Your First Audition (Part I)

This is the first part of an article for the first-time auditioner.

As I was organizing material for this blog, I came across a question from a young person who asked: “What should I expect at an audition?  How should I prepare?”

That made me realize that my blogs so far might be ahead of some of my readers, so let me take a step back and focus on advice for someone who has never auditioned before.  We all have to start somewhere, right?  And many of us started our acting experience by working on plays in school or community theater.

So, even though it’s been many years since I worked in those venues, I will try to remember the set up.  I can give you some idea of what to expect.  Also, I hope to give you some tips on how to prepare.

In general, dress nicely, like you would for church or a business interview.  You may think you want to look cool and nonchalant by wearing grungy clothes.  But that just tells the auditor that you don’t have respect for the audition.  Don’t worry about dressing “in character” but dress appropriately for the style of play.  (No low cut dresses for children’s theater, please!).

Look over the announcement for the auditions.  It should tell you what to prepare.  For a musical you will need to sing and dance.  This means that you should have sheet music for 2 songs that you are prepared to sing.  Pick show songs (not Pop songs) that show your voice off well.  It’s best if you have gone over them with your voice coach so that you know they are in the right key for you and are used to the accompaniment.  (Don’t expect the accompanist to transpose it for you!)

One song should be slow (a ballad) and the other should be something fast (“up tempo”).  Decide which one you can sing the best and bring the second in case they ask for something else.  As you progress as an actor you will develop a repertoire of songs to use at auditions.

Chances are that there will be a big crowd of hopefuls at the audition. The auditors may not have time to hear both songs; perhaps not even one whole song.  So, you can be prepared for that by picking out the best 16-measure section of your song that really shows off your voice and range.  Mark it clearly for the accompanist.  Be prepared to just sing those 16 bars.  BTW, the theater company should provide an accompanist, you don’t need to bring one.

For the dancing section of the audition, there will be a choreographer there who will teach groups of people a short routine.  After you’ve had some time to learn it and practice it, they will probably have you do the whole routine in a group.  Later they may ask you to do it individually.  Make sure you wear clothes you can move in that are not too baggy.  You want to look nice.  It’s okay to bring a change of clothes and shoes with you.

Well, that’s all for today.  In my next blog I will talk about what to expect at the audition and auditioning for straight (non-musical) plays.

Break a leg!


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Prepare Your Mind

Let me first explain my mission here.  My mission in life is to create great theatre.  Under that mission, my goal is to create a circumstance where, not only is the audience thrilled by the presentation, but the cast, crew and designers are all thrilled to be working with each other on the project.  It’s an idealistic goal, but I have done it.  And I’m always trying to do it again.

Which is why I am writing today.

Actors rehearse for fight audition for R&J.

This, in turn, will make everyone’s road to that ideal easier.

That said, I must also acknowledge that such an ideal experience is rare.  As a matter of fact, some theatre artists never get that “perfect show.”  Most veteran theater artists will admit that theatre is a hard life and recommend to young hopefuls that if you can do anything else, do it.  Only go into theater if you absolutely can’t wrap your mind around doing anything else.

If you have committed yourself to traveling this road, then you have accepted the fact that there will be many bumps in road.  Those bumps are called auditions.  You have to get over them to get where you are going.  So, it is better to be prepared.

A major step in that preparation is to take auditions as a game.  If you look at the casting director as a troll barring your way, you are going to fail.  You must look at the casting director as a key-master in a RP game who sometimes give the key and sometimes doesn’t.  You can’t take it personally! You must just do your best and look for an opportunity to roll the dice again.  If you take it personally, the rejection will wear you down and burn you out.

Auditions are stressful for actors.  But of course you already know that.  But did you know that auditions are stressful for directors, too?  There is an adage among directors that goes: “Ninety percent of the director’s job is in the casting.  The other 10% is in making up for the mistakes you made in casting.”  Over the years I have found this to be pretty true, especially in live theatre.

A director in film exercises a lot of control with how he shoots and edits the film.  In a stage production, the director guides the actors and calls the shots in rehearsal, but when the show opens the actor is in the driver’s seat.  The director is no longer in control.  This makes directors very nervous. (Did I just let the cat out of the bag?)  So, in casting, the director is looking for actors who are talented, fit the parts, easy to work with and can be trusted to carry out the director’s vision.  A tall order!  It’s important for you to understand this when approaching auditioning.  If you do, a lot of what I am going to tell you will make perfect sense.

In the interest of equal time, I’d love to hear from actors about their own “Do’s & Don’t’s” for casting people. (Keep it clean, please.) So, add your comments.  In my next installment I will discuss an expert’s system for getting through the stress of auditions.


Doctor M.

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Auditioning is a skill.

Hi, I’m Mary McGinley, producing artistic director of the Carolinian Shakespeare Festival.  I’ve been in charge of casting for the festival for the past 11 years.  Before that I worked in the casting departments at a variety of regional theaters.  I ‘m also a director with 30 years experience and a terminal degree in Directing (=Ph.D.) so you can call me “Doctor.” Furthermore, over the years I have worked with some of the top casting directors in the country.

Auditioning is a skill that can be learned, or at least developed. (Talent is another thing.) Some actors just complain: “I’m just not a good auditioner.”  Well, that is part of your job.  If you are going to be an actor, you are going to have to learn how to audition.  So face the fact and buckle down.

Every year I see hundreds of actors in interviews and auditions.  I know an audition is a harrowing experience for actors.  Let me tell you that its not that great for me either.  I really feel for you.  I’m thrilled when I see a good audition and I’m frustrated when an actor blows it by ignoring simple things.  I always come out of auditions saying to myself: “I need to write a book, to stop actors from doing stupid things and get them to show me how good they can be.”

My free ebook is coming soon, so I hope you will subscribe to get that for free. I don’t have a dvd or a course of classes to sell you.  That’s not what this is site is about.  Remember, I really want you to be good! (My reward will be getting to work with great actors in the future.


Doctor M.

PS. The Carolinian Shakespeare Festival is now accepting submissions for auditions for “As You Like It.”  See the website for details:

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