SOUTHERN THEATRE | VOLUME LVIII NUMBER 1 | WINTER 2017
by Scott LaFeber
The first thing that’s judged when you enter an audition room isn’t the monologue you’ve carefully chosen or the song you’ve worked hard to perfect. It’s your appearance: how you look and act from the minute you enter the audition space. What you wear and how you present yourself can help open a door – or possibly cost you a job before you say the first word of your monologue. Therefore, you need to choose your clothing carefully.
So, what is the best attire for an audition? SETC asked that question of the company representatives who attend SETC Professional Auditions. Sixteen company reps responded to the survey, offering their advice on what to wear. The responding companies represented a diverse mix of producing theatres, including Hershey Entertainment, American Shakespeare Center, Missoula Children’s Theatre, Stella Adler Studio (NY), Matt Davenport Productions, Florida Repertory Theatre, Bigfork Summer Playhouse and the outdoor drama Unto These Hills. Despite the diversity of the theatres, responses from the company reps were tellingly similar.
Here are 10 of their suggestions for your next audition, along with a few additional pointers gleaned from my own experiences as a New York actor, a company rep and now a professor.
1. Think of your audition as a job interview.
Director Joe Clark notes that theatre is “called show business, not show art.” He urges auditionees to “dress like a professional going to a job interview for your dream career, because you are!”
Auditionees also need to realize that their clothing choices and their demeanor are being observed throughout their time at the audition location, says Marina Hunley-Graham, artistic director of Unto These Hills, the outdoor drama in Cherokee, NC.
“Auditions and callbacks are job interviews from the time you arrive at the site to the time you leave,” she says. “Remember to always look and behave professionally. Someone will be watching you.”
2. Make your audition – not your clothes – the focus.
Often, auditionees think they should choose clothing that will stand out, but several company representatives say it’s you and your audition – not your clothing – that should be center stage.
“I like it when I don’t notice what the actor is wearing,” says Jay McClure, associate artistic director/casting director for American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA.
J. Steven White, supervising producer for Harold Clurman Lab Theater at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York, agrees: “I want to be free to focus on your face, your body’s ability to relax and be flexible, and the choices which you are making regarding the material.”
Jason Parrish, associate director for Florida Repertory Theatre in Ft. Myers, FL, also discourages distracting clothing choices: “Don’t wear clothes that get between me and getting to know who you are.”
Patrick Burns, resident musical director for Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse, NY, notes that auditionees should keep in mind the point of the audition: “We want to see who you are, if we want to work with you, and if there’s a spot for you in our production or season.”
3. Know your goals for the audition, and let your clothing choices reflect them.
At unified auditions such as SETC’s – where there are many different companies and types of shows being cast – auditionees need to do some careful thinking before selecting what to wear, says Matt Davenport, executive producer/creative director of Matt Davenport Productions and chair of SETC’s Professional Theatre Division.
“The auditionee must determine what his/her goals are for this ‘group’ audition,” Davenport says. “Am I open to any job anywhere or am I only or mostly seeking a very targeted role? (For example, if you are only interested in Rock of Ages, then jeans, long hair or a ‘rock star’ look would probably be in your favor, along with targeted musical selections.) This needs to be a strategic decision and one that the auditionee understands the consequences of.”
Matt Loehrke, education director at Missoula Children’s Theatre in Missoula, MT, has similar advice: “Know your audience and what you want. Showing off your hard work at the gym may not be ideal for children’s theatre, but it may catch the eye of someone producing more mature content.”
4. Choose clothing that shows you at your best.
McClure urges auditionees not to “obsess over what you think the auditors might like. Wear something that looks great on you, something that complements your shape/silhouette, something that you are comfortable wearing/walking in, something that fits. We want to see you – you on a good day.”
Hunley-Graham recommends that auditionees “dress to impress. That does not mean to spend a lot of money on audition attire, but find your style and items that flatter your body type.”
Michael Baker, casting director for The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, NY, spins it another way: “For an open call or general season call, wear something that helps you look attractive and feel comfortable. Not as formal as a job interview… but almost there – then get a little more specific for specific show auditions or callbacks.” Many of the respondents suggested business casual attire – slacks and bright shirts or dress shirts for the men and dresses, nice tops and skirts, or even slacks for women.
Hershey Entertainment’s Andrea Lowe likes business casual clothing because it “gives me a sense of [the auditionees’] personality and professionalism, as well as allowing them to perform required movement.” For men, a general rule could start with a “tucked-in” look for most auditions except rock and roll/contemporary material. But “tucked-in” doesn’t necessarily mean literally a shirt that is tucked in; it can mean a relatively clean line from top to bottom and clothes that fit you well.
Davenport says he is open to men wearing “flattering, stylish, well-fitted jeans and nice fitting T-shirts or dress shirts.”
For men, Baker says he likes “a neutral business casual type outfit… nice jeans or slacks (depending on role, blue-collar or white-collar) and a nice shirt (or sport coat).”
Women often feel like they must wear dresses or skirts rather than slacks, but Davenport disagrees: “For females, I am very open to flattering jeans or pants and a simple, stylish top in addition to dresses.” He concludes that “what someone would wear to a dressier social gathering with friends would typically be great with me. The most important aspect regarding attire is that the choices must work for you, not against you.”
Along those lines, several respondents note that women should avoid cocktail attire and clothes that are too tight.
5. Dress in colors that flatter, but don’t distract.
White cautions against wearing anything that might cause a producer to spend time “studying the flowers on your shirt and not you.” For men, he favors “neutral colors like black and brown, because then it throws focus to your face.”
Ginger Poole, producing artistic director at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, VA, recommends solids rather than prints in general, and for women, “a bright color that works with your skin tone and hair color. You and your talent should be the showcase, not a distracting outfit.“
Lara Marsh, general manager for Nebraska Theatre Caravan in Omaha, NE, notes that some people recommend light-colored shirts to “draw the attention to your face. My thought on that is, it depends on your skin and eye color. If you have a shirt that is dark, but it draws out the color of your eyes, then that can be just as much of an asset.”
Based on my own time as a professional theatre director, I generally encourage actors not to wear black on the top half of their bodies. Remember, we use black in the theatre to make things disappear. I don’t think that’s what you want to accomplish with your acting despite the thinking that black makes you thinner.
As far as specific colors, red works well on the upper body. Bright light is often focused on auditionees during an audition. Therefore, anything with red in it, reflected from the shirt/blouse onto your face, tends to flatter more than colors that make you look pale or washed out. However, this can vary depending on your hair color (especially you, redheads) or skin tone.
Ira David Wood III, executive director of Theatre in the Park in Raleigh, NC, notes another factor to consider in selecting the color of your clothes: the curtains behind auditionees. “If you can, find out what color those curtains will be,” he says. “If the curtains are going to be blue, a blue shirt or dress may not be the best choice for you… unless you’re auditioning for the lead role in The Invisible Person.”
6. Hint at a role – but that’s all.
When you know what role you are auditioning for, don’t wear a costume. But “a hint at the role is okay – just nothing over the top,” says Baker.
White also advises against anything that looks too much like a costume, sharing the cautionary tale of an actor who auditioned for the part of Huck Finn: “He came in with a straw hat, the short jeans, a flannel shirt and bare feet. The hat and his feet took all my focus away from him. He could have make the same impression in a T-shirt and modern jeans and sneakers.”
7. Avoid trendy choices.
Many auditionees set out to dress in what they perceive as the latest style for auditions, whether it’s a particular color, a bow tie or a vest. Marsh cautions against this: “Don’t worry about what is trending. When you go with what is trending, well, so does everyone else – and so, after a while, you all look the same.”
She recalls one audition weekend when a red dress was the trend: “I saw over 100 red dresses that weekend. That in itself became distracting for the wrong reasons. If you like to wear a bow tie, then wear it. But don’t wear it because everybody else is. At the end of the day, your job is to give us a reason why you stick out (in a positive way) and why we should employ you above all the others.”
Wood agrees: “Dress differently from the rest. Beige out. Wear solid black. Even a white shirt and dark pants are better than the same repeated fashion statement on everybody.”
8. Present a groomed appearance.
Dwayne Ague of Bigfork Summer Playhouse notes that auditionees’ “attire should be ironed and fit correctly, not undersized as if it was borrowed.”
Lowe reminds auditionees to assess their hair and face as well as their clothing: “Whether you are male or female, it is important to think about grooming before going to an audition. Whether it’s your hairstyle or your facial hair, remember to put your best face forward.”
9. Choose shoes that you can move in.
In general, aim for shoes that are flattering and don’t inhibit movement. Character shoes, on the whole, are trending out. Women who choose to wear heels should generally make sure they are no higher than 2 ½ to 3 inches.
“Shoes should be simple,” says McClure. “Very high heels or flats can be distracting.”
Also make sure you can move in your shoes, says White: “If you are standing like a statue because you are afraid to move for fear you might fall, we pick up on it.”
Heels generally are considered best for the look of the leg in women, but Davenport notes that “if someone cannot successfully walk with them, it can be a detriment.” He also notes that heels aren’t always the best choice for an audition. “Some ‘looks’ may look best with heels but some are better with boots or even Converse depending on the look you are going for,” he says.
For men, comfortable shoes or designer sneakers are generally appropriate. Men can also “dress down” a pair of dress shoes with jeans.
10. Schedule a dress rehearsal.
So you feel like you have the perfect outfit for your audition? Loehrke suggests trying out your audition outfit at home before taking it on the road: “Practice your audition in the attire and shoes you plan to wear at the audition. This improves your audition as it takes away any variables about how you feel and move in your attire.”
What’s in Your Audition Bag?
Whether you carry it around or wear it on a shoulder, your bag is an important component of your audition wardrobe at unified auditions such as SETC’s Professional Auditions. You need to be strategic in packing your bag. At the SETC Convention, you may spend the entire day away from your hotel room, riding up and down elevators, going to auditions, dance calls and callbacks – hurrying up and waiting.
Your bag should be packed carefully to include:
- Wrinkle-free clothing to wear and change into. Many times you won’t have time to go to your room to change from a dance call to a scheduled callback. You’ll need to be able to duck into a changing area and slip on your acting/singing clothes. These need to be in an unwrinkled shape that doesn’t betray the fact they’ve been sitting in a bag for a few hours.
- Comfortable walking shoes that change to audition shoes. Since you may be logging considerable distances between hotel rooms and even going to different venues for callbacks, your shoes to get from audition to audition should be practical and comfortable. Your audition shoes need to fit the context of what you’re auditioning for – dance, character shoes, heels, etc. – and should be clean from the elements.
- Grooming supplies. Include a comb, brush, small mirror, touch-up makeup, other practical hair supplies, and a stain removal product such as Tide to Go.
- An extra sweater or scarf. This can be helpful in highly air-conditioned interiors.
Above all, be smart about anticipating the day with your preparation. You – and your bag – should be fully ready for anything, so that you can stay focused on the work.
Scott LaFeber is an actor with a number of Broadway and television credits who served as artistic director of the New Harmony Theatre in Indiana (LORT) for 10 years. Currently a freelance director and head of the BFA in Musical Theatre program at Emerson College in Boston, LaFeber is a longtime member of SETC’s Professional Theatre Division and Auditions Committee.