Auditions: film, TV, commercials and radio

After you have completed your drama course the auditioning process continues. Although, hopefully, part of your acting life will be spent working in films and television, it should be stressed that the most successful actors and actresses are generally those who have had a good drama school training and/or theatre experience.

Of course there are exceptions to this. Models have been given leads in films and recently a casting director interviewed in a magazine described how she had discovered a marvellous looking young man outside a coffee house and asked him if he would be interested in playing the lead in a film she was casting.

However, if you have had a solid stage training, have worked on your voice and movement, and had the opportunity of developing various characters and learning to play opposite other actors without falling over the furniture, you stand a better chance of gaining professional employment and staying in the ‘business’.

Even from a practical point of view, at the end of your drama school training you will be performing in front of agents and casting directors in your final productions, and stand a chance of being selected for representation or given the opportunity of auditioning for a professional theatre company. Offers of film or television work usually come because someone has seen you performing on stage in the first place. Very few film and television directors are going to take a risk on casting a young actor or actress, even in a small part, with no experience whatsoever – and the easiest way to gain this experience is via drama school and/or the theatre. ‘Getting a start’ can be a major problem, but by now you should have a fairly wide range of audition speeches, gathered together over your two or three years as a student.

Films

A film director looks for a much smaller-scale performance, and very often you won’t even be considered unless you are very near to, or ‘are’, the character he is looking for. At a first interview you may be asked to ‘read’ and then perhaps ‘read’ again on video. The director will usually ask an actor to do ‘less’ not ‘more’, and sometimes it can be difficult to adjust to this if you have been working consistently in the theatre giving a much broader performance i.e. using more voice, more movement and bigger gestures. If you are called back, try to learn the lines so that you don’t have to keep looking down at the script, or better still, not look at it at all. As you get closer to getting the part, watch that you don’t tense up. Relaxation now becomes of prime importance. Enjoy playing the scene and forget how much you want the part – keep it loose and relaxed.

Television

You will more than likely be expected to ‘read’ at a television audition, unless the director and casting director already know your work. As with films, you are mostly required to scale down your performance. Don’t be hurried into a reading. Ask if you can have at least a minute to look through the part. Very often you will be given a script to take away and study and come back again a few days later. Here again, suitability counts more than capability, and you are sometimes only cast because you come from that area or part of the world where the action is set. This is particularly so with documentaries, dramatisations of crime, reports, etc.

Commercials

It has been said that the success rate for ‘Commercial Auditions’ is about one in 20. Advertisers like to have lots of actors to choose from, so it’s as well to bear this in mind and not be too down-hearted if you don’t come away with the job! When you arrive for your appointment you will most likely be handed a script or story line and asked to study it in the waiting room until called. If you have lines to say, try to familiarise yourself with them as much as possible. You will almost certainly be videoed, and remember your face is important – not the top of your head.

These auditions can be a bizarre experience. Some years ago a friend of mine was ‘put up’ for an egg commercial. She was shown into a large boardroom with a long polished table, around which sat the production team and the advertisers. There was a pair of flippers on the table and she was asked to put these on and jump around the room saying, ‘I’m an egg chick. Eggs are cheap this week.’ Yes, actors have to be prepared for anything!

Radio

For commercial recordings and voice-overs, either on television or radio, you will be asked to ‘read’ – sometimes in an office, or in a small sound studio in front of a microphone. It may be for a specific job, or a general audition where your tape is then filed for future reference and played through when the company are looking for a particular voice for a particular production.

If you are auditioning for BBC Radio Drama, you are required to present two, preferably contrasting, speeches of about a minute each. Auditions are always held in a studio in front of a microphone, with either one or two drama producers listening to you in the sound box. You will be given approximately five minutes on tape and should use some of this time to give short examples of accents and dialects in order to show your versatility, although this is not obligatory. These have to be good; if you slip up on an accent on radio, it can be so horribly obvious.

From Actresses' Audition Speeches, Second Edition, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)