Auditioning 101: Avoid It If You Can- And You Can’t {A Guest Post}

I am thrilled to begin this new blog series with a guest post from one of my favorite bloggers, my friend Julie Rhodes of the Wet Behind The Ears blog.  An editor, writer and  performer while being a Wife & Mom to two beautiful children (I love that she refers to them as ‘Thing One’ & ‘Thing Two’), Julie is an incredible inspiration to me, and one of my dearest friends.

While the subject of this post is specific in nature, I thought it would be a wonderful way to introduce the Resources for Creatives series.  Whether it’s an audition for the performer, an article, book proposal or blog post for the writer, a piece of art or product line to develop–there’s much to learn from putting your creativity on the line for others to experience.  At the end of each post (including this one), I’ll be sharing some of my favorite resources–books, websites or otherwise–for further reading.  {By the way, Julie is in part writing about the same audition I wrote about in my last post.  Her perspective is wise beyond her years}


The performing life is one of great uncertainty and virulent, Ebola insecurity. A performer is first uncertain and insecure about whether they are, in fact, a performer. Or just another wannabe. Doesn’t everyone sing? Doesn’t everyone want to be famous? We question our motivations, we assume we are narcissistic and completely deluded. I mean, really. How embarrassing. To think I want to do and be something that every eight-year-old tells their mommy they want to do and be. I really can’t imagine wanting to be anything worse, except wanting to be a writer. And I want to be that, too.

The second wrenching, gut-gnawing thing is the everyday obsessing over whether or not others think you are a performer. Once you’ve settled it — yes, I’m meant for the stage! — then you wait with baited breath for other people to agree. What a bitter world it is to possess this thing inside of you, this strange ability, this weird compulsion, and not be able to express it. To only be able to use it if others give you permission, people like producers and directors and music directors who extend the magical scepter of a contract. You’re only a performer if they say you are and invite you to be one. Otherwise, you’re just, well, someone convinced you could be a performer. And that’s hard to bear. That’s when you feel like the mental patient who believes she is the Virgin Mary. That’s when you want to sign up for the first accounting class you can find at the local community college in order to suffocate this whining, self-deceived inner diva.

But it’s this way for everyone, right? You’re not a doctor until someone tells you that you are. You don’t work for Microsoft until a manager bloody-well invites you aboard. If you say bloody-well a lot, you might work for Scotland Yard, but only if the queen sends you a letter sealed with crimson wax, delivered by Sir Lancelot.

Everyone eventually has to put themselves out there as something or other and wait for people to agree. Eventually all of us take our index fingers and draw a little line in the sand and say to the world, am I this thing or am I not? Pause. (The pause is the worst part.) And then: either a sigh of relief or a dreamy, disorienting darkness. The world is either with you or it is ignoring you.

Those who are fortunate enough to have long-term professions like medicine or law-enforcement do not have to ask the world this question 120 times a day. Most of them have a stable situation, a long-lasting identity. A theater contract, on the other hand, lasts for about a month. Then you’re back to wringing your hands in the closet and crying in the shower. While everybody in the world has to face rejection a handful of times in their professional life, nobody but actors face it constantly, in real time.

Enter stage right: the audition.

Ah yes, the audition, the tequila of insecurity; the concentrated, burning tonic of vulnerability that must be downed in one gulp — worm and all — and chased with the lime of journaling, therapy, and prayer.

I went to an audition last week where I was being considered for the evil queen role. Apparently I have aged out of damsel-in-distress parts, though no little cartoon birds alighted upon my shoulder to break the news. Thrilled I had been given a callback, I went home and sat with the music and scene pages like a starving artist but realized in horror that the song was a country song. No more Disney princess ballads for you, deary. This is a character role.

Perhaps the worst part of the audition is the chilling way the company manager lines you up outside the door before issuing you inside to face the lions. Everyone prepares the same song and sings it one after another. It’s like a stock show parade with everyone asking which bull will be the first to the slaughter. There were five of us up for this evil queen role, and I was number four of five, which meant I got the exquisite torture of hearing three other girls belting it out from behind the door. A lifetime passes standing in that little line.

First thing’s first: you assess the wardrobe of your competition. You determine if she is dressed evil-queeny enough or if you have at least edged her out in the visual presentation department. Then you size up her attitude. Confident? Nonchalant? Focused? (Evil queenish?) You try your best to project a pleasant, detached professionalism — you’re saving your magic for the people who matter — but because auditioning is so close to stripping down naked in front of total strangers, it’s hard not to twitch like you’re demon-possessed.

Behind a long white table sit a handful of people that you may or may not know. If you do know them, it’s better. There is the producer, director, music director, and choreographer (if it’s a musical). The key here is not to let them see you flinch, to show you are actually happy, excited, and thrilled to be there. Not only that, you must somehow prove that you are actually capable of wowing an audience upon the stage. Auditions are like New York City: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. A live performance could never be worse nerve-wise than an audition, and sometimes I think the auditors try to make the audition as difficult as possible. Or maybe they are just plain tired. I was at an audition once where the producer appeared to be sleeping.

Breath control is the key during an audition. Once your heart takes off like a freight-train and the adrenaline is burning up your clavicles, it would require divine intervention to have a really good audition. You must take deep breaths like stage three of labor in order to birth a healthy, viable performance. A few weeks ago, I forgot this. I failed to breathe through the pain. I was reading a scene mid-audition when suddenly my right hand started shaking — the hand holding the script — so it looked like I was fanning my right foot like it was on fire. I’m still hoping they thought I had just “made a choice” with the character. (They did ask me back, so I guess the joke’s on them.)

I say all of this as someone very new to the business. I have only just admitted my awful identity (performer!) to myself in the past several years, and have only just been auditioning professionally with some success over the past year. As time goes on, I’m sure I will learn to live this life with more dignity, more self-assurance, more faith. Or maybe I will realize in a deeper/real-life way what has been true all along: “Apart from [Jesus], you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Never, ever have. Never, ever will. Especially not this.

For Further Reading:
*Audition: Everything An Actor Needs to Know To Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff
*Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide by Joanna Merlin
*Letters To A Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life In the Arts by Anna Deavere Smith




2 comments on “Auditioning 101: Avoid It If You Can- And You Can’t {A Guest Post}

  1. What a fantastic post and a fantastic series!! I’m so excited about it! Even though I am not a performer, I feel that vulnerability every time I hit “publish” – so this first post in your series was perfect for me today. Thank you – and Julie – for talking us through it. And for putting it in perspective…

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