Be Yourself in the Audition: "What does that even mean?!"
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Before I auditioned for drama school, I often heard advice from students and teachers alike: Don’t try to impress the auditors. Don’t try to guess what they’re looking for. Rather, be yourself in the audition.
That seems like sound advice, right?
But then I thought, “Who else would I be?” And furthermore, aren’t they asking me to embody at least two different (hopefully contrasting) characters in my monologues?
So what does “be yourself” even mean?!
The truth is you don’t know what each school is looking for, with regards to potential acting candidates. There are a variety of factors that go into selecting a particular class every year. Often drama programs are creating an ensemble of students, and while you may give a kick-ass audition, you might not fit into the group being curated that year.
Ultimately, you don’t have control over the selection process. What you do have control over is the quality of your work, your preparation, and what you want to say/contribute as an artist.
So, how does that translate into PRACTICAL WAYS for you to “be yourself” in your audition?
1. Pick material that is personal and true to you.
Finding material can be daunting, so the best place to start is yourself. What speaks to your heart? What do you have to say as an artist and as a human? What offers a glimpse into your soul? I can’t stress enough how important it is to reveal your humanity through your work.
2. Owning the Room
Ultimately, it’s your audition. You don’t need to apologize for being there. Take up space and do what you need to give your best self in the room. Check out a few examples from my own audition for Yale below.
3. Make Mistakes
Give yourself permission to mess up. Often times the unexpected and fabulous happens when you aren’t trying to control everything. At the end of the day, you’re auditioning to get into a training program. Perfection is not expected. So be messy, be authentic. Allow yourself to breathe. Otherwise, you might miss the chance to be yourself in the room.
That being said, here are a few examples from my audition for Yale School of Drama:
In my initial audition, I was in San Francisco. I had just finished my two monologues, and they felt great. Strong, full, connected. And suddenly, the auditor asked me if I had a third and fourth piece he could see. Thankfully, I came prepared. However, the monologue he asked for was at the climax of the play. It starts at a peak of emotional conflict for the character, and I didn’t have the benefit of the waiting room to prepare. So what did I do?
I had two options: I could rush into the material and fold under pressure; OR I could take my time, do what quick preparation I needed in order to fully invest in this new character and circumstance, and then soar.
And that’s what I did: I took a moment to switch gears, I yelled aloud—not worrying what he might think of my preparation—and then, I catapulted into the next piece in an authentic way.
Often times actors are told to hold back in the audition room: don’t do this because you’ll look green; don’t do that because it’s inappropriate. Certainly, you need to respect the professional boundaries put in place to keep everyone involved safe. But you also don’t want to act from a place a fear. Self-consciousness can kill your impulses.
In my initial audition, I gave myself the permission to do what I needed in order to give my best performance.
During the callback weekend in New Haven, the actors perform their monologues again for a larger portion of the faculty. I had finished my first monologue, and I was frustrated because I didn’t feel great. As I was preparing for the next piece, I yelled at myself, “Ok, John. Get ACTIVE!” And the whole panel started laughing. It wasn’t something I was planning to say. It just happened in the moment. But the laughter put me at ease, and allowed me to refocus.
If you think about it, not every serve a tennis player makes, even in a grand slam final, is perfect. Sometimes you need to take a breath to regain composure. If I hadn’t given myself the permission, who knows how the rest of the audition would have gone.
In the end, perhaps what is meant by being yourself, is to have the confidence and courage to follow your own intuition and artistic instincts.
By John R. Colley
John is a graduate of the MFA Yale School of Drama (Class of 2019) and contributor at How To Get Into Drama School. @johnrcolley