Written by Sean Pratt
An overlooked facet of an actor’s audition preparation is how they put together the sides of their monologue or scene.
First off, a bit of etymology. The word “side” (or sides) comes from the Elizabethan theatre and means the pages of a script containing only the lines and cues of a specific role to be learned by an actor. By the way, this was done to save paper, as well as to prevent rival theatre companies from stealing a complete copy of the play. Today, the word “side” is used to describe that portion of the script which actors use for their monologue or scene at the audition. And though it may seem unimportant, how you prepare your sides can save you from turning an audition into an embarrassing disaster.
Once Upon A Time
The anecdote goes something like this. An actor reading for the role of Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream walks onstage carrying his copy of The Riverside Shakespeare as his audition side. The Riverside Shakespeare is a magnum opus of the Bard’s works which also contains page after page of illustrations and critical analysis, and is about the same bulk, weight and font size as a big city phone book. Halfway through his scene he sneezes, which flips over several of the pages, and suddenly he finds himself auditioning for the role of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Needless to say, he doesn’t get the part. Know Which Side You’re On
This story, in one form or another, has been told by directors everywhere – the actor who ruins their audition by losing track of the lines on their side for one reason or another. What the actor in that story should have done was leave that unwieldy tome at home. So many actors use their copy of the play as the side they bring to the audition. How hard would it be to re-type the dialogue in a nice large font, highlight their lines in yellow, staple the pages together and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse the scene so that they automatically knew when to turn the pages?
Script or No Script
You might be thinking, “Why bother learning when to turn the pages? I’m planning on memorizing the scene and won’t need to use the sides!” Here’s why. If you are planning to do the scene from memory without the sides, then you’re rolling the dice. Though you’ve spent hours and hours learning the lines, please don’t think that you get a little gold star for performing the scene without your sides. The director will spend the whole audition wondering, “Okay, so when are they going to forget their lines?”
Here is a piece of audition wisdom for you: Never audition without the sides in your hand! As sure as the sun rises in the east, you’ll forget a line and, not having the text to refer to, you’ll blow the audition by breaking character to ask for it! The “side” is your anchor in the audition and it’s no great shame to refer to it during the scene. In fact, you should learn how to be comfortable holding the paper in your hand, even using it as a prop if need be.
So to recap – type out your scene in a large readable font, highlight your lines, staple the pages together, know when to turn the pages during the scene, and be comfortable with referring to them. With so many other things to focus on during the audition, why ignore this problem when the answer is so easy?
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.