Memorization is not so cut-and-dried in a theater audition, but I’m a huge advocate for it in on-camera auditions. First and foremost, it frees you from the tyranny of the page and allows you to put your energy where it’s most important. How can you be connected, nuanced and in the moment when you don’t know the dialogue?! The powers that be are ultimately watching your audition on-screen and imagining you in their film or series—you make it much easier for them to fall in love with you if you aren’t dragging the pace, pausing inappropriately, staring at your page and fumbling over your words! And in case there was any doubt, paraphrasing as an alternative to knowing your lines is not the best way to ingratiate yourself with the writers.
This being said, the page should always be in your hand—we understand that what you had down pat in the comfort of your home has a way of eluding you when unwelcomed nerves rear their head in the audition room! The sides are in your hand as your safety net but they should never be used as a security blanket. Gluing your eyes to the page won’t ever help you. On the other hand, refusing to look at the page when needed—because you want us to believe you’ve memorized it when you haven’t—isn’t fooling anyone and is only going to hurt you.
If you transpose a sentence, say the wrong word, skip a line or make any other mistake, don’t apologize—improvise! You wouldn’t say “sorry!” or correct yourself in front of an audience if you were onstage. You would use your improvisational skills to find your way back to the text and not let the audience know that anything was wrong. Try to do the same in the audition room if at all possible.
Inappropriate volume for the circumstance of the scene is a common mistake that actors with more stage experience than on-camera experience tend to make. You’ve been so conditioned to speak to the back of the house that, now by habit, your volume is louder the moment you start acting. We need the appropriate, real life volume for whatever is going on. If you’re having an intimate, close dinner in the scene, your volume should be just that. When you’re getting angry or passionate about something, your volume may naturally rise. If you’re yelling, “Hey, throw me the football,” well, yell! It’s very simple—do what you would do in life. I know, sometimes the simplest principles can be the most difficult to master.
Every time you come into an audition, the casting director logically assumes that you are bringing your absolute best into the room. You are telling us, “If I were to book this job and today was day one of shooting, this is how I would show up.” Obviously you’re not privy to the director’s vision, but you’ve got to make your choices based on what you know about the character, the world that the character lives in, and your unique perspective of it all. From there you’ve just got to be bold and fly with it.
Adjustments from our end will likely follow, but you have to make strong choices in order to interest us enough to spend that time with you. I see way too many actors coming in with weak, generic choices—they don’t know for certain what we’re looking for and don’t want to go in the “wrong” direction so they go in whatever seems to be the “safest” direction. You’re probably not going to excite anyone about you with that approach.
No risk equals no gain in most areas of life … and performing in NYC is no exception.
Marci Phillips is the Executive Director of ABC Casting. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to Marci Phillips and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of ABC, Disney or any of its subsidiaries. Marci is the author of “The Present Actor – A Practical and Spiritual Guideline to Help You Enjoy the Ride” available on Amazon.com.