I’ve been doing a lot of auditioning recently, which is a good thing. If you’re actor, this is what you do if you’re lucky. The more you audition, the more likely you are of landing a part or gig. So, yay! It’s also a pain in the butt at times. Think about it: basically you’re constantly looking for work, and every audition (sometimes several a week) is another job interview. A job interview! One after another! Some would quake at the thought of just one. This is the life folks. You get though by trying to have fun but remembering it’s important to practice your professionalism at the same time. In other words; have a good time, don't be a jerk.
Which brings us to the kind of auditioning done by different directors for theatrical productions. In most auditions I’ve been in, you’re in some drafty hallway, bland reception area, or bombed out over-heated room, all with too few chairs and a bathroom you have to start a Holy Grail quest to find. Sometimes there are snacks like water and carrot sticks, but usually not. You clutch your sides (script) you have to read until the person who checked you in calls you (treat this person well, because nervous actors can be a pain in the butt. Don’t be a pain in the butt.) The director, producers, assistants are sitting behind a table loaded with 8X10s, resumes, scripts, cold coffee and fading hope. They listen to your brilliance, maybe give you some direction (some directors love to throw you for a loop to see if you can ‘take direction’) and you get escorted out. If this is a callback, you probably wait in that hallway/room/airless closet and get called in a few times to read with different people.
This small room audition (room, director, actor) is the majority of auditions I’ve done since graduating from college. You don’t get to see a lot of your fellow actors working, what they bring to the part or how you might compare; you do your work and hit the next audition, waiting to hear a yea or nay (or neither as is often the case). In college or auditions or callbacks (and community theatre which I did a fair amount of) we were often in the theatre itself, all the actors together along with the director, watching each other audition and sweat. You do your scene, and then the next group would get up and do the scene again. You might see the same scene a half dozen times and get a good idea of what each actor brings to the part, and how you might improve it. It's a bit like a sports practice session: “Tom, go in for Phil! Shannon, you’re in for Sheenah!” This type of audition pretty much goes away at the professional level; it can take longer at times and seems just a bit too ‘high school drama’ to many actors.
The ensemble audition, with everyone in the room at once, is making something of a limited comeback. I’ve been at a few recently (all for comedies) and they’ve been something of a revelation to me. One; we’ve got some really talented actors in Seattle! Two; we’ve got some really bad actors in Seattle who don’t seem to understand just basic stuff. I love watching a good actor work, and at auditions with a barely read side in their hands and another nervous actor in front of them to bounce lines off you can really see the wheels spin. You have to think on your feet, often discovering as you go. It can be a nerve-straining experience and to do it in front of a room of other nervous actors, many who are auditioning for the same part only adds to the heart beating and hand-shaking.
At auditions where I don’t see what the other actors are doing, I assume they are all geniuses, able to act circles around me. At an ensemble audition, I find this is sometimes true, and sometimes not. I learn things and I’m forced to hurriedly adapt and readapt to what other actors are doing; or not doing, you don’t want to get up and do what another actor just did. You have to get creative. Now at other auditions, you shouldn’t have to have the pressure of a roomful of actors watching to inspire you to be more creative with a scene, you should do your work to the best of your ability and that includes being creative. Of course at these auditions I listen in the hallway as others run though the same scene I’m doing to see different takes on it. One audition I was at recently was held in such a sound porous room it might well have been an ensemble audition. That also was informative.
The kind of audition done depends on the director and on the kind of the play. Intense personal dramas might not be the place to have a bunch of restless and judgmental actors around, while a comedy might benefit from having more in the audition room. Having done both recently I’ve been thinking about it, trying to put aside my own judgment and ego and examine it. I pretty much failed the judgment and ego part (there were a couple actors at these ensemble auditions I wanted to take aside and give a mini-acting course to), but I find the creativity and atmosphere in the ensemble audition overcomes what some think is the community theatre feel of it. I cringed in the beginning, but ended up having fun and I think being better than I would have otherwise. And really, anything that can make a callback more fun, I’m for.