Acting Tips for Beginners: What I learned from my MFA audition tour

Many students and actors ask me for the same acting tips. The most common question…

How should I prepare for an audition?

No Distractions. If you are auditioning for graduate school, or really any audition in general, do not allow for any distractions. Stay focused on your work, warm-up before you get to the audition location, and always present yourself as a professional. The moment you enter the building, your audition has begun. You never know who is watching so be prepared and stay focused.

I had already auditioned for The Yale School of Drama, The Actors Studio Drama School and The Mason Gross School of The Arts at Rutgers University

prior to my audition for The American Conservatory Theater. Now, what made this audition for The American Conservatory Theater different?

End of Day Callback

It was the  first of many ‘End of Day’ callbacks I was about to experience over the approaching months. The acting tips I learned because of this experience absolutely changed the outcome of all my MFA auditions.

First, I want to tell you about what the atmosphere was like before my audition. To start, it was a cold afternoon. My father, who accompanied me on every audition, gave me a hug, wished me luck and watched me cross the street to enter the audition building. As I opened a glass door I saw a group of applicants, crowded in what seemed like a waiting room area. They were all chatting, laughing or watching videos on their phones. 

As I was walking further down the hall, I remember seeing the classy Edi Gathegi, (NYU Grad. Acting Class of 2005) who must have been assisting or sitting in on NYU’s auditions. He walked out of the general lobby area, passed the dozens of other applicants, passed me and probably went to grab lunch. No one else besides me seemed to notice Gathegi, but I immediately recognized him. 

Remember: On any audition, be professional.

The thing is, I don’t get starstruck and I didn’t know much of his film credits besides his work in the Twilight film series and X-Men: First Class. However, what I knew was that MFA acting training was a serious business. If you take advantage of the resources that these programs offer, it can lead to more opportunities. Those opportunities, if taken advantage of, can lead to a lucrative career in theater, TV and film. And I wanted to achieve a successful career in all three mediums. In order to do that, I needed to focus on one thing and one thing only: The audition.

Overwhelmed, I decided to head to the one place I felt I could go to in order to feel centered: the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and made sure I looked as presentable as possible…

Now before I go any further, I want to address a common question that many students have when preparing for these auditions. From my research, the most frequently asked question in regards to auditions is…

What should I wear to an audition?

Be Comfortable. You should wear something comfortable and something you think showcases your type and brand most successfully.

Another way of evaluating this decision is to ask yourself,”is this something I would wear on a date?” If it’s not something you would wear on a date, you probably shouldn’t wear it to an audition. Wear something you love and that you feel good in. An outfit that reflects how you wish to be perceived. First impressions are everything in the dating world, and so is honesty. The same is true for auditions. So, go in there and be your best self.

Oh and remember to have fun. 

Feeling unconfident with one of my comedic monologues, I was pacing back and forth trying to distract myself and re-focus. Sometimes before an audition, especially Grad School auditions, when the stakes are so high (at least, they’re high if you’ve been prepping for two years like I had) I need to remember to breathe and, most importantly, I must stay in the moment. With the weight of the rejection from YSD looming in the back of my mind, it was fair to say I was experiencing some difficulty focusing. I remember habitually pulling out my phone, looking down at the screen and noticing that I had a missed call from a fellow actor: my good friend, Peter Tarantino.

Breathe, relax and have fun!

Peter and I go way back to my first years in college and training with Steven Lantz-Gefroh. Besides helping me out with acting tips, Peter always knows how to make me laugh so it was a relief he had called. I called him back and he immediately answered “Bruthaaaaa. What’s up?!”. And we got to talking, and as always, I began to laugh. The conversation turned to my audition for ACT; how I was extremely nervous about this comedic monologue that did not do so well at my audition for Yale. In my opinion, I didn’t think it did so well at Rutgers (The Actors Studio Drama School audition is the only MFA Acting Program that asks for a scene, not monologues. I actually think they have the best audition process for this reason and wish all MFA programs offered the same option for applicants).

Trust is Everything!

Follow your intuition! As an actor you must follow your instincts and impulses, (as long as they are safe) and trust your instrument. If you’ve done the work, let it go and stay in the moment. Trust that all the work you’ve done and the acting tips you’ve learned, will reveal themselves in your performance. The lighthearted conversation with my friend sparked something in my gut; It was telling me to replace my comedic monologue. I listened and decided to do a monologue I loved to perform back when Peter and I were in college. It was a funny monologue, but not vulgar like the piece I had done for Yale . I hadn’t considered this replacement monologue to be suitable for an MFA audition. That perception turned out to be a silly one… 

Monologue Acting Tips

Don’t judge your monologues. Of course, research and do as much work as you can to find pieces that are appropriate for you and your type. At the end of the day, if it’s a monologue that you LOVE to do and HAVE FUN doing, then by all means, DO IT. Don’t worry about what others say, think or believe in… as long as you believe in the piece, you will be the better for it.

I guess anyone would have felt nervous (and I was), but I actually remembered what my coach Steven Lantz-Gefroh would tell me back home. After a performance as Eddie in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, Gefroh asked me why I was nervous after a particular performance. I was more than nervous, I felt ashamed of how I did on stage, but Gef calmed me down and gave me a piece of advice, perhaps one the best acting tips I have ever been taught. He said “admit the fear to yourself.” I still use all the acting tips Gef has taught me. As actors, we strive to be truthful on stage. Admitting I am afraid before I enter an audition room helps me start with truth.

Do all actors get nervous before they get on stage?

The truth is, whether its admitted or not…

Every actor gets nervous…some just deal with nerves better than others. It’s a skill that has to be cultivated. Before anything you do in acting, whether it be an audition, rehearsal or performance… BREATHE and RELAX. An actor’s body, their movement and sensitivity, their instrument, cannot be tense in order to work at its best, most honest level. If a person stops breathing in life, they will cease to live. The same thing happens to an actor’s performance when they hold their breath on stage… the performance dies. 

I admitted the fear, trusted my intuition, relaxed my breathing and decided to go with my “old” comedic monologue. At this point, I knew I had been rejected from The Yale School of Drama and although I did not have an official rejection from the other two schools, the weight of The Yale School of Drama’s rejection really began to take its toll on my confidence going into my audition. Amazingly, this ended up being a blessing in disguise…

I walked up to the audition room and saw the callback list from the morning session. There were less than 10 names on it. I spoke to the moderator, the audition began and I got to work.

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