As long as I’ve been acting there has been this on-going question as to when is the best time to audition. It’s not always the case that you have a choice, in fact most of the time you don’t, but in those times where a “window” of time is offered to you to audition for a role, you should take a time that is just past halfway through the scheduled auditions. So, if for instance, you are told that there will be two days of auditions and you can read anytime on Monday or Tuesday nights from 7:00pm to 10:00pm, then you should look to go in on the early on the second night. If an audition window is, say, Friday from noon to 4:00pm, I’d recommend you shoot to be reading your copy a little after 2:00pm.
And the reason is simple. By then the director knows what he or she doesn’t want. That’s right. What they don’t want.
When you audition it’s a good idea to ask the director (or casting director as the case may be) what they’re looking for. Whenever I audition the question that like ask is what is the “tone” are they looking for in the role. Try it on your next couple of auditions. Frequently, you’ll find yourself getting some great guidance from that question that can help you better inform the audition towards what they are looking for. But what actors don’t usually consider is what they don’t want. And the truth is they don’t really know either. But what develops as an audition session goes on is that the casting team sees many, many different interpretations of a role and, although they are always looking for something unexpected, by halfway through the process they have seen a lot of what they know they don’t want. A natural tendency then develops as new actors come in to read to give more specific pre-audition direction about what they specifically don’t want to see.
I just recently sat in on a series of auditions for a show and saw this clearly happen. The audition scene called for a young couple to have an argument. The director started out reading the actors early in the process with some fairly simple direction. As actors went through the process many of them made somewhat obvious choices and engaged in fierce, highly-charged arguments, all the while keeping to the dialog in the script. But by the second night of auditions the director began to change how he informed the actors about what he was looking for before they read. He started telling them what he didn’t want them to do. “Don’t be strident.” “Don’t lose the fact that they love each other deeply.” “Don’t go too fast through the section of the script.” All of which he’d seen other actors do previously. And sure enough…the readings on the second night were more in line with his vision of the characters and the play was cast mostly with actors auditioning in the second session.
Knowing what they don’t want can be even more valuable than thinking you know what they want. And the fact is that most directors don’t really know what they don’t want until they’ve seen it done several times by different actors. So, if you do get the chance to choose when to read for a role, choose to do so right after the midway point of the auditions. That’s your best bet. And don’t forget to make strong choices…break a leg!