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AUDITION - By Michael Shurtleff

AUDITION - By Michael Shurtleff

Prologue - Bob Fosse

  • Humor can’t be isolated but can only be found in exploring character and situation.

  • To go into acting is like asking for admission to an insane asylum. Anyone can apply, but only the certifiably insane are admitted.

  • To become an actor is an act of insanity.

  • Not being someone else, but being you in different situations and contexts. Not escaping you, but using yourself naked and exposed.

  • Most actors make themselves unhappy by searching for sanity, by insisting on their normalcy; it’s a grave mistake.

  • The ’character’ must come from inside the actor - immediately

  • Auditioning is in direct ratio to his willingness to give up searching for another character and to use himself.

  • Learn to use yourself - in unusual predicaments

  • There’s only one person like you in the entire world. Trust yourself to use that with truth and imagination.

  • Finding a reason for being there on stage.

(1) Practical Aspects of the Audition

  • physical aspects of readings: being seen and being heard

  • be in the light

  • Ask “Am I in the light?”

  • Listen to the answer - ask again if you’re in the light

  • Ask “Can I be seen?”

  • Virtually no actor is too loud

  • If you are asked to read “cold” without having seen the script in advance - always ask if you might have time to go offstage to look it over.

  • If no time to read it over - be very brave

  • Give it your all every time

  • The moral is: (1) Always go to audition for everything, if they allow you, even if you are wrong for it. (2) Whomever the auditors say they’re looking for can change into someone totally opposite. The actor who is talented and interesting and committed is more likely to get the role than someone who is “right”

  • It’s all in knowing how to use yourself fully, in employing your imagination, in being willing to take risks.

  • It would be helpful if actors would remember that the directors and producers are afraid of the actors.

  • Control your hostility.

  • When you think they’re dumping on you, they just may be trying to help you

  • Is he easy to work with? Does he take direction? - YES

  • I am easy to work with, I am affable and rational, I take direction well, I am imaginative and cooperative, I don’t pout or become hostile.

  • Most of you go into an audition situation closed up, in order to protect yourself. Learn to open yourself up, so that you can receive the experience.

  • Exit and entrance

  • “What have you done?”

    • This is your biggest chance to express who you are rather than merely what you have done.

    • Combine with the factual information your humor, your charm, your personality.

  • Present it with pride; believe in your own worth.

  • What do I do if I’m late for an audition

    • say nothing about it

    • “I’m sorry I was late. I was help up at another audition”

    • Superstitions - rather not mention what it is

  • Should I memorize the script?

    • Never. It’s a waste of time

    • It’s called a reading, so do a reading

    • Learn to regard those pieces of paper as your friend and ally. They state: “This is a reading I’m doing, not a performance.”

  • Directors directing you at a reading

    • Add to what you have done

    • He does not mean throw away everything you were doing, or he wouldn’t have spoken to you, singled you out, and given you direction in the first place.

  • Judging your own reading - judge it not on the basis of whether or not you fulfilled what you think they wanted but on the basis of how fully you were able to express your own emotional life in terms of the character and situation.

  • Being an actor takes twenty-four hours of each day

  • An agent is necessary

  • It is a lot harder to interview people than it is to be interviewed.

  • Help the interviewer

  • Wear the same thing every time you audition

(2) The Twelve Guideposts

Guidepost 1: Relationship

  • What is my relationship to this other character in the scene I am about to do?

  • Go into the realm of the emotions

  • It’s not important if you’re right or wrong: what is important is your commitment to whatever feeling you choose.

  • The actor needs to know more than the character knows.

  • Create the feelings as you would feel them, not as you think the character would

  • Every scene is a love scene

  • “Where is the love?”

  • As an actor you should always be looking for the most immediate emotional involvement.

  • It’s the full commitment that creates good acting

Guidepost 2: What are you fighting for? Conflict

  • There is no passive scene, none that belong to another character if you are in it, none where you support and someone else stars

  • Maximum conflict is what you should be looking for

  • We always want something, we are always fighting.

  • Whenever you have two considerations, which seem to cancel each other out, do both.

  • Call yourself “I” instead of “he” when you do readings.

  • Use Love as the feeling you have for the other character. Then you can justify the actions of the character. Then you can find opposites.

  • “I think thinking is stopping” - we all think while we’re talking

  • If we make every reading a true projection of an act of creative imagination, it is possible auditors will begin to change physical requirements in order to hire us.

  • What is the emotional relationship?

  • Attractions to someone don’t get “used up.”

  • For audition purposes, you’ve got to go for the maximum involvement in the relationship.

  • The moral: Don’t settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your future.

Guidepost 3: The Moment Before

  • Every scene you will ever act begins in the middle

  • Never does an actor need the moment before more desperately than in the audition situation.

  • The actor may have to go back ten or twenty years in the life of the character.

  • It’s not enough to think about what the moment before should be; one has to step oneself in it, drown in it, be overcome by it.

  • Since these rejections of him are so strongly written, it is the opposite - her positive pull toward him - that the actress needs to create in the moment before

Guidepost 4: Humor

  • Humor is not being funny. It is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day.

  • There is humor in every scene

  • In all acting it is a major ingredient

  • Fan that tiny flame; it could grow into something

Guidepost 5: Opposites

  • Whatever you decide is your motivation in the scene, the opposite of that is also true and should be in it.

  • It is the process of dealing with pain the actor must put on the stage

  • Why an actor needs to know himself in order to find opposites to his own strong feelings

  • You have to know what your prejudices and limitations are; your work on yourself starts with the confrontation of those idiosyncrasies

Guidepost 6: Discoveries

  • Ask yourself: What is new?

  • The actors job is to add it

  • Those everyday choices don’t work for an audition.

  • You’ve got to make important life-and-death choices every time you read!

  • It is in the subtext

  • The more important you make a discovery, the more it becomes an event.

  • Actors need to work from real-life situation

  • They come out of the actor’s own life questions

Guidepost 7: Communication and Competition

  • It takes two to communicate

  • Without the process of duplication there is no communication.

  • Think of it as a circle: what you send out, you must get back

  • Communication is based on the need to be heard by your partner and the hope that what he hears from you will make a difference in his relationship with you.

  • Communication is the desire to change the person to whom you are communicating

  • Two points of view an actor should imbue every scene:

    • I am right and you are wrong.

    • You should change from being the way you are to be what I think you should be

  • Competition is healthy

  • Competition is life

  • An actor must compete, or die.

Guidepost 8: Importance

  • The truth we seek in acting must be a highly selective truth, not an everyday, ordinary household variety.

  • Make the stakes in each scene as high as you can.

  • Every play is about love

  • Maybe realists can’t be actors. Maybe only people who believe in fantasies can be actors

  • Reality creates the problems, dreams are how we deal with them. Dreams are why we stay alive.

Guideposts 9: Find the Events

  • An actor must ask himself: What happens in this scene? What are the changes?

  • Events can be psychological, such as the exchange power between two characters.

  • Accidental choices are never useful

Guidepost 10: Place

  • It would be wisest for him to choose a place he knows well. A real place from his real life

  • The most important element is how you feel about the place

  • Questions for the actor to ask: Where does this take place? How can I get mileage out of using the place in creating what I’m fighting for in this relationship? Geographical, literal place isn’t important, except as to what emotional uses it can be put by the actor.

Guidepost 11: Game Playing and Role Playing

  • What is the game I am playing in this situation? What role do I assume in order to best play this game?

  • Games are real; roles are necessary to deal with reality.

  • It’s the exceptions that an actor should choose.

  • Anyone can be cold: it’s the warmth in a human being that interests us, the humor, the romantic expectations, the dreamer.

  • You can make romantic choices or you can make cold choices. I’ve rarely seen cold choices pay off.

  • They shouldn’t be actors at all if they’re not willing to find the humor in the world’s end

  • Drama is conflict and communication

  • Anything you can do, I can do better

Guidepost 12: Mystery and Secret

  • After you’ve done all the eleven guideposts in your preparation for your audition, then add to it what you don’t know.

  • I am suggesting you add to your audition this wonderment about the other person. I am suggesting you add, too, the wonderment about what is going on inside of you. These are feelings, mysterious feelings, that cannot be verbalized and cannot be explained. But they can be felt and therefore they can be added to your audition.

  • What motivates people is the hope that their dream will come true.

(3) Consistency

  • Consistency is the death of good acting

(4) Some Things an Actor Needs to Know

  • What to do when the reading isn’t going well

    • blame or give

    • Do it now

    • Blame your partner!

    • Then, if you feel so bad about unleashing your wrath upon an innocent partner, follow it with a total, unexpected opposite: You can make up for your dreadful conduct of falsely blaming her by offering her your love. A lot of love. Take her in your arms, give her a passionate kiss. (The absurdity of that will also bring humor to the scene.)

    • The terms of loving

  • Pick the desire to change your partner

  • “I love you, but I want to change you.”

  • Friendship

    • Competition

  • When an actor has to say “what?”

    • emotional, not a factual, intention

    • either unbelievable or unacceptable

    • “What?” means “I would like to know what the hell you meant by saying that!”

  • Stage directions are traps

    • Don’t obey stage directions blindly in auditions. Use them only when they are useful to you

  • Transitions are fake

    • the result is a series of actions, not transitions

  • If an audition is going badly

    • No matter how awful the reading is, don’t stop. If you stop and ask to be allowed to start at the beginning again, the auditors will expect some great miracle to happen. It rarely does. I hear the auditors say, “Why did she start over? I don’t see anything different.”

    • Instead of stopping, go into the blame-or-love routine.

  • Truth isn’t enough it if isn’t dramatic

    • exciting truths can be truthful, too. Learn to prefer those.

  • You should embrace melodrama, not run away from it

  • The purpose of reading is to show who you are

    • Worry less about the material and more about what you would do and feel if you were in that situation. The play gives you a situation; your job is to put yourself in it.

  • Remembering is seeing

  • Only actors keep eternal eye contact

    • Don’t see eyes, see images.

  • Revenge is an important motivation

  • Seduction is a phony goal

    • The kinds of terms an actor uses are important. If he uses “to seduce” as his goal, then his acting becomes non emotional, manipulative, crass. If he uses the seeking of warmth and union with other human being, the result is something likeable.

  • A maxim for actors

    • Use what you know. Don’t worry about what you don’t know.

  • In an audition, always rip your own dress.

  • Choosing to ignore your partner is a bad choice

    • Instead, find the active of ignore

  • It is important to study the other character in the scene

  • Fear is what we don’t know

  • Try to define what it is you’re afraid if

  • Actors should react on the line, not in between

  • Remember that it’s the music of an accent that is important

  • The negatives are always written

    • The actor’s job is to see through the negative to the other side of the coin, to find the yes that is always also in the scene

    • How many fingers?

  • Use the reality of distractions to create focus

  • Go ahead, do the action, trust your impulse

  • A long speech is just several short speeches

    • Insist on a response before you’ll go on

  • Actors should be good actors

  • Scenes between actors of the same sex are always competitive

  • Choosing “I don’t care”… if you don’t care, we’ll find another actor who does.

  • Learn to interrupt yourself when ellipsis occurs in the script

  • Use “I don’t believe this” as you would in life

  • Don’t worry about indicating listening

    • rely on creating specific silent dialogue

    • Listening is not external, it is internal

  • Should you be an actor?

    • There is no choice

(5) Monologues, Soliloquies, Style

  • ninety-to-ten rule. Which is: in a monologue, look at your imaginary partner only 10 percent of the time; 90 percent of your time should be spent seeing images of what you’re talking about

  • Pick someone you know from your own life to be the invisible partner; don’t make up a person.

  • Staging a Monologue

    • the whole stage is yours. Movement can be valuable

  • Soliloquy

    • go back to life for your answers

    • Your own fantasy/dream life can be the source that will yield the most material

    • Always have a curtain. Just as the end of a play has a curtain.

    • Quality, not quantity.

  • Enjoy how you say what you say.

(6) Pace

  • Almost every reading I see is too slow. I have never seen a reading that was too fast.

(7) Romance

(8) Musical Theatre

  • Opposites are of vital importance to the actor of musicals

  • Observe the behaviour of human beings! There’s where the answers are.

  • The great singers of popular music are not those with the greatest voices but those who know how to communicate feeling.

  • Most audition singing is out front, into the theatre, toward the audience. Since most of us are inexperienced with relating to groups, the singing actor needs to make a relationship that is highly personal and real to him. In his imagination he needs to place out there in the audience a person in the balcony and another person in the orchestra section. He needs to create relationships of strong need to those two people, so that his singing is asking for their response. He should pick highly sympathetic people (like his sweetheart or his music teacher), who are on his side, rooting for him, anxious to approve, and offering emotional response when he sings well to them.

(9) Comedy

  • Opposites are at the heart of comedy. What makes us laugh is the playing of one emotion immediately and unexpectedly against another

  • Competition is essential to comedy. If you don’t compete, you lose. Comedy is about the desire to win. It is impossible to be too competitive in comedy.

  • Specificity goes hand in glove with competition

  • Start from a point of innocence

  • Play the opposites: your innocence versus your present sophistication, your innocence versus the occurrence of evil, your innocence versus a cruel and uncaring world.

  • The focus is on the event and the image of the moment. See that

  • The focus is on the image of your intention. See that

  • The focus is on the sharpness of what you are describing. See that

  • The focus is on the fantasy of what marvellous thing will happen - for example, your partner drops dead at your feet. See that

  • Staring into your partners eyes kills comedy. Don’t see that

  • Framing is another effective comedy technique, used in real life

  • Clarity is the flavor of comedy

  • Uh’s are the death of comedy. Cut the uh’s

  • Be extravegent

  • Hold the moment. Shoot your arrow, let it land, then hold the moment until someone else takes it over.

  • Timing is the one you hear about all the time. Comedy is based on timing, its true. Timing is everything

  • Its instinctual, it’s subjective

  • The very same line can be said by four different actors: one gets a laugh, three do not. The line rarely gets the laugh; it’s the timing that does.

  • Any instinct has to be developed

  • Timing is taking a risk. A big risk

(10) Simplicity

  • The actor’s process is the distillation of complexities. The simplest choices are the most telling.

  • When you put it all together, find simplicity

(11) Observations from a Life in the Theatre

  • What I look for in an actor

    • My answer is humor

    • If an actor has humor, he’s likely to have importance, because humor is the way human beings distinguish what is important from what is unimportant.

    • An actor must have drive, or he’ll never make it

  • There is no such thing as overacting

  • The mistake is to reveal nothing

  • Persistence

    • Most actors fail not because of lack of talent but because:

      • They don’t work hard enough

      • They aren’t disciplined

      • They are literal rather than truly imaginative

      • They are victimized by their limitations and prejudices

      • They are ruled by their negative side

      • They are not persistent

    • Actors, just like most of us, take no for an answer. An actor cannot afford to.

    • I believe in letter campaigns. I believe in persistence, in leaving no stone unturned, in refusing to be ignored.

    • Nothing came easy. It rarely does.

  • The people who make it

    • The actors who make it work hard

    • You have to be ready when the break comes. You can’t be ready without hard work

  • Risk taking

    • Take a risk

    • You may fall flat on your face, but they’ll at least remember you

    • P.S. Earlier I said, “Never chew gum at an audition.” In another spot I said, “It’s the exception that proved the rule.”

  • About directors

    • There’s only one solution to this endless misunderstanding between actor and director: communication. If you keep the lines of communication open, really make a total effort to keep receiving what is being sent to you, even the most opposite of views can be made into a rewarding theatre experience.

  • Always Audition

  • Brief observations that might be useful

    • Actors also decide a character is “weak” or “strong”, which I think is a mistake

    • Beware of all limitations

    • Allow yourself to be surprised by yourself

    • Charm is useful

    • When an actor upstages you, use it

    • Anger is caused by hurt

    • You cannot be angry unless you have been hurt

    • Think of the image you are creating when you dress for an audition

    • Don’t believe what’s written. The actor’s job is to add dimension

    • “Humor is our way of dealing with problems”

    • Watch where the need for humor comes in

    • They’ll know it when they see it. Do your thing, which is prescribed by the circumstances of the scene.

    • Getting what is termed “nothing” can be useful. Use it. It happens in life all the time that we get “nothing” we want from a relationship.

    • One of the most important fantasies: this could be the relationship. This person is the one who could change my life. This could be what I’ve always been looking for. Dream a little. Make it a big dream.

    • Make your choices from emotional need rather than intellectual understanding.

    • Discoveries involve risk: what will you do with this new information.

    • Good friends do hurt each other. They can’t be good friends if they don’t. Good friends have been through the experience of hurting, yet they forgive each other. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting; it’s a much deeper event.

    • Silence is a form of communication that is an alternative to verbal communication. Silence cannot be used by an actor as non communication. It is a way of saying something to someone else. Silence is a silent dialogue.

    • Thus you must avoid dead spots. There can be no dead spots on stage. Everything must communicate. Every moment, every move, ever silence must speak.

    • Mere reality is never enough. Neither is truth. It must be heightened reality, selective truth, made dramatic by involving choices of the actor.

    • The script is the best prop you can have in a reading. Hold on to the damn thing and use it to work through, or it will become a scene about an actor looking for a script.

    • An actress would do well to know that all women compete with one another.

    • Actors tend to be too polite to each other onstage in readings. Be polite offstage.

    • If I ask enough questions of an actor, almost invariably he can do a better reading. Since I do not provide the answers, it must be clear that the actor has not been asking himself the right questions. Most actors can come up with the answers. So ask the questions!

    • Don’t let yourself off the hook. Pursue the answers until they lead to more questions that require turmoil and the deepest parts of your awareness to answer. Acting hurts.

    • Most actors don’t need enough from their partners. Need the most. The most love, the most response, the most belief, the most of whatever it is you want. Only the most will give you a reading of dimension.

    • If your partner does give you what you want, then want more. In life we always do.

    • Too much time is spent in the past, just as too much time is spent in analyzing. Try to make your decisions in the now, try to make what you are doing about today, not yesterday. Find immediacy. The impetus that drives you through the scene is what you are thinking and feeling now.

    • The audition is always now.

    • Your everyday life is not the criteria of what you are. Your fantasy life is who you are. Everybody’s fantasy life is richer than reality.

    • An act or the imagination is what makes being alive possible.

    • Love is not always Romeo and Juliet.

    • Actors are too conventional. Love can be very odd, sometimes.


  • Never be a passive audience.

  • Find ways you can contribute to make what you’re seeing better than it is.

  • Every day, learn. Learn enough so that you can do good theatre.