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How to nail an audition

National Theatre Drama School Artistic Director Trent Baker shares his top tips on delivering your best auditions.
How to nail an audition Auditioners are looking for flexibility and openness. A View From the Bridge image by Sarah Walker.

Alison Croggon

Monday 7 October, 2019

Audition season is fast approaching: that time of the year when thousands of ambitious actors prepare to audition for acting schools around the country, taking their first step towards establishing a professional career. 

National Theatre Drama School Artistic Director Trent Baker has seen it all while running the longest established acting school in Melbourne, and he has some handy tips – both in what auditioners are looking for, and for how to nail that audition.

He said it’s difficult to articulate the quality that makes you look when an actor walks in to an audition. He knows he’s looking for a quiet confidence: the person who can listen, digest the information presented to them and then deliver it in their performance.

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‘You want each time you do it to be a fresh banquet, not a re-heated meal’

Trent Baker

‘Basically you’re looking for someone you can work with, who will be a team player,’ Baker said. He’s looking for openness, flexibility, adaptability. And, crucially, people who are able to laugh at themselves.

But he warned that this isn’t about not doing the work, or turning up and winging it. ‘Make definite choices with every moment,’ he said. ‘Come with solid decisions about the character and the monologue.’

Baker said nerves usually come from the actor being preoccupied with the past (regret) or the future (anxiety) rather than staying in the present (connection). ‘To paraphrase Declan Donnellan, stay with the character’s problems, not your own,’ he said. ‘In short: forget your worries, they will take you out of the present; concentrate on the character’s concerns that will keep you in the present.’

‘Our second year students are asked to read and digest Donnellan’s seminal acting text The Actor and the Target before beginning intensive American Scene Work at the beginning of their second year.’

Baker’s top tips to ensure you’re fully prepared for that nerve-wracking audition:

  • ‘It’s the same guidelines for an actor of any age. Read the entire play. The important point is to digest the entire play – think about the story, the situation, what are the circumstances that are affecting the character? Read other plays by the same playwright, to get an idea of their style and concerns as a human being. In their first year of study here at the National Theatre Drama School, our students are taught a rigorous process of text analysis incorporating the teachings of Mike Alfreds, Uta Hagen and Stanislavski.’
  • ‘Learn your lines 100%, so you could say them backwards if asked. It’s only when you don’t have to think about your lines that you are truly free to create and experiment with the text.’
  • ‘Try your piece in a variety of different ways so you don’t get locked down in just one way of presenting it. You want each time you do it to be a fresh banquet, not a re-heated meal. Through play and discovery our students here at the National learn to connect to their imaginative impulse. Improvisation is a must for any student of acting technique.’
  • ‘Know that the people you are auditioning for want you to be great. When you first walk through the door they are hoping that you will be who they are looking for. This notion gives the actor autonomy. It puts you in the position of power. Trust that what you bring is unique.’
  • ‘Don’t waste time second-guessing what the panel wants. Trust your creative gut. The panel may ask you to do the monologue another way, but this doesn’t mean your way was “wrong”.’
  • Be flexible to change. ‘One of the central concepts we try to get across to students at The National Theatre Drama School is flexibility. The ability to be (in the words of Mike Alfreds’ book) Different Every Night.’

And his top ‘don’ts’:

  • ‘Don’t spend endless time “preparing” once you’re in the audition room. There is nothing more distracting than an actor who, before they speak the first line, shakes their body out and breathes heavily for a full 30 seconds. Do all this outside of the room before you begin.’
  • ‘Dropping a line and asking to start again. No one cares if you drop a line. It’s not the end of the world. Adapt and keep on going.’
  • ‘If you want to look a panel member in the eye as part of your audition, ask first. Some people are fine with it, some people hate it. But ask to make sure.’

Trent Baker is Artistic Director of the National Theatre Drama School, Australia's longest established actor-training institution based in Melbourne, preparing actors for the stage and screen.

About the author

Alison Croggon is an award-winning novelist, poet, theatre writer and critic. She has 30 years experience reviewing performance for outlets such as The Australian, the ABC and The Monthly and generated an international reputation as a performance critic with her influential blog Theatre Notes. In 2009 she was the first online critic to win the prestigious Geraldine Pascall Critic of the Year Award.
Twitter: @alisoncroggon