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How to Audition
for HawaiiShakes

Advice for beginners


 

A few people have asked me for audition tips. Rather than answer them individually, I thought Iíd post this here. For proceduraral information, plus dates and times, check out our regular audition page.

This is long. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, just skip to the end (Have Fun), or, better yet, just come to an audition. You don't have to master this stuff to audition for us.

There are some tips on our audition page that are meant to serve as reminders for more experienced actors, but they make not mean much to beginners:

Make sure you understand who you are, what youíre saying and why youíre saying it. Make a strong choice. Have fun.

Letís break that down.

Understand what youíre saying
The first level is to be sure you understand the literal meaning of the words youíre speaking.

Suppose youíre reading an excerpt of one of Helenaís speeches from A Midsummer Nightís Dream:

      1. How happy some oíer other some can be!
      2. Through Athens I am thought as fair as she
      3. But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so.
      4. He will not know what all but he do know.

If youíre not familiar with Shakespeare, you may never have seen oíer, a contraction of over. If you donít know what a word means, ask. No shame.

The second level is to understand the thoughts expressed through the individual words. In this case it helps to have some context. The director may provide that context with the monologue. In this case, for instance, something like:

Helena, in love with Demetrius, is frustrated that he only has eyes for her friend Hermia though she is equally pretty.

If you canít glean the context from the excerpt and youíre not familiar with the play, ask. Your goal should be to understand the text well enough to paraphrase it. By paraphrase I mean a low-level, sentence-by-sentence expression in your own words, not a high-level summary that condenses the speech to a fraction of itís length. For example:

      1. Some people are so much happier than other people.
      
2. Everyone in Athens thinks Iím as pretty as she is
      
3. But so what? Demetrius doesnít think so.
     
4. He refuses to acknowledge whatís obvious to everyone else. 

Again, if youíre struggling with this, ask for help. Weíll happily provide it. Weíre looking for actors, not PhDs, and we definitely want to encourage beginners. The more of this you can do on your own, the better, but even the best actors may stumble on an unusual construction. The last line of this excerptóHe will not know what all but he do knowóin particular is challenging to parse. Ask!

Understand Who You Are
Thatís easy, right? Youíre Helena. It says so, right at the top of the page. But who is Helena? For the purposes of the audition you can focus on your relationship with any other characters on stage with you or who you speak about. In this case itís sufficient to know that Helena is friend of Hermia, that she is in love with Demetrius, and that Demetrius is in love with Hermia.

If youíre familiar with the play, you may also know that this isnít a completely one-sided affection. Demetrius initiated the relationship with Helena, then broke it off to pursue Hermia. You may use that to inform your reading. However, that sort of depth isnít necessary for the initial audition. We do not expect you to have read the play in advance.

Also, know who youíre speaking to. 

Understand Why Youíre Saying It
This is where things start to get tricky for beginners (and I assume youíre a beginner if youíre reading this). Assume that everything you say, you say for a reason. Thereís some effect youíre trying to achieve by speaking. Letís take a simpler example to start, a conversation between domestic partners: 

      A: Did you remember to buy milk?
      B: Itís your cat.

Thatís pretty short, but thereís a lot of information to decode, and even more ways to interpret it. Letís start with the basics. Why does person A speak? Presumably to know if person B bought milk (though weíll explore other possibilities in a moment). As for person B, let me ask you this firstódid they buy the milk or not?

Probably not, right? So why donít they just say no? Because their intention is not to simply answer the question factually. They have another agenda. Thatís what I mean by their reason for speaking. What effect is B trying to achieve by answering this way? Think about it for a second.

Ultimately it will depend on how A says what they say, but letís assume a pretty straightforward reading for now. Then some possibilities for Bís intention might be: to deny responsibility, to shift the blame, to let themself off the hook. Those are all very similar, yet subtly different.

Sometimes the playwright will help you by making the intention clearer in the text. For example:

      A: Did you remember to buy milk at least?
      B: Itís your goddamn cat.

Thatís pretty clear, isnít it? But you could read the first two lines with the exact same intention as the second two lines.

Make a Strong Choice
When you read for us at an audition the first thing weíre going to do when you finish is give you an adjustment and ask you to read again. Doesnít matter if you read well or poorly, if you nailed the character or were 180 degrees off.  It may be that there was something lacking in your initial read that we think we can coax out with a bit of coaching. Or maybe we just loved your take and want to see what else you can do

We want to see if you can read the text in more than one way. We want to see if you can play a different intention. We want to see if you can take direction.

On rare occasions we may give you a second adjustment and have you read a third time, but odds are youíre going to read twice and be done. So why waste your first read on a bland interpretation? Give us something exciting. If we donít like it, weíll ask you to do something else (and if we do like it, weíll still ask you to do something else).

Suppose youíre reading person A in our first little two-line scene about the milk. Thereís no context for this scene other than the two lines youíve been given. A strong choice will give us more information about the relationship between the characters. A weak choice will not (or, worse, interfere with our understanding).

Hereís a weak choice: you really want to know if they remembered to buy milk.

Hereís a weaker choice: youíre kind of thirsty, and some milk sounds good.

Hereís an even weaker choice: you are a T-1000, sent from the future to kill John Connor, but currently posing as person Bís domestic partner to gain information on Connorís whereabouts.

Hereís a strong choice: youíve had it with your partner, and if they donít remember to buy the milk this time, youíre through.

Hereís a stronger choice: you know your partner doesnít love your cat, but they love you. Right? And they know your cat is sick, so theyíll definitely remember to bring milk for your sick cat. Right? Because they love you?

Hereís another strong choice: your partner left two hours ago to buy milk at the corner store which is literally five minutes away, and now they walk in empty-handed with their shirt untucked and a goofy grin on their face. Jerk.

Here are some completely neutral choices: the scene takes place on a farm, in the 1800s, in the American South, on a spaceship, etc.

Have fun
Why is this last? This should be first. Have fun! This is community theatre. None of us are getting paid. Have fun. Enjoy the audition. Hopefully youíll learn something too. 

Bonus Advice
Fill out your audition form clearly and neatly. If we canít read your contact info, we canít contact you (this happensódonít let it happen to you). Be clear about your conflicts. If we want to work with you, weíll find a way to work around your conflicts if possible. If you we cast you and then you tell us you might not be available for tech week weíll be very unhappy. Be flexible. Youíre auditioning for all three plays (unless you choose otherwise) and there are a lot of great roles in each. Donít be a jerk. Weíre all going to spend a lot of time together over the summer. If youíre unpleasant to be around, you wonít be cast,  no matter how talented you are.

--Tony Pisculli

   

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