Audition Jitters and How to Beat Them

Shilo Nelson

So you've got an audition coming up. Whether this is your first audition or you've had dozens of them, chances are you still have some pesky butterflies in your stomach. I'm going to start by letting you in on a little secret: no matter what you do, you will probably still be nervous. Let yourself be nervous. You're putting yourself out there, and most likely it's for a role that would mean a lot to you. I'm not going to tell you how to not be nervous, but I'm going to tell you how to remain positive and confident in spite of your nerves.

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

The first step is to be prepared. This one is probably obvious. Practice your song and your monologue as much as you can. The more familiar you are with your material, the more confident you will be. If it's for a pre-existing show, listen to the show. If it's a brand new show, read the character descriptions and come up with some ideas of how you'd like to play it.

Sometimes the only people who see your audition are the people you're auditioning for, but especially for dance auditions you may be auditioning with others. Even if you aren't, you'll probably see people warming up and rehearsing. Remember Cathy in "The Last Five Years"? She notices all of the other girls auditioning and can't help comparing herself to them. Depending on who you are, different things will help different people to not compare themselves with others. You could try not to pay attention to them. Focus on your audition and what you are doing. Everyone has something unique that they can bring to a role, including you. If ignoring them doesn't help, or it can't be avoided, make friends! Sometimes we have a tendency to put other performers on a pedestal, but they're all feeling the same nerves. Talk to the other people in the room. Ask them what part they are auditioning for, what was their favourite role, talk about theatre. You're auditioning for the same show so there's a good chance that you'll have something in common.

Remember that you don't know exactly what the director or casting team is looking for. They may have an idea of what they want the character to be, but sometimes even they don't know what they want until they see it.

When you are rehearsing for the audition, critique yourself (get others to critique as well if you want) but here's the catch: don't just talk about what you want to improve on. It's just as important to recognize what you do well. Often when we're nervous about an audition, we are afraid that we will make a mistake. It can be harder to recognize your strong points, but the more you acknowledge them the more you will start to believe them. Figure out how to highlight these strong points in your audition. Do you have amazing comedic timing? Do you have remarkable range? Maybe you can emote your ballad in ways nobody else can. Find the very best of you, and let the casting team see it.

This may seem silly but smile as much as you can (if you're doing a scene or a song that isn't a happy one, obviously portray that), but while you are waiting and while you are introducing yourself, smile. If you look happy and confident, eventually you'll feel it.

Now, what if you don't get the part you want, or don't get in at all? Let yourself be disappointed, just like you let yourself be nervous for the audition. But don't let sadness take over. Auditions are learning experiences. Once you're through grieving, ask yourself what you have learned and what you can take from this audition for next time. On that note, let there be a next time. What I've found helps me most after not getting a part is finding my next opportunity. Give yourself something else to hope for and don't give up.

This is easier said than done, and it was something that I heard many times before it finally sank in, but it's true that there are several factors that contribute to not getting a part. These factors are often things that you as a performer have no control over. It can be hard not to take it personally but keep reminding yourself that it usually isn't personal. Yes, there are directors who play favourites but that's a different matter. A good director will be encouraging. If they say that they want you to keep trying, believe that they mean it! They may have you in mind as a perfect fit for a future project down the road.

Think of your favourite performers, the ones that inspire you. Remember that they have all been there. They still feel those nerves in the audition room, and they still feel the disappointment of not getting a role. That will always be a part of theatre. It is the hardest part, but it's not the end.

 Break a leg, you can do it!




Why I Don't Stand (Usually)

Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)

It was an absolute first for me—seeing a show in Los Angles where the audience didn’t automatically give a standing ovation immediately after a performance (as opposed to rushing to their cars to beat the traffic on the Hollywood Freeway—always a nightmare). The audience had just finished watching a musical (on its pre-Broadway tour) so stultifying bad even the Los Angeles audience couldn’t muster anything more than a smattering of light applause to acknowledge the herculean effort by the actors forced to struggle through the material.

No. One. Stood.

Not even for the popular actress carrying the weight of this misguided musical on her back.

Los Angeles audiences stand for everything, no matter how bad it might be. When I lived in Atlanta, those audiences stood for everything no matter how bad it was. Then, unfortunately, this trend came into New York City from the road, and Broadway audiences (maybe a lot of tourists, perhaps?) and started giving every show—good or bad—a standing ovation.

Well, I don’t stand (usually).

Standing ovations date back to Roman times, when the crowds would stand to acknowledge a less-than-successful effort made by armies marching back into Rome with their collective tails between their legs. It wasn’t about saluting an extraordinary effort. It was essentially saying, “Well, you tried. You failed. Better luck next time.” Hmm, maybe the Romans were onto something (or maybe they had also witnessed that same pre-Broadway tour 2500 years earlier).

Over the centuries, the Standing O has (or had) signified acknowledgement of a stupendous, amazing, extraordinary performance (eg, like seeing Hamilton for the first time or hearing the late Barbara Cook warble Ice Cream from She Loves Me). I stand for such performances. Unfortunately, most audiences have unintentionally devolved to the original meaning of the Standing O. They stand for just about anything.

“Oh, I’m acknowledging the effort made by the cast,” I’ve been told. “They put in all that work and I want them to know how much I appreciate it.”

Bullshit. That’s why you applaud. It should NOT be why you automatically stand.

Usually at the end of a show, I’m sitting, applauding, and waiting while those around me give a Standing O to a mediocre performance. Or I’m rushing out the door to beat the traffic because I have a long drive home.



More often than not, I’ve seen members of the audience immediately jump out of their seats the second the stage lights fade to black on a final scene. They’re already on their feet before the lights come back up again and anyone has taken a bow. What, are they giving the scenery a Standing O? That’s how ridiculous you look to a grumpy guy like me.

Audiences have cheapened the meaning of the Standing O. It’s no longer about acknowledging the superior work. It’s about getting up and heading to the restroom before the line gets too long. It’s about getting some blood flowing to your feet after sitting for nearly three hours (well, that long for interminable musicals without intermissions).

In the past several years, I’ve seen flops on Broadway where the audience immediately rose to its feet at the end, even though the show was truly awful (unfortunately, one of those was a show in which I had invested—and lost—a lot of money). I did not stand. I do not stand. I won’t stand. I acknowledge a good performance with enthusiastic applause. I acknowledge a lousy performance in one of two ways—polite applause or walking out at intermission (wanna ask me about Wicked?).

I don’t stand. If you do, why? Isn’t your applause sufficient? If it isn’t, then you should stand. And if the show is truly awful (don’t even mention CATS—now and forever), then keep your keister planted in the seat and wait for the house lights to come up. Then you can stand … and leave.

Grumpy Olde Guy® over and outta here to remove myself from the stench of the last stinker I witnessed.

Michael Kape, a/k/a the Grumpy Olde Guy® of All Things Broadway, has been involved all aspects of theatre since the age of six. He has acted, designed, worked backstage, produced, and spent seven years on the Dark Side as a theatre critic and 15 years as a television critic. In his spare time, he yells at young whippersnappers to stay off his lawn; they never listen to him.