire piano players to go through harmony lines for us. Nothing is more disheartening to have prepared reams of material for an audition and then to be told that the panel aren’t even going to see/hear it with no explanation.
Don’t tell an actor that they’re through to the next round and ask them to prepare everything (see No.3), then change your mind and get their agent to tell them ‘It’s not going to go any further’. Again,we will have been spending time, effort and money learning the things you’ve asked us to learn. To not see us again when you’ve specifically asked us to learn things is just a little bit inconsiderate.
5) 16 bars
If you want us to bring 16 bars, or if there’s a CHANCE you might want 16 bars (whether you’re running late etc) please specify in advance. 16 bars is not what we’re trained to do, we’re actors and acting through song is all about building character and telling a story. You wouldn’t ask a straight actor to do 16 words of a monologue so don’t ask us to do what is relevantly the same thing. If you want to see how high we can belt, just ask (E flat by the way).
Please don’t talk whilst we’re singing. We’ve prepared, are trying to do our best and are so grateful for the chance to be in front of you. Please don’t chat whilst we’re giving you our best work and are most likely shitting ourselves, it’s just so demoralising!
7) Be specific
The worst is when a panel asks for ‘a selection of songs’, because you can bet your bottom dollar that once you walk into the room and show them your rep folder, they’ll say “Hmm….” and be disgruntled because you don’t have quite exactly what they want. If you want something particular (i.e 1960’s female pop ballad) do say so, it’s much easier to prepare.
8) Making it hard
I’ve been in auditions before where the panel get you to sing higher than the role needs to, or dance a routine that’s far more difficult than the track you’re up for does in the show, merely to ‘see what you can do’. Why?! If I was going for an office junior job, they wouldn’t put me through the same interview process they would were they interviewing a potential director just to ‘see what I can do’. It’s unnecessary and only makes people stress out so they don’t show their best.
We know that sometimes it’s down to what we look like or that there was just someone more suited to it. And again we KNOW that there are loads of us. But, when we hear nothing, all we can do is analyse what went wrong, or what we could have done better or differently. Once we leave drama school, we don’t have the luxury of objective feedback. If we’re at least TOLD “Oh no, so-and-so just looked more suitable.” we can make our peace with that, or “She could belt higher.”- COOL, that’s GREAT! (note to self, work on belt) or “Thanks so much for your time, but our advice would be to work on your song/monologue choices”- COOL, that’s really HELPFUL (note to self, get some help on material)! Treat us! We’re more resilient than you think. We’re actors for goodness sake, we have to be!
As actors, we are constantly fed a MILLION different nuggets of advice regarding auditions. Here’s a sample of the things I’ve been told.
- Prepare something relevant to the show
- Just take the song you sing best, if they want to hear you sing something in the style of the show, they’ll ask.
- Prepare pop songs, that’s all anyone is hearing these days.
- Dress with a nod to the show.
- Dress neutral so they can see you as a blank canvas.
- Whatever you do, don’t wear red.
- Hair up.
- Hair down.
- Full face.
- Don’t wear too much make-up.
- Be friendly!
- But not TOO friendly. Don’t be eager.
- Shake hands with the panel.
- Don’t shake hands with the panel.
- Look the panel in the eye when you’re singing.
- Don’t look the panel in the eye when you’re singing.
- Bring sheet music in a folder or sellotaped together.
- Never bring sheet music sellotaped together.
- Look as young as possible.
- Look as old as possible.
- Never sing Sondheim, in case the pianist can’t play it.
- Always have a Sondheim in your rep.
- If you’re ill, tell the panel so they’re aware, we’ll want to know if you’re not at your best.
- If you’re ill, don’t mention it to the panel, we’ll think it’s an excuse.
- If someone doesn’t have a West End credit within three years of graduating, I won’t see them (p.s byeeeeeeeeeeeee then)
- It doesn’t matter about credits, it matters about whether you’re right for the part.
- Be off book, it looks lazy if you’re not.
- Don’t worry about being off book, we’d rather you read well without worrying about lines.
I could quite literally go on. All those are genuine pieces of “Audition Technique” advice I’ve been given over the years by teachers, coaches, panels, masterclasses etc and diligently written down in the hope of remembering and applying. I mean……WHAT?! All it has come to teach me is it’s SO SUBJECTIVE. There is no right or wrong.
Really, from our perspective, it all just comes down to respect. I spend my non-performing days temping in a big recruitment agency and on a daily basis I see candidates being prepped, coached and sent to interviews. They are always given feedback, it’s just a standard thing. What they could improve on, what they did well etc. I have never ever seen potential employees treated with such casual disregard and disrespect than in the performance industry. When I describe it to my colleagues, they genuinely don’t believe me. They are gobsmacked.
No actor is the same, just as no panel is the same. No generic rules apply. Yes, there are hundreds, thousands of us all desperately trying to make it work, clamoring for jobs and opportunities. But we are all people who have trained, and (both us and our families) have spent thousands on it. We aren’t a mindless, faceless, chorus line of disposable drones. We are creative and passionate and alongside that have lives, commitments, jobs, baggage and ties.
If we show respect to an audition panel by being prepared, punctual, pleasant, presentable and skilled at what we do, with the right training and qualifications, they should show respect back. They may see hundreds of people in one day, but each one of those people has a brain, a heart and a story to tell.