The Inexistent Secret To Auditioning

(2022 update: original article published April 7, 2016)

We live in a world where everyone has advice to give, and where the occasional “Audition Tips” article pops up every now and again giving people the “Do’s and Don’ts” of auditioning, “Audition Secrets”, “How To”, “Top Ten Audition Mistakes”… I’ve seen articles warning against being “too needy”, asking too many questions, not chewing gum, not talking out of line, not eating and drinking during the audition, waiting your turn to go across the floor…you’ve read some of them, I’m sure.

And my reaction is simply “What??…”

I’m not saying they’re wrong. On the contrary, most are totally correct. But tips like these are so superficial and obvious that it amazes me that people legitimately decide to take the time to write an article about it. We might as well add, “don’t do drugs on the dance floor” and “don’t spit in the director’s face at the audition.” Any performer who needs an advice column to get them to figure these things out is in a sad state of affairs and is in need of much more than an online news article with a few deadly obvious audition tips.

But I do agree in simplifying what could be a mystery to some— and auditions seem to be one of those things that do tend to baffle performing artists, at least to some degree. So simplify we shall, to the best of our ability.

The basic purpose of auditions is actually not so mysterious. The collective “We” (producers, Casting Directors— in a term, “Talent Buyers”) need to find people to fit roles for a particular project or projects.

And that’s it. The basic core of what an audition is about is simply to see what you can do, how well you do it, and how you interpret it artistically. The power of three.

On top of that, yes, there are some superficial requirements: height, weight, hair color, eye color (mainly for cinema), body shape, how you’re dressed, etc. And then there is the question of whether or not your personality and professionalism will fit with whatever team is going to be creating the work.

Globally these things will fall into priorities, and globally it should be like this:

  1. What you can do, how well, and how.
  2. Personality and professionalism
  3. Superficial requirements

Most performing artists go to auditions with the priorities in the wrong order— in my experience, I see a lot of 3, 2, 1, in that order. I’ll be honest, it makes me cringe. On the other hand, I do understand why an artist would go into the audition process thinking that this is the way to go.

But all auditions are not created equal. It is true that different projects need different things to varying degrees, but I think we can safely say that we can globally divide them into two main categories: Stage and Cinema. In Cinema, where much of 1 can be hidden by framing and post-production editing, 3 becomes more important. On stage, where a lot of 3 cannot even be perceived by an audience that is many meters away from you, 1 and 2 become more important.

So you go in thinking about the core, which is number 1. And, since life is short, you go in with the intent to enjoy the audition— meaning that you go in with the absence of intent to self-analyze. You do not go in thinking about how badly you need the job. You do not go in with the fear of feeling judged…

So let’s clear something up right now: you will be judged. Before, during, after, and for the rest of your life. There is no escape.

Therefore instead of striving to avoid feeling judged, we should be striving to be okay with it. Because everyone judges. Everyone. And all the time. Without judging, we would all be continuously floating around in a mire of ambiguity as to how we feel at any given moment, and we would never be able to make any decision about anything.

Even when people justify verbally with the proverbial “I’m not judging you,” you can be confident that this is most certainly not true. Judging everything and everyone is what humans do. It’s how we evaluate the world around us, our likes, dislikes, our preferences, who our friends are. It’s just something we do. Constantly. So my best advice: live with it. And be happy.

Auditions are the base of this profession. Unless you land a full-time company right off the bat (and you love working there enough to stay your entire career), you will be auditioning a lot. So aside from being the best that you can be, etc. (yada, yada, yada), the one thing to keep in mind as you’re auditioning is that no matter how good or how bad you are, there will always be someone who likes you and someone who doesn’t. That’s life. As professionals, we cannot take anything personally.

But there are other factors. Even if everyone at the audition table likes you, they have to take into consideration the actual position they are trying to fill. Above and beyond the basic three priorities I mentioned, there are also a myriad of other details that you will not be privy to. You may simply not fit the position as well as someone else— so they end up cutting you. That’s life too; if you were in their shoes, you would do the same.

Then there are some performer unions that require union companies to hold a certain number of auditions each year, regardless of whether or not they are actually hiring (this one has always puzzled me; I have to admit that I do not see the utility in this).

So once again, we cannot take anything personally.

And, of course, in many cases there are politics they have to consider; most of which you will not be aware of during your audition (and you don’t want to be). To some degree that’s okay too (depending on to what extent it is a decision-maker). But this too is something that humans just do.

So— you go in, you perform honestly, you listen carefully, you follow instructions. You be who you are, you ask the questions you need, no more, no less.

Afterwards, you leave the audition room and you go on with your life, because the rest is out of your hands. You do as common sense and natural human nature dictates. No secret and no special formula. No “Top Ten” pieces of audition advice.

Just a slight inversion of previous priorities.

— Rick Tjia

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