The Audition Checklist – Christophe Philipps

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Christophe PhilippsIt’s a fundamental aspect of the acting industry: the audition.

We audition to get the job. We audition to gain experience of auditioning – to help us get a different job at a further audition. We audition, sometimes, knowing full well we won’t get the job… Yet still, for whatever reason – perhaps pressure from an agent, or to simply do something positive, or to hope to make an impression with a casting director for some future project – we audition.

But how much of our ‘craft’ is concerned with this fundamental – and let’s face it, crucial – aspect of the industry?

Certainly, we can prepare for the ‘creative element’ of the audition, often from what the casting director has gone to the trouble of asking us to prepare: a song, a monologue, to discuss the characters, etc. But how many of us have a clear, solid plan for the audition itself? By that, I mean to ask: how many of us are prepared for what we will actually experience in the audition room, even aside from the ‘creative element’?

Now, every audition is different in a hundred ways. But they’re also very alike in a hundred ways, too.

For each audition that takes an unexpected turn – being asked to ignore the script and improvise, or hold on the material you’ve been asked to prepare (or whatever other random thing that’s drifted through the casting director’s mind that day) – there’s the more usual audition where you stand on the spot, show your profiles and hands, and tell the camera your name and agent.

But one element common to all scenarios is this: it is a casting professional meeting you in person (and yes, for all intents and purposes, that applies to Skype auditions too!) And that personal contact is why they’ve gone to the trouble of holding the audition – and why they’ve invited you in.

Yes, they want the role filled; but they make their decision by meeting you in person. This allows them to determine several things: firstly, if you’re suitable for the role. That’s a big one (really big!). And it’s a complex thing. But it’s not the whole picture.

Second, they want to see what sort of person you are; moreover, if the sort of person you are is the sort of person they can/want to work with. And again, it’s a complex thing.

It’s this second part that this article can chiefly offer you help: helping casting directors see you as not only right for the role, but the right person to work with.

So, how to prepare for this? You are who you are, right? Well, yes and no.

It’s true that this aspect of the audition doesn’t hinge on whether you’ve done your prep thoroughly or not – I’m assuming you have. Or even if you’re ‘right’ for the role – ultimately, that’s their call, out of your hands, and dependent on anything from who else has been cast, the wants of the client, who else is seen that day – a hundred things. But you can take a few easy steps to make sure that the you that you want them to see comes across.

Let’s backtrack a moment. How do they work out if you’re someone they can work with?

Well, it’s simpler than it sounds, and it all comes back to that one common element again: the personal contact.

In short, they interact with you, informally. If the creative elements of the audition (the song, monologue, etc) are the formal parts, then the informal parts are those questions you didn’t see coming: the personal ones – and yet, you can prepare for them.

Casting directors are likely to ask only a handful of ‘informal’ questions, such as:

  1. What you have been doing lately?
  2. Something funny about you / a funny story.
  3. Your availability in the near future.
  4. Why you want this job (hint: don’t say ‘money’), or why you would be perfect for it.
  5. Similar projects you have worked on.
  6. Your general career plan.
  7. Something for ‘How are you?’ that isn’t just ‘Alright’ or ‘Not bad, apart from the rain…’ etc.

There may be circumstances when others questions creep in – if it’s particularly bad weather, or the hours before a big sporting event – when they may deviate. But largely, that’s the extent of it – partly because casting directors are too pushed for time, and moving from one person to another so quickly, that they don’t have time to probe much deeper.

So, seven simple questions. Seven simple ways to freeze, stutter, involuntarily yelp, blurt out something inappropriate (or worse, something rude; many casting directors have their fair share of inappropriate stories, but there’s a time and place…) or run for the hills, like a startled fawn…

That’s seven simple ways to fail to show them the you you want them to see. Seven simple ways to fail to convince them you’re someone they can work with. Or seven simple ways to succeed.

So it makes sense to have an answer prepared for each ‘informal’ question, just as you would for any formal ones you can foresee. And before I get too caught up in beating this particular drum, here’s a couple of extra tips:

  • Don’t swear – while many of us (and them) do it, it’s too familiar for the audition space.
  • Don’t be negative – a positive outlook is far more attractive.
  • Don’t be fake – if a recent film role was good, tell them. But don’t pretend it’s Oscar-worthy if it’s not.
  • Don’t waffle – they’re tight on time, so answer the question with enough detail to make it engaging, without tangents or unnecessary backstory.
  • Don’t instantly turn it back to them – we’re all tempted to use the ‘I’m not bad – how are you?’ rhythm of answering a question when nervous, but it will close the conversation down here. (Besides, they’re unlikely to go into much detail on themselves, either).
  • Do relate your answers to the situation and their context – where possible. For example, if you’ve just finished a tour but are now going for a commercial, explain how it really taught you the value of preparation, or comfortable with long hours – something that rings true for the job you’re going for.

Coming back to the title of the article – The Audition Checklist.

Well, prep the ‘creative elements’ thoroughly, and plan your journey (with plenty of time for delays)… Then, on your way, just run through the questions listed above – the ordinary, innocent-seeming questions casting directors are likely to use, and prep an answer for each. Run over them as you would the more ‘obvious’ questions. Try to make your answers engaging and memorable, human but succinct. And once done running them, run over them again – just for good luck.

After a while, thinking of yourself – and talking about yourself – in the most engaging, memorable terms possible will become second nature, and you’ll excel in the audition. At least, the ‘informal’ part of it.

As for the ‘formal’, or ‘creative element’? Once you know who you are (and can tell them), it’s easier to show what you do, too.

It’s that simple.

Christophe Philipps is a Brighton-based actor, writer and musician, as well as an occasional theatre director/producer and workshop teacher.

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