These tools like the tools of any other trade must be part of your daily practice routine. The more time you spend perfecting your skills the better the results.
Casting directors have specific criteria for hiring. Those with whom I’ve had an opportunity to speak look for spontaneity, improvisational feel, living in the moment, sense of urgency, bold choices. Having the temperament, and physical quality necessary to play a role is innate. Learning the craft is not. It takes much more than looks to sustain a career.
Let’s take a look at a specific approach that helps to make for successful auditions.
Actors must have a burning curiosity and vivid imagination. As you set down to work on your script you must develop the ability to ask questions that will enable you to make choices that are supported by the script. Who are you? Where are you? When does the play take place? What is the year? The season? Who are you dealing with from moment to moment (you must know your relationship to the other character(s) in the play) are questions that require answers. Stella Adler said, “Where you are is who you are.” This does not just refer to the immediate place effecting your behavior. You must know in what time period you are living. What are the social dictates of that time? Customs? Language? Attitudes? Political climate? Good writers present you with specific relationships to people, places, things and events and you have to bring meaning to all of them.
When you get your “sides”, establish what has “just happened” or what you have “just found out” that has provoked your specific “point of view”. You cannot work in a vacuum or guess your way to effective choices. The writer has presented you with a specific situation. It’s your responsibility to determine a clear “point of view” from square one. Knowing where you have come from, what you have just found out or what has just happened, gives you a specific starting point. When you have established your point of view, attach a reason to it. We feel things for reasons. Know why you feel the way you feel.
Once your point of view is clear to you, figure out what you are doing. Work out loud and listen to your body. That is how you find the meanings to the moments. Through instinct, not intellect. Just as with your point of view, when you have found your action, attach a reason to it. We do what we do for reasons. Make sure the reason is specific. “Generality is the enemy of art”. -Konstantin Stanislavsky
Get a feel for the type of character you are portraying. Is the character inside of you? Character, according to Elia Kazan “is not an abstraction”. It must be inside of you. What type of character are you portraying? Cruel, kind, sensitive, aggressive? In order to play truthfully you must understand your character and the world he/she inhabits like you know your own. All the relationships to people, places, things and events suggested by the writer must be endowed with meaning. If it doesn’t mean anything to you it won’t mean anything to anyone else. Probe your text for clues. Sniff them out like a bloodhound. Leave no stone unturned. “God is in the details.”
Next on your to-do list is to determine your objective. Every character wants/needs something in life. In drama what you want is big. There are no casual moments. Conflict is the result of 2 forces in direct opposition to one another struggling to accomplish a task. Find out what you want from the other person in the scene and pursue it with your heart and soul. This is what Meisner meant by “doing fully”. No matter if it’s comedy or tragedy, the objectives drive you from moment to moment, beat to beat, and scene to scene.
Stakes are directly connected to the objective. What’s at stake if you don’t get what you want? The writer has created the given imaginary circumstances. Find the stakes and make them your own. Raise the stakes as high as you can to create urgency. Example: A man who is a multi-millionaire with no pressing financial issues has nothing to lose by placing $1,000 down on a longshot at the Kentucy Derby. Another man that owes a loanshark $5,000, has 2 days to pay and bets his last $1,000 on the same longshot is in dire straights if his horse doesn’t win. Which man has more to lose? When you raise the stakes make sure as in all your work that you make it personal. This is what Meisner meant by the “element of truth”.
A three dimensional character has a specific history. Emotional, psychological, and physical. Create a short backstory that will enable you to imagine the circumstances and events that affected your characters life and made them the person that they are in the present. Create specific memories that come from your creative imagination. If you are moved by the images you have created they will become a part of your work.
Acting is “doing”, and “working off” the other person. When all of your attention is on your partner/the reader, you are no longer watching yourself. You are now able to remain open and vulnerable to the “pinch”. In working this way false movements like excessive blinking, face acting, huffing and puffing, overdoing, making 2 moments out of 1, and practicing “line readings are eliminated.
You can bring yourself to life in a variety of ways using your creative imagination. The magic “as if” is a necessary tool that provides you with the ability to make imaginary objects real and behavior specific. This is the powerful means by which you bring your creative juices into play. Combining the “element of truth” and your creative imagination yields powerful results.
Words of advice: These days if you are provided with enough time to prepare for your audition you can learn your lines so that you are off book (off the page) for your audition. It is expected that you will know your lines if you have been given ample time to prepare.
If your audition is on camera make sure the reader is close to the camera. You don’t want your work to get lost by working at a poor camera angle, so get the reader close.
If you are doing a cold reading make sure you have your first line of dialogue memorized and your full attention is on the reader. Acting is doing and working off. Unless you have an organic reason to move, keep all your attention on the reader. The wonderful director Don Siegel said, “The hardest thing for an actor to do is to be still and emotionally full.” Stillness is a key when you are in close-ups. The camera picks up any false move you make so eliminate arbitrary movement from your work. There are acting classes in New York City that provide the type of training that is required to achieve truthful results, none better than the Meisner Technique.
Unless you have a photographic memory you won’t be able to learn all your lines at a cold reading. It requires a good deal of practice to learn how to get of the page onto the reader. If you are glued to your script you are in trouble as far as impressing the casting directors is concerned.
Your work must have an improvisational feel even if you are working with a script, so not only do you have to get off the page and onto the object of your behavior, your pacing and fluency must possess a human quality. All these elements must flow from your core for your work to be alive and full.
Face acting i.e. frowning, squinting, moving arbitrarily, unnecessary huffing and puffing, anticipating, predetermined line readings, making 2 moments out of 1, will cast you in a bad light with the casting people. Don’t rush to play a result. Learn to work from that truthful place that breathes life into your work.
A full emotional preparation which is an essential element in the construction of the first moment, provides you the perfect starting point. There are any number of ways to bring yourself to life. Cultivation and nurturing of the creative imagination is one sure way and cannot be taken for granted. Your imagination is an extremely powerful tool that has a profound impact on your work. It cannot be overlooked.
When you have put all the pieces of the audition puzzle together you are well on your way to having a successful audition. In time if you take your craft seriously you will be able to develop the skills that are a necessity for working on the professional level.
The outline I have provided in this article is just that. It is not a substitute for ongoing training. If you have not established an effective technique you will not be able to approach your auditions with authority and confidence.
I offer ongoing classes in the Meisner Technique, scene study/audition technique/cold reading, private one-on-one coaching, private Skype and FaceTime coaching, monologue coaching, workshops. Classes are held in New York City at The Players Theatre.