About this series:
These entries are taken from my article “Don’t Call Us — We’ll Call You.” It is a tongue-in-cheek survey of actors’ silly mistakes that should never have been made. Your comments are welcome, but PLEASE don’t comment “that’s dumb” or “everybody knows that” because I have personally seen these mistakes cost actors (sometimes even professional actors) roles.
YOUR READING SKILLS AREN’T VERY GOOD. During the cold readings, you had trouble delivering your lines fluently and with emotion. You stopped to figure out how to pronounce words, then grimaced as you said them to let me know that you knew it was incorrect. You misread a lot of punctuation. You read the blocking in the script as lines. My rehearsal schedule is tight–I don’t have time to wait for someone to learn to read during rehearsal. I realize that some people aren’t good readers but once they’re cast, they come through with shining colors. Unfortunately for you, I can’t afford to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Auditions can suck. Producers and Directors bring actors in and within 2-5 minutes (on average) try to assess what the actor’s skill level is, how well they handle stress, and what their personality is like. Often, it’s not enough time– sometimes it’s WAYYYYY to much time! Successful producers/directors have developed a good eye/ear for auditions. They can assess an actor’s potential for success at their theatre within just a few short moments.
I can tell if a singer can sing (and their level of skill) within the first 5 notes of their audition piece. I can tell everything I need to know to cast an actor after 2 or 3 sentences of their monologue. Let me ask 2 or 3 questions and I can pretty much assess an actor’s personality and tell if they will be a good fit with MY personality and our organization. Now, keep in mind that I’m bragging a bit– more time reveals more information and allows me to re-evaluate my assumptions. And everything I deduce in an audition is just that: an ASUMPTION.
All this is to say: in an audition situation, you don’t have much time to convince the producer/director that you’re the right person for the job– so don’t mess anything up!
If you come in to an audition and have poor reading skills…. you just messed up. Reading is so much a part of what an actor does! Outside of a severe learning disability, there’s really no excuse for an actor to have poor reading skills. If you haven’t taken the time to manage that part of your instrument, what makes a producer think you’ll be more conscientious in any other area of your skills? And to be honest, if you do have a severe reading disability– go see a therapist. Theatre is not excuses– it’s performance.
To develop your reading skills, read everything aloud. Get used to handling words you’ve never seen before. A good trick is to COMMIT to pronunciations. If you come across the word “TYRE” (a city), do you pronounce it teer, tire, tee-ray, or tie-ree? There is a correct pronunciation (tire), but if you don’t know it– pick one and act as though you KNOW that’s the correct pronunciation. Don’t hesitate, don’t stutter, don’t give any impression that you doubt yourself (that’s acting!). Just say it, and be consistent– use the same pronunciation each time. If it matters to the director, they’ll correct you. Thank them and make the change.
Get used to picking up text and reading aloud. Read newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, posters– any text you can get your hands on. Read them aloud, with feeling, and make them MAKE SENSE. This is great practice for “cold readings” where you’re given little or no time to read something over before you’re asked to read it. Cold readings are a proven tool for auditions, so just get used to it.