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Director's Corner with Jon Jory: Making Auditions Awesome Instead of Arduous

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Director's Corner with Jon Jory

Soooo, Stage Partners is allowing me to share a thought or two with you on a monthly basis. What are my bonafides? A life’s work and my sense that I’ve made so many mistakes as a director that I might be of some help in avoiding the pot-holes! Off we go...

Tips for Young Actors:

Making Auditions Awesome Instead of Arduous

Ah yes, the actor’s least favorite part of the job. A room with murderously florescent light, a chair with one bad leg, and three grim humans staring coldly and humorlessly like master chefs analyzing an undercooked chicken, while you trip over your own feet and forget your lines.

Been there, done that, right? Well, maybe I can explain a few things and bind your wounds.

First of all, despite looking like Tywin Lannister or Cersei on Game of Thrones, your auditors desperately hope that you’re wonderful. Why? The director wants to be credited by the marvelous acting he/she has created like a grand puppet master. Of course, in fact, the director is seldom responsible for wonderful acting, but let’s not get into that.

Anyway, the people watching your auditions are, behind their poker faces, madly rooting for you. So, what are these grim reapers actually looking for?

1) Do you have a mind/body connection? Does what you think create gesture and movement that seems apt?

2) Is your voice one we should want to listen to for two hours? If you have vocal problems, are they fixable in the short term?

3) Is there rhythmic and vocal variety? This means an honest use of loud and soft and fast and slow. Is there any sense that this actor is a jazz musician with words?

4) Do you have your own version of charm and likability, or command? A charm-killer is working too hard with unjustified, non-adorable energy.

5) Is what you are doing believable or is it all shmacting for effect?

6) Do you understand the scene the monologue comes from? Are you serving the text? When you misunderstand the material it makes us worry about your taste.

7) Does this person seem sincere, motivated, and is this actor someone I would like to be in a room with for several weeks?

8) Do you seem comfortable on stage or do I sense a discomfort and fear that is almost never fixable in the time available? Do you actually enjoy acting? 

Let’s talk about picking material for a minute.

You should be selecting pieces in your own age range. My recurring nightmares are nineteen-year-olds trying to play Lear or Lady Macbeth. And by the way, if you are a writer, self-written pieces are fine. It’s an old wives tale that they are somehow forbidden. Oh, and please don’t do highly-emotional pieces where you are obviously faking the emotions. That sets off loud, clanging alarms in our heads.

Here’s one: if your comedy sense sucks don’t do comedy. Actors desperately trying to be funny have the same effect as killer clowns. Also, unless you are directly told to do so, don’t do a Shakespeare. Good Shakespeare takes a lot of life experience which you may not have collected yet. If you must do a Shakespeare, keep it short, a minute to a minute and a half. We may have loved your contemporary piece and then you destroy our interest with terrible Shakespeare.

A few words about text.

Before you perform you must be able to answer the following questions about your material:

  • Who are you talking to and why?
  • Where is this imaginary person?
  • What is the outcome your character wants?
  • What is the nature of the relationship you have with this person?
  • Why is this moment important to your character?
  • If it’s not important, what are we listening to you blab?
  • Are you making the mistake of playing the ‘emotion’ rather than the ‘want’?
  • What tactics are you using to get what you want?
  • What are the most important moments and why?
  • How are you making the important moments important?
  • Are you devoting sufficient concentration and energy to what you want?
  • Did you get what you want?
  • What is your character’s reaction to winning or losing?

Lastly, when the audition is over don’t beat yourself up about it. You are going to do hundreds of auditions in an actor’s life and no single one of them will define you. Go eat something you like, do something you like with someone you like. Next time, it will be perfect.

P.S. Never do an audition piece you haven’t done on your own feet a dozen times otherwise you will embarrass yourself and cockroaches will crawl out of your ears.


As the Producing Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jon Jory directed over 125 plays and produced over 1,000 during his 32-year tenure. He conceived the internationally lauded Humana Festival of New American Plays, the SHORTS Festival, and the Brown-Forman Classics-in-Context Festival. He was also the Artistic Founding Director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, and he has been inducted in New York’s Theatre Hall of Fame. Mr. Jory has directed professionally in nine nations, and in the United States has directed productions at many regional theatres including Washington’s Arena Stage, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, Hartford Stage, the McCarter in Princeton, Guthrie Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He has received the National Theatre Conference Award and ATA Distinguished Career Award. For his commitment to new plays, he has received the Margo Jones Award twice, the Shubert Foundation’s James N. Vaughan Memorial Award for Exceptional Achievement and Contribution to the Development of Professional Theatre, Carnegie Mellon’s Commitment to Playwriting Award, and the Special Tony Award for Achievement in Regional Theatre. He currently teaches acting and directing at UCLA.

Read all of Jon Jory's Stage Partners plays for free:

A Christmas Carol (full-length)
Peter Pan (Non-flying!)

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