Note-taking during auditions

Continuing the series on theatre education for high school students…

So you’re the director going into auditions to cast your wonderful show. You’ve got some excellent cold reading pieces picked out, and you’ve thought of some sample directions to throw at people. Plus, you know precisely what sort of actors you’re looking for.

You’ve got it all figured out…except for one thing.

While the actors are jumping through your hoops, what are you supposed to be doing?

Simple: Take notes. Good notes.

Different people have different styles. There’s no one right answer on what to do here. But here’s what I’ve done…

On some line paper, write down each actor’s name as they come in to audition. If it’s someone you don’t know, jot down some quick notes about what they’re wearing and what they look like–whatever will jog your memory and help you connect the name to the performance 30 auditions and two hours later.

No need to write a book. Usually, “red shoes,” “wacky hair,” “really, really tall,” “goatee and button-up shirt,” “really young face,” and the like will do the trick. As always, though, do what works for you. Your memory may function differently than mine.

When they start auditioning, give them your undivided attention. If they do something extraordinary (for good or bad), make a quick note, but my recommendation is write your assessment as one audition group is leaving and the next is arriving.

If I didn’t like a particular actor and I knew I didn’t want that person, I’d write “maybe” or “okay” next to his or her name. Often, “maybe” meant “no way,” but I was always hesitant to write anything too negative on my audition notes. In theory, these notes are private, and no one should ever see them. But you never know, especially in a school setting.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but rather than risk hurting someone’s feelings, I like to just write “maybe,” and I know what I mean by that. Not that “okay” is much of an ego-booster, but it’s not the self-esteem crusher that “no way, never!” would be.

For the people I like, I’d write down the names of possible roles I could see them in. Some actors might have the potential to excel in two or three roles in your show.

And for some actors, one character name might be all I need to write down, aside from the brief physical description.

But if someone blew me away, I’d write that character’s name plus an “excellent” or “great.” For someone who was above average, but not quite wonderful, I might add a “good.”

My audition notes might look something like this, only scribbled in horrendous handwriting:

You don’t need much, but you do need something to cue your memory.

Also, if you’re casting a one-act play for a school, you’re probably competing with other directors for the same pool of actors. During auditions, you need to formulate back-up plans. You’ll probably get some people you want, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get all of your first choices.

After the show is cast, however, your actors will never know whether or not they were your first choice. That will not matter. Once the show is cast, they’re who you have to work with.

For now, just realize you may need to cast each role multiple times in your head before you get together with the other directors. Use your notes to organize a hierarchy of how much you like each actor for a particular role.

It’s almost like you’re giving each actor a grade. Who are the ‘A’ students you definitely want, the ‘B’ students you’d be happy to work with, the ‘C’ students you’d be okay settling on for certain roles, and the ‘D’ and ‘F’ students you want to avoid? Most likely, you’ll wind up with a mix of ‘A’ and ‘B’ students, with perhaps a ‘C’ student included also.

Of course, this has just been my system. Someone else might suggest something different, and that’s fine. My concise style might not work for you. Maybe you’d prefer taking more extensive notes. There’s no one right answer here.

When it’s all done, hide your audition notes somewhere an actor won’t stumble across them. You might want to hang onto them for a little bit, just in case someone drops out. But as soon you’re comfortable doing so, destroy them. Rip them up in many pieces and throw them in the garbage.