Matthew Hewitt trained as an actor at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School 1991 – 1994 and has since worked professionally in London’s West End, Mainstream television and A1 tours performing in plays and musical theatre. He now lives in Lincoln, teaches Performing Arts at Grantham College and writes blogs for young actors.
Actors might as-well just accept it right now – auditions and audition technique makes or breaks your career. Have I ever mastered this all important audition process? Not by a long way even at 46 years old but it does get easier and you can gain some insight into that all-consuming question ‘What are they looking for?’
1. Don’t Act.
When I was accepted into The Bristol Old Vic back in 1991 they told me ‘Don’t act – don’t ever act, stop acting!”’ Slightly confusing advice for an 18 year old actor who was paying thousands of pounds to learn how to act. It has taken a long time and many disappointments to fully understand why we shouldn’t ‘act’ in an audition.
Those sitting on the other side of the table at auditions will often look for actors to simply recreate life but honestly. Life is interesting, acting isn’t. The best actors know that life is a simply series of re-actions and therefore acting is also just that. What happens in life doesn’t necessarily depend on you so what you do on stage doesn’t either. Don’t perform, don’t over-act, they are not interested how well you can over-act but they are interested in how truthful you are, how real you are as an actor and a human being - can you re-create life honestly? Even Panto is based on truth and I should know! So don’t ‘fill the space.’ Don’t shout, don’t swear for the sake of swearing, it won’t shock anyone they’ve seen it all before, don’t pretend to be someone who you aren’t, they want to see who you are – just be real and truthful, just stand there and deliver the lines, find out the key emotion of the speech (which is usually contained in the final 3 lines by the way) and don’t ‘act’ that emotion, just ‘know’ what it is and it will be there in your lines.
When I worked with Helen Mirren (sorry to name drop but there you go) she told me that an actor should ‘change the atmosphere of a room’ when delivering a monologue – how are you going to do that other than by truth and honesty, feel it, don’t think it and trust yourself that it’s enough.
Does that sound simple? Probably yes but how many of us can say that we are always prepared to the best of our ability? I went along to an audition some years ago now for a production of Into the Woods at The Haymarket Theatre in Leicester. I was told to prepare a musical theatre song written from 1970 onwards and a speech of my choosing. My speech I thought went swimmingly and so did the song. I was then asked by the director of the show when ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story was written – 1957 was my answer – ‘Were you told that I wanted a song 1970 onwards?’ he asked – ‘Yes’ was my reply – his next words were ‘Goodbye.’ I didn’t get the job.
The audition is at 1pm means that it is at 1pm – not 1.10pm! Where something that you can move in means wear something that you can move in – not jeans! Prepare 2 classical and 2 contemporary speeches means just that, not prepare 2 contemporary speeches, one Shakespeare and hope that they don’t ask for the second Shakespeare! You’d be amazed. And prepare a song from 1970 onwards means……..you get the point.
3. Do it first – then ask questions.
Directors, casting directors and the like will sometimes ask you to do the strangest things – if they ask you to re-do your Hamlet speech as a drunken Irish Dwarf playing snooker whilst training a pig to play a banjo then do it! Try it – they are not really interested in your portrayal of the above banjo pig training Hamlet but they often want to see just how directable you are. Not all actors are directable. I have hung up my acting boots and now I spend my life directing at a professional and amateur level, you would be surprised as to how many actors struggle to take and retain direction, you have to, it’s a part of your craft, so by all means ask questions, enquire as to the point of the silly exercise that someone has just put you through at the audition, directors like to be challenged, at-least the good one’s do, but experience first, do it first, then ask – the other way round is a big no no no.
4. Be Yourself and be Nice.
Please remember to be a nice person my friends! These casting folk are meeting you for the first time and first impressions do count and count a great deal. You can be the best actor on the planet but if people don’t want to work with you they won’t employ you. Your audition panel will probably all meet up at the end of the day and discuss who they want and why – it takes just one person to say ‘I don’t think I like him’ and you’re doomed. They have to work with you for the next month, possibly the next year or in the case of a Drama School the next 3 years, do you honestly think they want to work for that period of time with someone who is arrogant, or rude, or egotistical – let me tell you for certain sure they don’t! And please don’t put on an act and make out that you’re something or someone who you aren’t, they will see through you in an instant. An audition panel need to see and get to know who you really are, yes auditions are nervous encounters but they will expect you to be nervous, it shows you care, but nerves aside ask yourself whether you would employ someone to work closely with you when you have no idea of who they are?
5. If all else fails lie.
Yes, you read it correctly – lie. I know it’s a little contradictory of what I’ve just stated above and I’m not saying that you’re CV should be total fabrication, neither am I telling you to waltz into an audition claiming that you have Gregory Doran on hold, Emma Rice in your car and Rufus Norris is not only your next door neighbour but also your blood brother, but sometimes a little white lie does no harm. My friend who has now been on Emmerdale for the past fifteen years or so once auditioned, before his Emmerdale days, for a prime-time Saturday night TV show called ‘Soldier Soldier.’ He had recently finished filming a short 10 minute student film called ‘Skin,’ when asked what he’d been up to he told the audition panel that he had recently finished filming a feature film called ‘Skin’ where the lead roles were played by Ewan Mcgregor, Pete Postlethwaite, Ray Winstone and himself. Not only did he get his 3 episodes of Soldier Soldier but when the casting director called his agent she said ‘Would he mind only doing 3 episodes as we know he’s just finished a huge feature film!’ Up to you guys and girls but sometimes a little lie here and there does no harm.
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