Three differences you need to know!
You know that nightmare where you’re trapped in a room full of mean strangers and forced to entertain them while they stare at you coldly until even the inside of your eyeballs start to sweat? No? Good, I’m glad you’re so well adjusted. For an actor like me, this reoccurs multiple times a week. It’s the Audition Room. As someone who started as a theatre actor in Alberta and now works as a full-time television actor in Toronto, I came into the industry thinking “an audition is an audition is an audition”. They’re all scary and awful. I now know the truth: auditioning for stage and auditioning for screen are extremely different. Of course, they’re both scary and awful and evoke the type of internal eyeball sweat my therapist describes as “just regular crying” and “are you sure you want to be an actor?” but at the end of the day, stage and screen are different beasts. If you’re an actor about to make the transition from one to the other, there are some key differences between screen and stage auditions that you’ll want to consider.
First up, preparation. This is the sweet, sweet, panic-free time (not true) you get between being invited to audition and your actual audition date. While stage auditions typically offer anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for prep, television auditions have an extremely short turn-around. Due to chaotic production schedules and deadlines, it’s not uncommon for television auditions to occur within 48 hours of the invitation. This is why a lot of screen actors strive to keep their weekdays free; when a casting director invites you to audition for “Principal Role in Series” tomorrow at 2:40pm, you get there. Despite the difference in preparation time, for both stage and screen you’ll want to try your absolute best to arrive completely off-book unless otherwise stated.
Appearance. You’re getting ready, you’re looking cute, you’re doing that thing where you stretch your arms out as wide as you can in a ‘power pose’ so that the universe will obey you. Good. Now put some clothes on. For stage, wear what you are comfortable in especially if a lot of movement is required. Wear what you feel speaks to both you and the character. Same goes for screen auditions except for two very important notes: do not wear red or black (it messes with how the camera reads your skin tone) and avoid complex patterns or stripes. The latter causes a moiré effect where the camera struggles to focus and the stripes appear to bounce around. You don’t need that distracting casting directors from your incredible acting chops.
If you’re wearing makeup to a screen audition, keep it simple. That camera is going to be right up in your grill and it will know exactly how much foundation you caked on that morning in a desperate attempt to appear younger/older/wiser/more like a mother of three enjoying lunch at McDonald’s. For theatre, though, your audience is farther away and watching you with their naked eyes so… go nuts. The space between you and the casting directors works to your advantage in that case, which brings us to the next key difference…
Size. In a theatre audition, you’ll likely have a stage that creates distance between you and your audience. If not, you’ll have a room that you can treat like a stage. You can explore the space, choose motivated movements, and have fun. The distance between stage and audience is so big that your body (your movement) and your face (expressions) necessarily need to follow suit. Subtle gestures like a sexy glance or a nervous gulp can be lost in theatre due to the sheer size of some live productions. Project! Keep your face up and eyes out. It’s all about being seen and heard because if the audience can’t see you or hear you then, well… what do we have? Boredom and detachment. And we get enough of that from The Kardashians (boom). For screen, on the other hand, think small. Screen auditions are typically recorded on a fixed camera with a limited frame (waist up). The floor might have an “X” on it to tell you where to stand and blinding lights will be pointing towards that sacred “X”. If you wander too far from your mark or leave your light for even a moment, your performance will be lost. Think small. Because the camera is so close and the microphone is even closer, your whispers, your breaths and all your subtle gestures will be recorded. Stick to your spot (unless directed otherwise) and remember that conversational dialogue can be spoken just like you’re speaking to someone directly in front of you.
Knowing these three differences will help you battle the audition room. You’ll be fine! Especially because at the end of the day it’s not really a battle at all; it’s an opportunity. In both cases, you’re there because they want you there! They saw your headshot and resume and said, “Come on down! We’d love to meet you!” (Even if they never said that, pretend they did. It helps). Now get out there and be as appropriately big or small as you need to be; from McDonald’s to Macbeth you got this, you brave thing! Show up prepared, know the difference between stage and screen and in the highly unlikely event that you end up crying: it’s not tears, it’s eyeball sweat.
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