Acting auditions for MFA programs can be scary. Many actors have the same questions and concerns. How do acting auditions work? How to a have great audition? However, acting auditions are not as scary as they may seem. An essential part of the industry, MFA acting auditions are something every actor must learn to master.
Many actors who work with me struggle with one thing in particular…
Confidence in Acting Auditions
Make the room your own. From the moment you step into the audition room, that time is yours. You spent an average of $50 for the application fee and you are paying for the time in the audition room. Unless it’s an URTA audition, you have a good amount of time to showcase what you can do as an actor. Take advantage of it.
One of the best audition tips I have received truly has to do with the way you enter a room. It may be surprising, but many actors open a door timidly, only to turn their back on the judges behind the table in order to gently close the door. This kind of act signals to the moderator of the audition that you are there to please them. You are not; you are there to do your work. When you first walk into acting auditions, open the door confidently, let it close on its own behind you like you would any other door you walk through on a daily basis.
The judges want to see you and how you act, not what you think they want. You don’t know what they want and most times neither do they. Just be yourself. Yes, of course say hello, be kind, but also stay focused. You are there to act. You are selling your brand; from the minute you enter the room, make an impression.
How to Prepare for an Audition
Visualize. For the months, weeks and days leading up to your audition, take the necessary time to visualize your audition day. If possible (should you wish to do it) close your eyes and envision yourself walking up to the audition building. Imagine the successful audition day from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you walk into the audition room. How do you want to look? Hair style, wardrobe, etc.? How do you imagine your selected audition pieces being received? The process of auditioning introduces many uncertainties and problems that actors cannot control. With so many factors beyond an actor’s control, the ability to focus on what you can control will be the difference maker for the outcome of your audition season and ultimately, your life and career.
Do your research! Make sure to research the program you are auditioning for as best you can. This means that you know who the faculty are, their names, positions, what they teach, etc. You should also have knowledge of any notable alumni and their work. Also, research the environment of your audition to minimize the amount of distractions or surprises that arise on your audition day. Not knowing which subway line is best to take can cost you time. Being unclear of the proper building entrance for your acting auditions can cause you stress. Do not sabotage yourself.
Be as prepared as you can be. It will only serve you and allow you to relax. The ability to remain as relaxed as you can be is essential to success in these acting auditions. Added stress that actors encounter from not being prepared can cost them an audition. You get one shot at this, take the best one you can!
How many monologues should I prepare?
You can never be too prepared. Always be ready to perform more than the minimum amount of monologues requested for any audition. Rehearse regularly to know them extremely well in case you are asked to present alternative material to what the person behind the table initially asked for. For instance, when I was preparing for my MFA auditions, I spent nearly two years choosing and rehearsing my pieces. Once I was auditioning, I had as many as contemporary and classical 12 pieces to choose from.
To audition for the American Conservatory Theater MFA program, you have to do two monologues, one classical and one contemporary, that contrast in mood and tone (one from a classical verse play and one from a contemporary play). According to their website, sonnets, poems, songs, and other nondramatic materials are not acceptable. This is actually pretty standard for most MFA programs. However, in the case there are individual differences, always check the website of the program you are applying to. The audition must be no more than four minutes in length (On average, 2 minutes per monologue to allot time for an interview)
Auditioning is like Dating
Don’t “fit in”. Most actors enter an audition trying to “fit” an MFA program, though they seldom realize their power in the situation. Before I auditioned for the American Conservatory Theater, all I remember thinking was “is this school a good fit for me?” I thought to myself…”let’s find out” as I opened the door, prepared to make the room my own. The door swung shut behind me as I entered with confidence, energy and unafraid to be my best self. Don’t fit in… stand out!
There were two women who were conducting the audition for the American Conservatory Theater. I greeted them warmly, but stayed focused on two things: playing my actions and staying in the moment. I felt grounded during my soliloquy and witnessed the judges smile and sit back while they observed my work. So far, so good.
Then came the second piece; a comedic monologue. When I had auditioned for Yale and Rutgers, the primary comedic piece I performed had not adequately showcased my range and did not receive a callback. I had a feeling in my gut that doing a different monologue would increase my chances of getting a callback. In hindsight, it certainly was a risk, but I had to take away the pressure as best I could and trusting my decision is what I chose to do. All I needed to do now was breathe into my second piece.
The truth about of Relaxation
Just breathe. I knew this other comedic piece well, but I had not performed it in front of another person in at least a year. My nerves were certainly beginning to creep up and my breathing shallowed. Many actors experience a similar response, whether it be nervousness, adrenaline or excitement before performing. When this response occurs, the simplest thing an actor can do is to come back to their breath. Holding one’s breath and lack of relaxation can deter an otherwise great performance.
Stage fright. It even happens to me. Surely enough, it happens to some of the greatest actors in the world. Fear is common and happens to almost everyone, but how an actor deals with fear is what truly elevates their performance. My mentor Steven Lantz-Gefroh shares so many audition tips with his students. One of them is the idea of “admitting the fear” before acting auditions. Before all acting auditions and performances, I say to myself “I am afraid and its okay.” Why does it work for me? Admitting the fear to yourself when experiencing some form of stage fright allows you as the actor to start your performance with something truthful. Try it the next time you are nervous and you may notice that acknowledging your fear is the first step to conquering it. However, truthfully, you should always strive to be “word perfect” in your monologues.
What does “Word Perfect” mean?
Being word perfect means that, as an actor, it is your job to have the text of a monologue completely memorized. This also means that you are not neglecting, adding, or substituting any words other than what the playwright has written. A playwright dedicates so much time writing and revising their writing countless times. Each word is chosen carefully and for good reason. Respect their work and honor it by being word perfect. This is especially so when performing a Shakespearean text. Be word perfect for your classical monologue, down to the punctuation. Mostly everyone who is teaching at an MFA acting program knows them (or, at least, they should!)
Play your actions. Another one of my mentor’s audition tips? Steven Lantz-Gefroh always says to “play your actions.” Actions, also known as a tactic, are used by actors to help attain their objectives in the scene. The more specific an action is, the better. Whenever I am having difficulty selecting an action to play on a line of a character’s text, I consult The Actors Thesaurus. It’s only about $12 to purchase on Amazon, but I truly think it can be an actors best friend. If you need help understanding what actions are, you can also consult a trusted resource, Backstage.com and check out this article on actions.
The Actor’s Process for Acting Auditions
Treat every audition as you would a rehearsal. Not only will this take some pressure off of you when auditioning, but it will even free you and your instrument up to take risks and to explore!
I am going to be honest, for some acting auditions, you may find that what you were rehearsing that day did not work as well as you initially thought, however, in the long run, you will be better for it on all of your auditions. An actor is always in the process of discovery and the judges behind an audition table want to see a working actor. You are auditioning for an acting program that offers a Masters in Fine Arts. We don’t call them “plays” for no reason. So… play!
When I finished my pieces, both judges laughed. They both really seemed to have enjoyed my work and, to my surprise, they even said to me that they enjoyed my work. Prior to my audition for The American Conservatory Theater, I had not yet received an openly positive response for any of my monologues. Remember, the fact that someone reacts positively to your work is not necessarily an indication that an audition is successful. Stay in your lane and do your work. Use the energy the audience gives you but do not let it deter you.
Be honest. It is the actors job to be honest at all times, and not just during the performance. Never lie about anything, whether it be on your resume or when answering a question after an audition. The acting world is small, and because everyone is connected, word will travel fast. Telling a lie can potentially hurt your career. Also, be who you are. You want people to work with the real you, not with who you want them to perceive you to be. It may be difficult, but being your truest self is the quickest way to attaining success in this industry.
After I finished performing, the judges asked me a few questions about why I love acting and my goals. I wanted to ask something, but because this was unchartered territory, I decided to opt out. When my work is appreciated, it means more to me than actually getting the end of day callback.
Getting the Callback
How to get the callback. Before my audition for The American Conservatory Theater, I was so focused on actually getting accepted to an MFA acting program, that I was not very focused on enjoying the process during my acting auditions. As I said above, these programs want to see you…not who you want them to think you are. So…what made my audition for The American Conservatory Theater different? I genuinely wanted to do good work that I was proud of and present the character as truthfully as possible. The reason I got the callback was because I did not focused on getting in– I was focused on having fun, discovering the character, and allowing myself to play.
On your next audition, focus on the work, the character and the circumstances of the scene or piece you are performing. Your job as an actor is not to book the job; it is to audition and breathe life into the character. Love what you get to do every day, love the pieces you choose to perform and be grateful for the opportunity to act! You cannot fake passion, and casting directors and MFA audition judges always know the difference.
I went outside and realized that I was the last name of the afternoon session to audition for ACT. Immediately, a callback list was posted. I could not believe it. My name had been written down among 4 other names. I kept my external composure, but internally I was ecstatic. I called my father immediately.
Follow your Actor Intuition
Trust your instincts. There are going to be moments where you need to trust your gut. Plain and simple. As long as the decision is appropriate and safe, allow yourself to freely follow your impulse on acting auditions. Based on previous lack of success, I have now realized how important actor’s intuition is during acting auditions. If I hadn’t trusted my instincts for The American Conservatory Theater MFA audition process, I most likely would not have reached the callback portion of the audition day. I am proud that I made the decision that best showed off my range as an actor.
Learn from failure. I thought programs like Yale were the end-all-be-all. They are not. No program is. What truly matters is that you follow your intuition; go to the program that believes in you as much as you believe in it. Thank goodness Yale rejected me. If I had received a callback at Yale, I never would have re-evaluated my choice of monologues that got me my first callback at ACT. And this callback, and the audition wisdom I had just received, would lead to much more success for me during the rest of my MFA audition tour.
Which brings me to the last of my audition tips…
Rejection from Acting Auditions
Rejection is not actually a bad thing. It’s a great thing. The only bad thing about rejection is the way most actors react to it. Be the actor who uses rejection to empower their next move, their next audition and, ultimately, their next performance. If you focus on a rejection, you will miss the next opportunity to succeed, because you will not be paying attention. All acting auditions are important. Pay attention. Learn from failure. Stay focused. And give it 100%.