Here's a shocking fact: most actors don't have an audition preparation plan.
It's a shocking fact when we think about it as if an objective outsider — how could actors not have a game plan for the very opportunities that could potentially shape the course of their lives?
It's a less shocking fact, however, if we're an actor ourselves. After all, drama school doesn't hand us one. We don't trade insights with our actor peers. Sure, we know we have to get the lines down, but beyond that, it's kinda a mad free-for-all.
Unfortunately, this approach often only leads to one result: a mass of doubt, stress, and anxiety. "Did we prepare too little?" "Did we prepare too much?" "Damn, we forgot to set our eyelines for scene two!"
Us actor folk play enough emotional Twister as it is, so here's a solution: a simple two-part checklist. Cue the eye rolls, we know, but checklists literally save lives. There's a reason why even the most experienced pilots still use them every. single. flight: to ensure they fly. And we want to do the same, no?
We've been refining this checklist over the past three years and feel it's now time we shared it beyond the circle of Dojo actors. Take from it what works, amend or throw away what doesn't, add what's missing. But at least work from a place of intention and clarity. Just last week, we relied on this bad boy to get three big ol' scenes (13 pages) prepped to a bulletproof standard in three and a half days. Doubt-free, stress-free, anxiety-free.
1) The logistical prep
Although receiving an audition or self-tape request is an awesome thing (remember, casting are now invested in us), it can also be more than a wee bit overwhelming. For those of us who've been guilty of not really knowing what to do after the email hits our inbox (hi friends!), we got 'chu. The first half of this game plan is broken into five steps and gets the logistics on lock. Adapt as and where needed depending on circumstances.
- Perform some act of celebration. We be serious. Wire in that feel-good response. This could be anything from a covert fist-pump to running around our place of work blaring the Rocky theme. What we appreciate, appreciates, a'ight?
- Take a momentary step back from the excitement and read through the brief again. Is this something we actually want to submit for? As actors, we sometimes forget we have a say in the matter, but this is our career and — in an industry where we don't get to control much at all, this is always one thing we do.
- If we decide yes, double-check the dates. Make sure availability is something we can realistically organise. Ain't nothing like finally booking a gig only to find out production really did mean those three weeks in April.
- If it's an in-person audition, block off that time now. If it's a self-tape, lock in the self-tape shoot itself. The majority of actors do this waaay too late in their preparation and it results in a last-minute madness that can easily be avoided by simply scheduling straight away. This applies whether we're shooting ourselves at home or going to a studio to shoot. Either way, get the day, time, location and scene partner sorted.
- Collate all the material. We're talking the sides, character bio, script and any other miscellaneous notes. Get it all in one place. We can print physical copies of each if that's how we roll, or we can create a folder on our laptop or tablet to store everything in. Ain't nobody got time to be trawling through eight emails for those self-tape instructions.
2) The creative prep
Having completed the logistical prep, we can now move onto the creative prep. We'd (humbly) highly recommend running through the checklist in this order. Slaying the boring — but essential — to-dos first, we give our mind, body and soul the space to then conjure the imaginative wizardry it's made for. Again, adapt as and where needed.
- Using an app (we're currently hitting up the free Script Rehearser), record the scenes onto our device. Key here is keeping the line readings bland. While we want to be getting the scene off the page and into the space around us as soon as possible, we don't want to be memorising any one interpretation.
- Map out our prep time. Again, depending on our style, we can do this using a physical, old school calendar or the one built-in to our device. We just want a visual representation of the days between now and showtime.
- On each of these days, schedule at least one session of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice being "purposeful and systematic", so mindlessly running lines while doing the dishes doesn't count (though has its place). We can think of this as walking through the audition as we will on the day.
- On each of these days, schedule at least one of the following:
- Research the team (e.g. casting director, director, producer, writer etc.) These dudes are all praying we're the answer to their casting problem, so know who they are.
- Research any word definitions, pronunciations or references. This one will likely only take a moment, but can be the difference between sloppy and seasoned pro.
- Organise any props (erring on the side of less rather than more) and plan "costuming" (even if just our everyday tee and jeans). This includes washing anything that needs to be washed, champs.
- Make decisions about each scene's relationship dynamics, and as a result, the eyelines we'll use within it.
- Make decisions about each scene's environmental influences (i.e. the space around the character), and as a result, any eyelines we'll use within it.
- Make decisions about each scene's major shift(s) and potential opportunities for variation. Having a contrasting take to how we'd imagine it to be shot "on the day" up our sleeve can be hugely advantageous. We mightn't be asked for it, but at the very least, the practice will prevent us from becoming too set in one reading.
5. With any remaining time, deep dive into the world. This will look different depending on how we best absorb stimuli, but some variations either we or fellow Dojo actors go to include:
- Piecing together a physical or virtual "crazy wall" (the apt name for that background wall of collaged evidence in TV dramas). Pinterest works well for an online option (and receives fewer raised eyebrows from housemates).
- Watching a tonne of similar vibe film/TV.
- Playing a tonne of similar vibe video games.
- Curating a Spotify playlist and listening to on repeat.
- Freewriting/typing as many pages as it takes.
This last step isn't essential essential if we're super short on time, but inevitably uncovers a layer of detail and nuance that will enrich our performance in inimitable ways.
And that's it: five logistical steps, five creative steps. It obviously isn't exhaustive, but when we consider the premise we started with (that most actors don't have an audition prep plan), we recognise operating with any strategic system puts us at the front of the pack. And as mentioned, we've tried and tested this checklist over three years and it seems to cover the fundamentals solidly.
Let's approach our work feeling confident and empowered. Not only is this a mighty attractive aura to possess in any self-tape or audition, but — more importantly — it means we feel good too.
Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.
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