Audition Advice

DCL production, photo by Mark Duffield, 2011
Image: Mark Duffield

Anne Henderson, Drama Centre London Casting Adviser, offers these tips to help you feel comfortable and give your best at the audition.

In a career spanning over 30 years, Anne Henderson has cast over 100 film and television productions, from  the films, 'Highlander' and 'Santa Claus, The Movie', TV  series 'House of Cards' and 'Jeeves and Wooster' to 'Black Watch' in the theatre.  She is currently the Casting Director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

How should I choose my pieces?

  • The most important thing is your choice of pieces. If a school specifies a list of classical pieces, then you must choose from the list for that school, but you should have at least one other classical piece, which you can do for other schools. Remember, there is nothing more boring for the panel than seeing endless auditionees perform the same piece one after the other.
  • Classical does not just mean Shakespeare – look at his contemporaries as well. It is acceptable to do Shakespeare in a regional accent – do not affect an RP accent if you are uncomfortable with it.
  • For your contemporary piece, if you have a regional accent, then choose a piece in that accent – you will feel more comfortable in your own accent rather than worrying about another accent. If you do change the accent of the character, check that it hasn’t altered the essence of the piece: Tennessee Williams does not work in a London accent, the accent of the Deep South is integral to his characters. Some scripts, however, work perfectly well in different accents.
  • For both your pieces, you should choose a character that is close in age to you. 
  • Do not change the gender of a character – it is a very difficult task that you have taken on, trying to persuade a panel in a bare room that you have transformed yourself into someone else; don’t make your life more difficult by having to try and persuade them that you have changed gender as well.
  • Do not restrict your modern choices to theatre; have a look at film and TV scripts – there is a lot of good writing there by well-established writers. However, avoid well-known films and TV – you do not want your performance to be compared with that of the established actor who created the role.
  • Try to avoid pieces with content that is too much ‘in your face’ – the important thing is your performance, not the ‘daring’ content of the monologue.
  • It is acceptable to choose your pieces from a book of monologues, but once you have chosen your pieces it is essential that you read the plays and understand how the monologue fits into the overall piece.
  • Remember that what you are trying to do is impress us with your talent, so do not use the audition as a place to experiment. Choose pieces with which you are comfortable and which will show you at your best.

Before the audition

  • Find out as much as you can about the school before you audition so that you can talk about your reasons for wanting to go to a particular school. Read the Prospectus carefully, consult the web site in detail, attend Open Days and performances if you can and research the school on the Internet - very often former students give interviews which can hold interesting information about their experiences at a particular school.
  • Arrive early for your audition. It is better to arrive half an hour early than half an hour late. So give yourself plenty of time and remember that trains and tubes don’t always run on schedule.
  • Find out the exact location of your audition and make sure you know how to get there - do not leave it till the last minute.

In the audition

  • If you like to do some sort of warm up/prep for your piece, do this before you enter the audition space.
  • If you wish to address the speech directly to the panel, ask them if that is acceptable. If it is not, place your eye-line just above their heads or slightly to the side, but remember that they want to see your face and not your profile.
  • If you require tables or chairs, move them into place and set up your scene. It is often helpful to place a chair where the person you are addressing is sitting, so that your eye-line is correct and they don’t appear to be on the floor.
  • Don’t worry about remembering your lines - if you have done enough preparation and you are in character, they will come automatically. But remember the old actors’ saying: “it is not how well you know the text, but how long.” The longer you have had a text under your belt, the more comfortable you will feel performing it. Avoid changing pieces at the last moment and do not replace a well-rehearsed speech with something you have learned recently.
  • If you start your piece and it goes wrong, ask if you can start again. We all make mistakes. The panel is not there to catch you out. They want everyone who auditions to be terrific so that they get the best actors into their school.

What should I wear?

  • Girls should be particularly aware of their clothes and how they wear their hair. It is essential that we can see your face so that we can see the emotions you are expressing, so please make sure that your hair is away from your face.
  • If you have tongue or lip piercings, you should consider removing them, as they will distort your vocal quality and it is highly unlikely that your character will have such adornments.
  • Avoid T-shirts or other items of clothing with bold writing – you do not want the panel to be distracted by the message on the T-shirt.
  • If you find it useful to wear something particular for a piece, e.g. a practice skirt, that is acceptable, but do not ‘dress for the part’.
  • If you are recalled to a workshop and improvisation, wear loose fitting clothes and soft shoes, things you can move freely in.

What will happen in the interview?

  • Interviews are designed so that you may tell the panel about your professional aspirations, your reasons for wanting to study at a drama conservatoire and your awareness of the professions you seek to enter.
  • Much of the discussion will seek to ascertain whether a particular school can actually offer you the things you seek. Think carefully beforehand about what you want to achieve through professional training. Consider both your strengths (it is important to know what you are good at and to say it confidently); as well as those things you may need to improve on.
  • Find out as much as you can about the specific ‘philosophy’, techniques and approaches of the school you seek to enter and tell the panel why you think  the school offers skills or approaches which will be useful to you.
  • The interview is a two-way process and you should feel free to discuss with the panel your understanding of the school’s specific profile – they will be very impressed with your research and keen to see that you are aware of ‘what you are letting yourself in for’.
  • Theatre and film are collective efforts – being able to work in a group is important, so the panel will ask you about this, as well as test it in practice in workshops and improvisations.
  • Obviously, if you are asked to "prepare in detail" a text, for example, this doesn't mean "read and skim through it". Directing applicants in particular should read required texts very closely.
  • During your interview, you may be asked to tell the story of the play, to say where it is set and where/when else it could be set, to talk about some of the characters and why they do the things they do. You might be asked if you have seen a production and talk about that - of course if you haven't then you won't, that won't matter. You might talk about the sort of actor you imagine in the roles. Does the play move you? Why?
  • Don’t forget that this is your opportunity to shine. Try and forget about the panel and enjoy yourself – if you are enjoying it, so will we. Be yourself. A play is play.