Active Learning

Tips on picking Texts for Drama School Auditions

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This list is just to help you get started with finding texts and helping you prepare for the day. Remember that on the day you should have fun! It’s a chance to show how much you love performing and a chance to perform. Have fun and enjoy yourself!

Before I got into Actors Centre Australia in 2017 I had auditioned for drama schools for about 6 years. Every year I would submit for the auditions around September and then start to prepare and choose my texts. So I would say I have some experience under my belt. This list is just to help you get started with finding texts and helping you prepare for the day. Remember that on the day you should have fun! It’s a chance to show how much you love performing and a chance to perform. Have fun and enjoy yourself.

  1. Pick a text from established playwrights, not your own work

Over my years of auditioning I would see amazing performances by young actors and sometimes it was their own work, which was brilliant but difficult for the panel. When you audition, most of the time you will be given direction or asked about the piece. It becomes difficult for the panel to give direction when they don’t know the work or what it is about. For the audition you want to put your best foot forward and my advice is choosing a piece from an established playwright. 

But the expectation of that rule is auditioning for VCA in Victoria. They like you to prepare a piece of your own work. It can be anything, poem, song, rap, dance, movement piece, whatever you like. If that sort of thing interests you, I would recommend checking them out.

  1. Look Australian plays/ go see Australian work

This can be a tricky one but it’s worth it. There are some incredible plays from America, England and all around the world. But there are amazing plays from our homeland that are worth reading. Reading Aussie plays, you may find a character that you relate with because of their story or the situation they’re in, which can help you connect with the character and boost your performance. Also seeing/reading Aussie work shows your interest in the industry and what work Aussie performers are making. That can show passion, drive and enthusiasm which the panel are always looking for.

Here are some great resources:

  1. Pick characters similar to your age and life experience

Now this one can be flexible, but what I mean is don’t pick Willy Loman if you are freshly 18, pick instead Biff or Happy Loman (but in reality try and look beyond ‘Death of a Salesman’, it’s done a lot). Look for characters in a similar age range that can be from 20s to 30s. That can help you connect more to the character and their struggles. A great example is Sophie from the play Honor by Joanna Murray-Smith or any of the characters from Dennis Kelly’s DNA.

Another thing to keep in mind is to pick a character that shares a similar life experience. I would recommend if you are a white actor to play white characters. With the ongoing history of white actors taking roles that are written for people of colour and further reducing the already slim number of roles available to minority actors, it is best to pick white roles that are available to you. There are plenty of them. 

  1. Pick texts that you like!

It might sound simple but it makes all the difference! In my early days I picked texts that were highly regarded or I thought were good plays, but didn’t really like or found them confusing. Pick texts that excite you, that make you sad, upset or happy! As long as when you read it you get excited about it and you can’t wait to perform it, then you are picking something great.

  1. Pick contrasting texts

Now I’m sure you already read this on the form for the audition but I’m here to put some clarity around this. Basically you want both your Shakespeare text and your contemporary text to show your strengths. So if you have a dance background, choose a piece that showcases that. If you can sing, see if you can find a text that always shows that. Also pick 2 pieces that come from different genres. Not just comedy and drama, but horror, realism, absurd, greek and satire. The drama school panel just wants you to do your best and enjoy yourself.

  1. Read the PLAY

I know it can be boring but you must. There is no way you can completely connect and portray the character without reading the full play. You have to understand everything you are saying and understand the characters’ full journey, as well their motivations, wants, needs, secrets, hopes. You can only get that from reading the whole play. It’s my first step even BEFORE I pick my texts. 

If you don’t have access to the play, try borrowing from a library or finding a pdf copy online. An amazing resource is Drama Online. It has 100s of plays on the website. Check if your school has access to its site. 

  1. Make sure you understand every word you are saying (especially with Shakespeare)

Again simple but vital. When you get to your performance, you want to be able to let go of all the work you have done and have fun, but if you are unsure of what you are saying or what it means, it will be seen in your performance. This links to reading the play, but also researching words you don’t understand, looking up places named in the text, researching the playwright and the time period it was written. 

With Shakespeare, the first read can be very confusing but you just need to research the text. Everytime I perform Shakespeare I read and research the play, look up any words I don’t understand and their meaning, figure out the rhythm of the piece (if it’s prose or verse) and watch any performances of it online. Some actors may disagree with watching other actors perform the same text, but especially with classical text it helps me understand it and the meaning behind it. Also watching established actors like Judy Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddlston give such inspiration to your own performance. 

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