Auditioning, Memorizing and the Sides: Tips and Suggestions for Actors
“Should I be memorized?”
“May I hold the sides?”
“Will they cast me if I look at the page, now and again?”
These are questions I am about to address, and I have received invaluable input from to two exceptional casting directors, and two film directors to get their points of view.
Here we go! So, you have an audition. Excellent news! This is a win, and now you have an amazing opportunity to ply your craft, embody a character, and do what you love! You probably have the materials – the sides (the portion of the script that you will prepare and audition with) – and you might have the script, too. Because of the advances in technology, you probably have this stuff in your inbox or available to you at a casting website for download. If you need a few tips on preparing your audition, READ THEM HERE NOW!
You head to the appointment, and (we are going to assume here that you have at least one page of text to work with) go in to the casting room. I suggest you have the sides. Yes, you should “know the role,” and be exceptionally familiar with the scene, but, No, don’t do your audition without the pages in your hand. Yes, refer to them as little as possible, but I recommend holding them for the initial audition.
Here is what Paul Weber, Casting Director, Los Angeles, told me about holding the sides:
Ideally, it would be preferable to have the material down cold on the initial audition, however perfectly it’s fine – even preferable – to have the sides in your hand. Remember you are giving a (hopefully) great audition, not a finished performance.
In my experience, I have “performed” callbacks with the sides in my hand and have been cast, and I have “performed” without sides in my hand and have also been cast. Here is the deal with the callback, in my opinion: You *really* need to know the role and the scene. You should have your face out of the page the whole time. I would bet that some actors will not hold their sides, and this *might* give them a leg up in the competition for the role. However, at the end of the day, since I believe so much of the casting decision rests on how you look, how you play the role, and how you come across in the room (you need to portray that “gosh, I am easy to work with and a joy to have on set” vibe), I think that holding the sides during the callback, assuming that your use of them is not overly intrusive, is *okay*. Also, if you are auditioning for a television show, I believe it is more important that you look as polished (sides-free) as possible, since production moves so fast for TV shows.
Let’s see what Paul Weber says:
I think that once you are called back, you should be off-book and off-page. It’s still okay to hold the sides, but at this point, you should be as performance ready as possible. No black marks against you if you do hold the sides, but always a gold star if you are sides-free!
…As you come in for call-backs 2 and 3 times, and certainly for any test at the network or screen test on a film – yes, be off book. You can still hold your sides if you need to, but be off book. As you know, competition is SO stiff, and if the next guy is more prepared than you, then it doesn’t make you look very good. For us, your behavior in an audition is indicative of how you’d be on the set. (read more from Marci, HERE, at her fantastic blog)
If the actor is still holding sides after the second call back (and referring to them), then that might signal a problem.
There is a skill and craft to utilizing cold reading skills. The sides can be used as a prop, almost an extension of your arm…Casting directors are almost immune to actors holding sides, as long as they are held skillfully and only referred to when necessary. I would rather have the actor refer to the sides, if he goes up in a scene, then panic, freeze and then ask to start all over again.That sets us back in a session that likely is already running late.
I struggle with viewing a performance when someone is frequently referencing the sides. I would rather someone improvise lines and show the feeling of the scene, character, and interaction with the other actor more than nailing lines. Checking the sides between takes is absolutely fine. The actor that can roll through a scene without looking at the sides conveys confidence in the role, which is the first thing I look for. So, to answer your question, to audition without sides gives you a tremendous leg up in my world, but needing them doesn’t disqualify you.
1. Is it ever advisable to NOT hold the sides during the audition process (initial, callback, producer callback, 3rd callback, etc.)?
ANSWER: On average, I provide the actors with the script/sides 1.5 to 2 weeks before an audition. I believe it’s unfair to not allow an actor sufficient time to prepare for an audition. That being said, holding sides doesn’t bother me during an audition. What I am looking for is how an actor has interpreted the character in relationship to the other characters in the piece, and of course, the subtext. I would much rather see an actor hold sides and give me a true performance from their perspective versus having someone just spew the lines they have memorized. I want to see a performance not how well someone has memorized lines. When it comes to 2nd and 3rd callbacks, I am still okay with actors holding their script/sides. Again, it’s about the performance and not memorization. If an actor really wants the part, I believe the actor will put in the necessary work to get the job.
2. Is holding the sides RECOMMENDED at all times – in line with the idea that the actor is showing an audition not a finished piece or performance?
ANSWER: I am fine with an actor not holding their sides, but I would much rather have them hold the sides for reference versus watching them struggle to remember the lines or asking me to throw them lines because they have forgotten the line(s). This becomes a distraction and takes away from the performance. As I said above, as producer/director, I strive to give actors enough time with the script/sides before they ever audition for me. I want actors to read through the script or sides and really try to understand the subtext of both their lines and their fellow characters within the scene. That’s what’s most important to me.
3. Does holding/using the sides ever prevent actors from getting the part? Perhaps casting/producers might think the actor has problems memorizing.ANSWER: This hasn’t been an issue for me, however, if I was concerned about an actors memorization, I would address it directly with the actor and ask them to provide me a performance of the sides without them in hand.
One thing I thought to add to this: Almost every time I have someone go up in lines they thought they had memorized, they say the same thing: “I thought I had these memorized”! The problem for many is that they assume that just because they put in the time to memorize their lines, it automatically means they’ll be able to deliver a better read and are able to concentrate on the performance part of the characterization. Not true in all cases. For many, they don’t practice memorizing while performing so when they add the performance part at the audition, it’s frequently the first time they’ve tried to do both and now they’re more divided than if they had the script in their hand. It’s almost as if they were juggling with two balls and suddenly, someone gives them a third to add. So if you’re going to memorize, practice what you want to do with the character at the same time. If you’re not REALLY memorized and off book (no sides) then for God’s sake, keep the sides in your hand. It’s a bad bargain to place what words come next as the first in your hierarchy of importance instead of what you want to do with those words and that’s what happens when you’re not completely cold on you memorization. It’s like having one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat. I’m now in a secondary market and don’t have as many options for casting choices as I did when I was back home in Los Angeles. So I end up having to work a lot more to help an actor be camera ready for a part as it may be the difference between a solution and having to move on to even fewer options…
Thank you so much, Stephen, for taking the time to comment!
Very insightful analogies I can relate to. Thank you for posting.
Super helpful!! I feel so much better knowing I can have a reference point on hand.
Happy to help!