Auditions Guidelines

Shakespeare Festival Auditions Information

Welcome to the Shakespeare Festival auditions page! Please read the following guidelines carefully in order to ensure that you have a smooth and successful audition experience for participating in our Festival stage productions. And above all, don't be overly nervous and afraid about auditioning--most of the actors who audition for us have done little or no Shakespeare before now!

THE ACTING COMPANIES. The Shakespeare Festival auditions students, community talent, and professional guest artists-in-residence during April for acting roles in its plays that will be produced in September and October. Festival seeks to create a "mixed" ensemble of student, community, and professional actors for its mainstage production, while the touring company consists entirely of students. One of Festival's most exciting features is the opportunity it offers you to work side-by-side with seasoned union artists for a 6-8 week period: to learn from their methods, co-create performances, socialize with them, and establish professional contacts for future work that you may do.

WHO SHOULD AUDITION. Normally, only actors attend the spring auditions and technical positions for the productions are filled during September when production work begins. If you wish to sign-on early for technical work, you may attend the spring auditions and fill out the auditions sheet noting your desire to do technical work; you'll be contacted during late summer with further information. Paid technical staff positions in areas of management and production are normally reserved only for GVSU students, who apply in early April. Union actors audition separately in regional auditions, or privately at our theatre in Allendale, Michigan, by appointment with the directors.

GENERAL AUDITIONS AND CALLBACKS. You must sign-up in advance for an audition time (no drop-ins). Sign-in sheets are available at the theatre box office in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center (noon - 5 p.m., Monday - Friday). You may also reserve a time by phoning the box office during business hours at 331-2300.

You should plan to attend either the first or second day of General Auditions (not both days), and directors will select those of you suitable for the Callback Auditions on the third day. At the General Auditions, you must have two contrasting monologs to present, each less than a minute memorized and rehearsed; one should be from Shakespeare, and the other from the modern theatre. A monolog is a speech of 30-60 seconds spoken by only one character alone onstage. Actors normally choose a serious or tragic piece in addition to a comic or whimsical or romantic one in order to show directors the range of their skill. Following your two prepared monologs, you'll be given selected scenes to study for a few minutes, and then be asked to present a "cold reading" of the scene with a partner. There may also be some group improvisations for you to participate in as part of the General Auditions.

Actors selected for Callbacks will be given a script with a scene or two selected for them to prepare, and will return the following day to read the scene with different partners. Callbacks give you a longer time to study the script before presenting it, and allow directors to take a closer look at you (especially with particular partners for the dramatic relationships required in the script). Unlike prepared monologs, you should not memorize the callback scenes, although you should be thoroughly familiar with the assigned material. You should have rehearsed the lines aloud, and you may also wish to rehearse to some extent with a friend before returning for callbacks.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT AUDITIONS. Be sure to bring a pencil so you can complete the auditions form. We'll need to know things like current address and phone, your onstage or backstage experience, special skills, and so forth. And if you're a student, it will greatly help if you know your class schedule for the fall semester so we can get some idea of your availability for evening rehearsals. Our stage manager will ask you to fill out an auditions form when you arrive. Generally, your total General Audition will not last longer than an hour, including your prepared pieces and any additional readings the directors will ask of you.

You should never bring costumes or properties (small objects) for your prepared audition. These things only distract you and your listeners. Nor should you feel it necessary to stage yourself with dramatic and exciting movements that you may feel are called for in the actual scene. None of that stuff is important at tryouts. Remember that our directors want to see you act--they want to see you create a vital and compelling relationship onstage (and we'll take care of building costumes & sets etc. for the show!).

Bear in mind that our directors are not seeking finished performances at auditions. We'll have plenty of rehearsal time to develop your character for performance, so what we want to see at the audition are your general qualities as an actor, your potential for playing one of these roles onstage, and how well you take direction and work with the other auditionees.

Also bear in mind that we know how phony the entire audition process really is!   We understand how impossible it is to properly cast a play with only a few minutes to look at each actor, and how unsettling it is for all of you actors to present yourselves in this way! But this is the way roles are cast, so we must all go through the audition process. And if you feel this is extremely frustrating and uncertain for you, then just remember how we're feeling! We have to audition 60-70 potential actors in these 2-3 days; and we also have to cast a show, knowing that 90% of the show's success or failure will rely on proper casting. Yoiks! What a crazy idea! That's why we all give it our best shot, because it's gotta work!

FINDING MATERIAL FOR GENERAL AUDITIONS. All auditionees should be familiar with the plays being cast. Text and video copies of the mainstage production are available at many local libraries; while the University Library on the Allendale campus (where the Festival is located) has video and text copies of both the mainstage and touring plays on closed reserve for advance study. These can be found at the Reserve Desk under the listing: "CTH 380 Shakespeare." Advance reading acquaints you with the type of play being cast (romance, tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, etc.), the plot or story, the various roles that you might be suitable for, and different character relationships. This is important for you to know prior to auditions, and gives you an edge over many others who will be less prepared.

If you aren't too familiar with the Bard's plays, you can look over some monologs to chose for the General Auditions in two ways. Teachers in Drama or English can always recommend plays or scenes where some good monologs are contained (and you should read or view the whole play from which your monolog is taken). Additionally, a number of libraries and local bookstores contain monolog anthologies of material drawn from Shakespeare or the modern theatre. Any of these are appropriate for an audition, and you'll likely have to "trim and edit" these to a maximum of 30 - 60 seconds. The Grand Valley University Library has a number of such anthologies available as resource materials.

WHAT OUR DIRECTORS ARE SEEKING. The directors look for several basic things at auditions. One is preparedness and self-discipline. They want to see whether you've memorized your audition piece well, rehearsed it aloud and with movement, and spent some time interpreting the words and actions. Additionally, the directors will want to hear your vocal qualities at the General Audition. Are you expressive or do you speak in a monotone? Can you pronounce your words clearly or is your articulation slurred and hasty? Is your volume low and hesitant because of stage fright, or do you speak with energy and volume? The final basic skill directors want to see is how well you move. Do you have nervous personal mannerisms, or do you seem confident and poised while speaking? Can you move and gesture as you speak or are you very stiff from stage fright?

Beyond the basics, however, our directors are also looking for a few other special qualities at the General Auditions. They are, of course, mentally trying to "picture" you in one of the play's roles. So the more you understand about the plays and roles you're auditioning for, the more you help our directors to see you in the part. The directors also need to determine how "word friendly" you are with Shakespeare, so when they ask you to read something from the play they'll be listening to how smoothly you read and seem to "pick up on" what is being said. Finally, our directors will always ask you to do something different or special with the piece they ask you to read--or perhaps even with the piece you've memorized and already presented! They do this in order to see how flexible you are, how well you can take direction, perform basic asking tasks, and so forth. So listen carefully to any instructions the director make give you.

Above all, however, our directors are expecting you to make something exciting, magical, wonderful, and vital happen between you and your listener(s) at the audition, because this is what audiences will expect in a performance! We want to see you create a compelling relationship up there, using Shakespeare's words! So believe in that dramatic relationship earnestly and passionately as you read the scene! If you can decide what a character wants while he or she speaks--why the character is speaking--and believe in that, then you're on the right track for acting!

So be sure to look up from the page as you're auditioning and really see your acting partner or speak to the audience (don't hide behind the words!). Don't be afraid to move around the auditioning area.

PREPARING MATERIAL FOR GENERAL AUDITIONS. You should get the piece memorized as soon as possible; only by learning the character's speech pattern and committing the words to memory can you begin to understand what motivates the character and free your imagination to act without being distracted by trying to remember your lines. Use a stopwatch and time yourself to about 30 seconds for each monolog. If necessary, cut and trim the original piece. At the General Auditions you'll simply be asked to state your name, the play from which your monolog is taken, and the name of the character. Nothing else.

Remember that every selection is spoken to another character--a listening character in the scene, an absent character, or even just the audience. The important thing is to practice the speech as something said to someone in order to express something very important. If you practice your speech with these things in mind, then your speech will have energy and an intention behind it! Imagine that other listener and speak to him or her, presenting yourself either directly to the audience or slightly left or right. The more earnestly you try to communicate to this person, the more sincerely you believe in the words you're saying, the more urgent and compelling your performance will be.

Don't feel you have to move around a great deal while auditioning, but you really do need to move around for us to get a good sense of your talent. So don't remain frozen in play at tryouts. In general, actors try to physicalize what's happening in the scene: they employ gestures, facial expressiveness, crosses from one place to another in order to express what they're feeling and accomplish the intention behind the speech. So look through your speech or scene and decide where a gesture or a movement might be appropriate to help you create the necessary relationship onstage. Keep it to a minimum, however, or your reading might just get "too busy" and distracting.

Finally, you need to rehearse - rehearse - rehearse! You should do a lot of rehearsing on your own in order to devise some movements and to get comfortable with the words. Then you can have someone watch you while you do the entire audition--your name, etc., and both monologs--without interruption, so you can get used to doing this! Also have them close their eyes and listen to you, to see whether or not you're making your speech clear! Have them cover their ears and look at you to see whether or not your nonverbal language is expressive and energetic.

Try to have fun at tryouts! Despite all the stage fright and competition for roles that will be happening, try to enjoy the challenge of overcoming all those anxieties in order to audition well. Cut through all the details of the mechanical stuff and all your self-consciousness, and instead concentrate on making something dramatic happen with your audition! Remember that our directors are not making any personal judgments about you when you audition, they're simply trying to see you in the best role possible! After all, if competition and risk-taking and challenge aren't fun for you, then the experience won't be fun for the directors either!

Good luck, and break a leg!

Shakespeare's Theatre

The DeWitt drawing of The Swan Theatre

Costume shop crew

The costume shop crew celebrates at the opening!

King Henry the Fourth Part One


Page last modified April 25, 2019