I really enjoyed performing arts at college and have always planned to make acting my career. I moved out of home just after graduating and I had to take two years out to work so I could cover my rent and try to put money aside for drama school.
While working in a computer store, I did my best to keep my acting hand in, going for whatever castings I could find on social media and on various online casting sites. Although I got one or two small jobs, most of the auditions didn’t come to anything, which confirmed for me that I need to train properly as an actor.
My problem is that all those unsuccessful castings have knocked my confidence a bit, and that isn’t helping as I get ready for the important auditions which will decide whether I get in to the drama schools I really want to attend.
Being able to audition well is a crucial ability for any actor, whether trained or untrained, but a key part of that skill is to be able to distinguish between different types of audition and adjust your approach accordingly.
A drama school audition is different from a casting in one significant way: at a casting, the aim is to find actors who fulfil a brief. That brief might be wide or narrow depending on the role you are going for, but there will usually be some set parameters in terms of what the character looks and sounds like, so the final decisions are made not only based on the actor’s ability but whether they fit the casting brief.
A drama school audition isn’t there to find out how you would play a particular role but instead to show the panel who you are as an actor, not only in terms of your current skill level but also your personality and attitude to the course. Understanding this distinction should help you avoid one of the most common mistakes actors make when preparing: trying to present what they think the panel wants to see, as opposed to presenting material that will best enable them to determine what kind of actor you are now, and your potential.
In the world of work, if you or your agent are sent sides before a casting, there may be leeway in how you interpret them, but ultimately you have to work with whatever material you are given. For a drama school audition, you get to choose your own monologues. Use that freedom wisely and pick material that plays to your strengths, and preferably, that means something to you, too.
When making your choices, remember that material we like and material we can do well aren’t always the same. The most obvious instance of this is when singers pick songs they connect with emotionally but don’t work with their voice quality or vocal range. A similar disconnect can happen with monologues, so check your choices with your current or past drama teachers, or with actor friends you trust.
Having material you are excited to deliver, and you have prepared well enough to feel confident about can help a lot with pre-audition nerves. That doesn’t guarantee everything will go smoothly, but even if something unexpected happens, remember this kind of audition is intended to measure potential, not polish. If you stumble in the reading, or need to ask clarification about a direction, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It shows you are willing to learn and make mistakes – desirable qualities for anybody hoping to enter full-time training.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne