Acting Auditions – Understanding the Director

Actors are constantly worrying about what is going on in the mind of the director at the audition...they shouldn't

Written by Sean Pratt

Actors are constantly worrying about what is going on in the mind of the director at the audition…they shouldn’t.

There are certain aspects of the audition process that actors control and certain aspects that they can’t control. Unfortunately, most actors skip over the areas that they have any power over and spend all their time fretting over the things they are powerless to manage. A favorite example of this tendency is the obsession with, “What does the Director want?!” To further illustrate this problem, here is a short show business anecdote.

The Story of Shane and the New York City Audition

Once there was young redheaded actor in NYC named…Shane, who was to audition for the role of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was for a big regional theatre and he was very excited about the possibility of working there. Now Shane had been to a number of big auditions and this one was no different; they were calling in a large number of actors for each role. Still, having been in the city for about a year, he thought he had seen it all…then he opened the door to the casting office.  A Short Aside

To digress for just a minute…let’s talk about going to an audition in New York City. We all know that New York, along with Los Angeles, is the place to be if you want to move your career into overdrive. And we all know that there are thousands of actors in these cities, each looking for that one big break. Now, remember when you were little and your mommy told you how special you were? How there was no one else in the world just like you? Well, when Shane walked into that room full of 40 other redheaded guys who looked just like him, all reading for the role of Demetrius…he realized that his mom had been lying to him! Anyway, on with the story…

The Nervous Newbie Who Wouldn’t Shut Up

After Shane got over the shock of seeing 40 other doppelgangers, he found a place to sit and introduce himself to the guys seated around him; each of them remarking on how strange it was to see a room full of redheads all reading for the same part. Then Shane noticed this one young actor, we’ll call him Gus, who was seated right next to the door to the audition room. As each actor exited the room, having finished their audition, Gus would pop up, and pepper them with questions.

“What did the Director ask you to do? Is he very talkative? Did he want you to be serious? Did he have you do the scene a couple of different ways? Tell me, what is he looking for? What the hell does the Director want?!”

“Well somebody just came to town straight from college,” Shane said to the guys around him. They all laughed because they’d been there, too. Finally, an actor named Mark, from Shane’s ad-hoc group, went in. When he came out, Gus popped up to yet again shower him with questions. But before he had a chance to get one word out Mark turned to him and said, loudly, “Dude, the director wants me! That’s what he wants.” Needless to say, the room erupted into gales of laughter.

The Moral of the Story

The fact is no actor can know what the director is “looking for” at the audition; truth is, most directors don’t know what they’re looking for either! In this story, it was obvious that the director wanted Demetrius to be a tall young redhead but that was really all anyone could know going into the audition.

Ultimately, what the director wants is…the most talented actor whose essence is right for the role, fits into their overall concept of the show and with the other actors that they end up hiring. Your job, your challenge, is to deliver such a strong audition that you define for the director how that role should be played and who should play it…You! By the way, Shane didn’t get the part, but he did learn a valuable lesson.


Sean Pratt, (AEA / SAG / AFTRA), has been a working actor for over 20 years. Sean was a member of the resident acting company at The Pearl Theatre, an Off-Broadway classical repertory theatre and has also performed at numerous regional theatres around the country.  Major films include – Gods and Generals, Tuck Everlasting and Iron Jawed Angels. Television work includes – The host of HGTV’s, Old Homes Restored, and supporting roles on Homicide, The District and America’s Most Wanted.  Audiobooks – He’s narrated for 15 years and has recorded nearly 550 books in just about every genre.  He also teaches classes on and writes articles about the business of the Biz.

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