How much time do you need to prepare for an audition. When I started, I couldn’t remember one line. That’s right, not one single line. Anxiety made me a nervous wreck. Now I can learn 30 pages overnight if I have to. It’s not talent; it’s technique and self-belief. I have found that the technique outlined below gives any actor a fighting chance to book whatever is thrown at them. You can go from blank slate to booking in 30 minutes!
The Fly Over
Like everything in life, it’s good to start at the beginning. In the case of an audition, that means getting a bird’s eye view. Research is your friend. Who are the writers and what tends to be their style? What is it like to walk in their shoes? Ask and answer as many questions as you can from as high up as you can. Start with who, why, what, when, how, the style, project type, and the medium. Work your way down to the audition level. What is the episode, the scene, the sides? Who are all the known players, casting director, editor, announced cast members? Let that sink into your bones. This is about fine tuning your instincts. No more than five minutes.
Once you are at the audition level of the analysis, now it is time to learn the story. Think of it as a fairy tale. The most important thing is to know every fact. Any facts missing from your knowledge are also missing facts from your character’s knowledge. You can’t perform something when you don’t know everything your character knows. While facts are important, you must also know the point. What is the reason this story was written at all? What is the point of this scene? Why is it still in the overall story? Once you know that, it’s so easy to see where the story—and your character—has to go. We are all different but we all must go down the same stretch of road. Now that you know the scene, give it a title that describes its simplest essence. For instance, “Dad scolds the twins for not making their beds.” Say the story out loud to yourself or, ideally, someone else. Make it entertaining now and you will be entertaining later.
Time for Technique
This step is optional, but I recommend it until you reach a high level of confidence. If you have a video camera of some kind, perform and record the whole story like you are some old wise man/woman dispensing knowledge to a young disciple about to embark on their life’s quest, with no particular emphasis on any one character. Sort of like Peter Falk at the beginning of “The Princess Bride.” Include every single fact of the scene ensuring your listener can understand how it all fits together and why you are telling them. Play it back. Does that sound like the story the way you understand it?
If you have a partner, now is the time to get the room set up as close as you can to the room in which you will audition. The closer the match, the less guessing you will do in the audition. I usually do this myself for expediency. Using a dedicated audio recorder or an app on your smartphone, record the other character lines, leaving a space for you to speak in between.
Don’t memorize your lines just yet. This is about the behavior. Live through and fully inhabit the scene as your character. Play the audio while improvising. Because you know the facts so well, chances are your improv is going to be very similar to the actual lines, but the goal here is to naturalize the behavior, so focus on living and reacting. Now is the time to establish any visual cues you will use in the audition, like where the other characters are standing or anything else your character might listen to or look at. Don’t leave anything out. Cues will further illuminate the facts.
If you are new to this process, you can video the improv to see how it looks. It should look completely natural, like someone who just booked the job. The only thing missing are your actual character’s lines. These are by far the least important thing and that’s why they come last. If you nail the story and the behavior, most people won’t even notice what you say. They will become as completely engrossed in what you are doing as you are. The goal is to make the writer forget they wrote it. Once the improv is believable and telling the story, it’s time to add your lines. You are 80 percent there already. A couple of passes with the sides while you play back your audio recording and you will be memorized. Trust yourself. You know it! Remember, this is never about remembering words. This is about living through an event surrounded by circumstances within a small part of a larger project. You are not there to stand out. You are there to fit in. Your job is not to distract, but to hold attention to the story. This is the most important thing an actor does. Help the audience maintain their voluntary suspension of disbelief.
This is optional as well, but will give you that last boost of confidence when you are starting out with this method. Video record and playback the scene one more time with all your character’s lines and behavior. If you did everything according to instructions, you just booked the job or did everything you have within your control. It’s important to remember what you have control over and what you don’t. You prepare, but you don’t make the hiring decisions. Do your job and forget about everyone else’s. This will allow you to stay sane as an actor, not wondering if you booked or not. That’s not your concern, so don’t worry about it. They know how to reach you.
The only remaining question is would you hire you? Did you include all the facts, the behavior, and the lines? If so, you’re done. Go have a blast at your audition and show them how much you love your work.
Can you really book a job in 30 minutes? With practice, yes. Research takes five minutes. Reading the story takes another five. Learning the facts, maybe 10 minutes more. Practice for 10 more and we are ready for you Mr. Green. I have booked in 20 minutes and frankly sometimes the less prep time, the better. Trust your instincts and don’t second-guess.