How To Audition for Shakespeare
June 30th, 2020
Auditioning for Shakespeare can be a daunting task. How do I choose the right monologue? Do I do an accent? Do I need to paraphrase? Performer Stuff is here to answer all your questions and then some. We’ve broken it down into eight easy steps to stop worrying and learn to love the Bard.
Narrowing Down Monologue Choices
One of the most critical introductory steps is to figure out what kind of Shakespeare monologue you’re seeking. A good rule of thumb is to match the play and genres. For example, Henry V is a history play, so it would be smart to audition with a monologue from another history like Richard II, showing you’re perfect for the material.
Narrowing Down Even Further
An even more exact way to narrow it down is to pick a monologue with similar personality traits or experiences to the character you seek. For example, if your dream role is Lady Macbeth, then any of Queen Margaret’s speeches from Henry VI would be a great audition fit since she is a very similar character. Showing the casting director that you understand the show and the character you wish to play. Lucky for you, Performer Stuff has done a lot of the grunt work already in our articles that suggest monologues for every character in the major Shakespeare plays with free links.
Don’t Do An English Accent
It’s tempting to do an English accent when auditioning for Shakespeare, but this effort will not pay off. If you’re doing it to sound more authentic, I have bad news. Shakespeare did not speak nor write like today’s British English. Explaining why some lines should rhyme do not rhyme in our modern pronunciation, whether in American English or British English, such as the good/blood rhyme in Macbeth spoken by the witches. In Shakespeare’s era, the word good and blood were pronounced the same. Some modern productions do OP (Original Pronunciation) that sounds extremely distinctive and not modern British English. The only exception to the no accent rule is if your audition call requests explicitly or if you’re auditioning for an OP production, in which case, knock their socks off. If you want to learn more about Original Pronunciation and hear it spoken aloud, please check out this video by the Globe Theater
Know Your Play
Often in the audition room, your casting director will ask you questions about the play and how your character is feeling. Make sure to know the answers. The most obvious solution is to read the entire play that your monologue is from and the show you’re auditioning for, but sometimes this is more difficult if you’re newer to Shakespearean text. The dialogue can be challenging to understand on paper, and the nuances can be lost when not heard aloud. In addition to reading, consider watching recordings allowing you to hear all the little nuances, wordplay, and emotions much more apparent than just in a copy of the script. The National Theatre Live and The Royal Shakespeare Company have recently released some of the past Shakespeare shows on YouTube for free. Take advantage and brush up on a Shakespeare play you don’t know well.
If you take anything for this article, let it be paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is the work of going through your Shakespearean monologue line by line and writing out what your character is saying in your own words. It makes all the difference. Look up all the words you don’t know. Take time to consider what you would say instead of, “Fie upon thee!” Choose the juiciest words full of passion and give you something to dig into as an actor. Profanity is definitely welcome. Then put all the power of a modern “F- you” into Shakespeare’s words. Shakespeare thrives on emotion and clarity to survive in the modern era. Once you start paraphrasing, you will forever be able to tell which actors know what they are saying and which do not. I promise you that your casting director knows what your character is saying, you better know too.
Shakespeare is difficult to memorize! Some people find the rhyming easier to commit to memory, and others find it much harder. No matter what, you have to memorize text that is older and often dense and tricky. Plus, you have to apply your paraphrase and recite your Shakespeare with all the intent of your modern translation. Shakespeare rewards putting the time in. The more you practice, the better you’ll be. Unless you grew up eating, breathing, and sleeping the Bard, it’s pretty impossible to nail an audition on a monologue you only half know.
Go In With Confidence
Alright, you’ve picked your monologue, you know your play, you’ve paraphrased, you’ve practiced, now go in and crush it. The biggest hurdle now is not getting in your head. Make sure to prepare your audition “Go” bag with any pre-printed sides, resumes, water, snacks, pencils. That way, all you have to worry about is your performance and not forgetting your resume on the kitchen table. Remember all the work you’ve put in and walk into the room like it’s opening night. Be receptive to direction, and don’t be afraid to change what you’re doing to show a director that you’re versatile and a good listener. Most of all, Shakespeare is a labor of love! Remember to bask in the light of all the love and labor you’ve put into your audition.
No matter the result of your audition, putting your heart out there to be judged is taxing. After you go into an audition, make sure to do something nice for yourself as a reward for your bravery and hard work. Even if it’s something small, whether that be a desert, finally buying something that’s sat in your online shopping cart waiting for an excuse to press buy. Teaching yourself to consider the audition a victory, instead of just the booking, will create a positive, long-lasting relationship with auditioning. You put in the work, you showed up, and you deserve it.
Need some advice? We’ve got you covered.
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