Best Auditioning Advice on the Planet… condensed.
This was condensed down via Chris Yeh from the essential book by Michael Shurtleff. It tells you everything you need to know…
by Michael Shurtleff
Practical Aspects of the Audition: Being Seen and Being Heard
- Hazards that 64% of the actors who audition for the stage cannot be heard.
- Fact: Almost no actor is too loud, but over half of them are too soft to be heard comfortably.
- Don’t try to find out what the auditors want, just show that you are an interesting actor for any role.
- Always go to an audition even if you think you’re wrong for it because you might end up in a different role.
- The directors and producers are afraid of the actors too: their careers are in the hands of actors.
The Twelve Guideposts
- Understand the relationship between you and the other characters in the scene. Once you establish the facts, recognize how they make you feel. It’s important to not idealize love, the desire for it can be narcissistic and selfish, but the desire to give and receive love is still the chief propellant in human beings.
- Ask yourself what you are fighting for in the scene in order to pinpoint the conflict. If there is no conflict, then why don’t you run? What is keeping you engaged in the scene?
- When beginning a scene you need to put yourself in the mindset of the moment before. Many actors take time to get into a groove on the stage but the best don’t need to–get into rhythm on the wing before entering.
- You need to find the humor in every scene, not just the “funny” ones. In real life we use humor not to be funny but as glue in relationships and to help us get through the day; this should come across in your acting. Shurtleff has “never seen a great or star actor who did not have humor.”
- Exploit opposites in your behavior, as “consistency is the heart of dull acting.” There are opposites in every scene, it is up to the actor to find a way to show these, because they pop up in the most interesting kind of acting: the complex.
- Identify the discoveries in the scene, the things that happen for the first time. The more discoveries you have, the more interesting the scene will be, so take nothing for granted.
- It is not enough to have a feeling, you need to find a way to communicate it to the other actor in the scene. Remember that “communicating is the desire to change the person you’re communicating with.” Moreover, you need to embrace the competition in the scene, focusing on the facts that a) I am right and you are wrong, and b) You should change from being the way you are to be what I think you should be. Competition is healthy. He finds more resistance to this concept than to any other, but “an actor must compete, or die.”
- Nobody wants to see everyday humdrumness, so actors must emphasize the importance of a scene. What is unusual? Strive to make the stakes as high as possible.
- Don’t get so wrapped up in your character that you forget to create the events of the play. An event can be a change, a confrontation, or a climax, and they can be obvious or hidden, but what they all do is make the play progress.
- Create a place that you are acting in to help forge a reality for your reading. Since it is imaginary and you can choose whatever you want, you should make it real, like your own apartment.
- Ask yourself what game you are playing in every scene. Don’t worry that you are being insincere, because this is how you act constantly in real life, and it is meaningful to you then. For example, at a cocktail party everyone plays the game of trying to be the wittiest. Embrace this fact.
- After you’ve done all the other 11 guideposts, add “what you don’t know” to imbue an atmosphere of mystery. This is inexplicable but all the best actors do it well.
Things Actors Need to Know
- If things are going badly, blame the other character or give her an unexpected kiss, even if it’s not her fault or written in the script.
- Even if the audition is going badly, never stop. Oftentimes this can be a positive, as interesting things often happen as the result of accidents.
- Don’t stick to the every day: “In our fantasy lives and in our dreams we all commit… any number of grandiose and bizarre… activities…. Use them.”
- Don’t worry about being too melodramatic. In the course of trying to not overact, people often “don’t act at all.” He asks, why does melodrama have a bad name?
- Actors are “the only people on earth who stare into each others eyes when they are talking to each other.” Avoid these, see images instead of eyes.
- Gum chewing is not innovative, auditors see gum chewers 10 times a week. Don’t do it.
- Revenge is a powerful motivator… “Keep in mind that all revenge is not harmful or destructive; frequently it is a highly creative, an enormous life force driving people to prove their worth.”
- Always make the active choice. If you want to be shy, “make a bold move and then be overcome with shyness because you are afraid you can’t sustain the boldness” instead of consistent shyness (which is boring).
- One competition that humans often play is to see who has suffered the most: I’ve suffered more than you, etc.
- About 99% of the time what we fear is what isn’t there, not what is there. In order to conquer your fears of acting you need to be specific of what exactly it is you are worried might happen.
- Accents are not usually a good choice unless required. If they are, try talking in the accent in your everyday life, instead of just practicing the lines.
- When you’re auditioning, don’t be afraid to make the inappropriate action as it might set you apart.
- You should be convincing in your lies. We lie all the time in real life without people knowing, why should the stage be any different?
- If you have to pick a monologue, pick something you enjoy reading instead of what you think will impress people.
- All monologues are too long and too slow; make it short and fast.
- Romance is the secret life to have something better happen to us that is the “primary motivating force in every human being,” so find it.
- You can’t learn comedy, you must be born with it.
- Comedy is like a game of Ping Pong: “The faster and more precise the game of Ping-Pong is played, the more brilliant it is.”
- Often the simplest choice is the most telling, so don’t be afraid to make it.
- Acting is not a good career, so only do it if there is nothing else you could possibly do.
Observations from a Life in the Theater
- The main thing he looks for in an actor is humor. It indicates a heightened awareness of other people, a greater ability to communicate, and a greater sense and enjoyment of competition.
- All American actors are terrified are overacting, but all he ever sees is underacting. OK to express emotion as long as there is relationship in it.
- Most actors fail not because they lack talent but because a) They don’t work hard enough, b) They aren’t disciplined, c) They are literal rather than truly imaginative, d) They are victimized by their limitations and prejudices, e) They are ruled by their negative side, and f) They are not persistent.
- Shurtleff wanted to work with somebody named David Merrick, so he sent him a congenial letter once a week for 7 months, mostly discussing Merrick’s activities. Didn’t work so he asked everyone he knew to mention him if they ever saw Merrick. Somebody did and they explained his virtues but still that didn’t work, so Shurtleff upped ante to 2 letters per week. Finally a few weeks later he got a call, an interview, and the job. He concludes: “Nobody’s waiting to hand you anything you want without your effort.”
- When dealing with a bad director, you need to keep the lines of communication open. If you give up and “declare war”, all is lost.
- Characters are not generally “strong” or “weak”. We are all both at various times, the question is what are you strong and weak about.