Whether or not you have any acting experience, going to a community theatre audition for the first time can be intimidating. What’s the process? What will you be asked to do? Who will be looking at you?
Hopefully, a little preparation in terms of what to expect will help you have an enjoyable experience.
Expect to do some preparation
If at all possible, read the play. It is surprising how many actors don’t do this, and directors do take note of their lack of preparation. Many groups make a perusal copy available at the local library. If they don’t, try to get a copy at the library or from Amazon or from the company that handles the performance rights to the play.
Some amateur theatres make downloadable sides available online prior to the tryouts. Sides are the excerpts from the play that the actors will read.
If the group does not provide sides and you are unable to get the script, Google the play title and get as much information as you can. There may be a movie version that you can watch. At the very least, reviews of other productions will give you an idea of the play’s theme, style and characters.
Expect the audition to take place almost anywhere
Most groups have an extremely limited budget. For this reason, tryouts may not take place in the theatre where the show will be performed. They may be held in a public space, such as a town hall or library. They may be held in a church basement or boiler room. They may even be held at the home of the director or another member of the production team.
Expect to fill out a form
After you arrive, you will be asked to fill out an information form. In addition to contact information, the form will ask about your previous theatre experience. If you have none, don’t be afraid to say so – even Meryl Streep had to start somewhere. If your experience is limited to playing a pansy in your first grade play, claim that role proudly.
Another section of the form covers any conflicts you may have with the rehearsal schedule. Be honest when filling out this section, even if you feel it might affect your chances of being cast in the show. Bring your schedule with you so you can note any dates you are not available to rehearse. Directors expect that they will have to work around actors’ conflicts to a certain extent, but nothing irritates them more than suddenly learning that one of their actors “forgot” to mention his upcoming two-week Caribbean cruise. And directors, like elephants, never forget!
You’ll also be asked what role or roles you are reading for and whether you will accept another role or backstage responsibility. Again, be honest. Directors will not penalize you if you are unwilling to take a different role or work backstage. While accepting another role (either onstage or off) will give you the opportunity to establish yourself with the group, it is still a major time commitment. Think it through before volunteering.
Some forms include a section where you can list special skills. If you juggle, do gymnastics, play a musical instrument, sing, dance, fence, or are great at accents, be sure to list those skills. They may give you an edge over the competition.
Expect to feel like an outsider
You will probably find that most of the people at the reading already know each other. They’ll greet each other with hugs, kisses and exclamations of delight. You may feel awkward, but try not to let it affect your confidence. Remember, each one of these people was once an outsider.
Also remember that theatre people are generally quite friendly and welcoming. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with the person in the next seat. Ask them if they’ve worked with the group before and what the experience was like. If you’ve seen one of the actors onstage, tell him or her that you enjoyed the show.
If you are very shy, consider bringing a friend with you for emotional support.
Expect any number of people to be watching you
Some theatres take a formal approach to auditions. Actors are requested to wait in a lobby or anteroom until the director is ready to see them individually. If you are given an appointment time prior to the reading, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ll be seen either alone or with just one or two others.
Most community theatres, however, take the meaning of “community” to heart and all the actors sit in the same room.
Expect to do a cold reading
A cold reading is simply reading a scene from the script with other actors. The director will assign the parts you read based on your suitability in terms of age and sex, as well as the information on your form. You may be asked to read for one character or for several. You may be asked to read the same scene several times as different characters or you may read the same character in several scenes.
If you suddenly find a new character appealing to you, don’t be afraid to ask the director to read for that role.
After you read, wait until the director or stage manager dismisses you before leaving.
Expect the unexpected
Theatre groups sometimes request that actors bring a monologue to the tryouts. This is generally specified in the audition notice. However, directors have been known ask for a monologue on the spur of the moment, so it’s a good idea to be prepared.
A monologue is a one- to two-minute memorized speech that involves only one character. The best way to find good monologues is to read plays and look for speeches that appeal to you. You can also find books of monologues at any large bookstore or online.
The director may also ask you to improvise a scene using your own words, tell a joke or read from a Dr. Seuss book. The key to dealing with unexpected requests is to have fun and understand that the director is just trying to get to know you better.
Expect that a starring role may have to wait
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get cast in the show or don’t get cast in the role you wanted. Most directors, even if faced with an obviously talented individual, tend to cast actors they have already worked with. This is usually due to unhappy experiences they have had with unknowns who proved to be irresponsible after being cast.
Also, there are many considerations that go into casting a play. Remember that the director is looking for the right combination of actors, not just the right actor.
If you’re persistent, the right role will come along. And at the next audition, you’ll be a full-fledged member of the group!
Trying anything for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Knowing a little about what to expect can turn your first audition from frightening to fun. And that’s what community theatre is all about — the joy of working together to delight an audience.
Copyright 2012 Wendy Almeida