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The Green Room: Is the preparation expected for auditions too much?

Actors can apply to the ITV show, which will follow them through the casting process Some members of our panel questioned whether actors need to learn lines for auditions. Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​

Keith Simpson is in his early 20s and since graduating from drama school in 2016 has worked on national tours and in rep

Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

Jenny Talbot is 39 and has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional TV, film and plays

 

Keith Yes, I think so. However, sometimes the amount of prep doesn’t bother me – it’s more the time they expect it to be done in. It seems as though you get sent reams of stuff at the last minute.

Vivian Pages of sides to be learned – with very little notice.

Peter I must admit that I preferred the days when you weren’t expected to learn lines for an audition.

Velma I find the less experienced the director, and the less the job pays, the more they ask you to prep. It smacks of not knowing what you want, and frankly is disrespectful to the actor.

Jenny For theatre, you don’t really have to be off-book but in some cases, especially some musicals, you get sent a huge amount of material to learn. Five songs and seven scenes isn’t unheard of.

Keith Exactly. And when they send you four songs, you learn them all, but all they want to hear is 16 bars of one of them.

Velma It’s very frustrating to be asked to prepare things that are not then touched on in the audition. Directors and producers should think more about their use of time in the audition room.

Peter But some people seem to do no preparation at all. A director once told me that he was casting Twelfth Night and an agent asked for a breakdown.

JonI don’t think that’s so surprising. In Shakespeare productions especially, there might be decisions made, for example, about the gender of a character, which the agent would need to know about before submitting anyone.

John I have a mental ‘work input over return’ calculator in my head for auditions.

JonI still don’t learn for theatre auditions – or not for first rounds, anyway. But telly’s getting mad. I was sent 19 sides for a telly audition in the summer and couldn’t get an answer about which scenes I’d be doing. So I learned the lot, then went in and did two one-page scenes.

Vivian I had an audition that required me to tape myself ‘improvising’ a scene with an imaginary person. In other words: write, direct and produce a scene. Also due for the next day. This was for a part in an Oscar-winning film.

John That is extremely annoying. That is laziness on the casting front.

Peter I have occasionally learned for theatre, but I don’t usually. And that’s more relaxing.

John Always learn for the recall.

Jenny There’s an unspoken rule that you have to be off book for TV and film auditions to be taken seriously. It shouldn’t be a memory test though.

An audition shouldn’t be about how good you are at learning lines

Peter An audition shouldn’t be about how good you are at learning lines.

Jenny Preparation can be hard if you’re working or busy with family. Then you get casting directors moaning on Twitter about actors being unprepared.

JonYeah – some sides emailed over at 4pm, and you somehow have to be ready by 11am the next day even though they know you have a show to perform.

Jenny In the good old days, you had to have more notice for castings because they had to send scripts via snail mail.

Peter If I go up for a series I haven’t watched, I think it’s good to catch up.

Albert I’ve seen young actors with loads of notes all over their sides and thought: how can they possibly communicate all that? Go in, know it, do it, listen, do it again if asked, then go home.

JonHow would you like to see things change?

Peter More clarity about what is expected.

John That’s it really, isn’t it? An appreciation that actors have other things in their life other than waiting to work on auditions.

JonA total ban on the question “So, what have you been up to?” Or any question that demonstrates that they’ve read the last two credits on your Spotlight and nothing else.

Peter I’m lucky that I don’t do a day job. But most young actors have other work. Expecting a lot of preparation at short notice is unreasonable.

John The “What have you been up to?” question is totally mental. Do you want to know what I have been up to this morning or professionally the past six months?

JonIt doesn’t help people who have been out of work for a bit, either, because the most obvious answer is “Not acting very much.”

Keith It immediately puts you on the back foot.

John Unless I have been in a smash hit. Then it’s basically the best question ever.

Albert I always make sure that I tell them what I’ve been up to even if it’s just that I’ve been on holiday.

JonHa! “Well, on my first day at primary school I played in the sand. Then on the Tuesday…”

Peter It doesn’t worry me. They just want to relax you by having a quick chat.

Albert Exactly. Often I have cast people just from the chat.

Vivian I prepare the same way I’ve always done: put the script in the fridge, ignore it until the last minute, read it, reread it, read it again 50 times and not worry if it’s not learnt off. Read around the director, story, part, setting and whatever seems suitable for the production. Have thoughts and opinions but get excited about what the casting director or director is going to say about why and how they are doing the production. Then arrive an hour early, in the wrong place, spill coffee all over yourself, and sweat profusely when you finally get into the right room. Ta-da!

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