Five mistakes rookie actors make, and what to do instead

actor stage curtain

Acting is an incredibly difficult career to take on and it can be particularly scary when you’re a newbie. (I’ll take obvious facts for $100 please.) Like any field, there are common mistakes a rookie can make. In fact, even seasoned actors can make these mistakes sometimes—you never stop learning. So as you embark on the start of your acting career, no matter what your goals are, here is a list of common mistakes to watch out for.

#1: Avoiding auditioning for a company you’ve already worked with

Many new actors will assume they shouldn’t audition for a company they’ve worked with before, including in the recent past, because they think they should have several different theater companies on their resume. People have a tendency to make this mistake because they think it shows they’re versatile. However, if a director sees that you’ve worked with the same company more than once, or even three or four times, it’s actually a huge gold star! Why? This tells the director that you’re good to work with because the company invited you back after already doing a show with them. I’ve even heard one director say they’re weary of casting an actor who hasn’t repeated companies! Now having said all this, it’s worth noting that this is not a hard and fast rule. If a company is offering you an additional opportunity to work with them, but you get an offer from a new group for something that’s a bigger opportunity for whatever reason, by all means take it. (In other words, if the company you’ve worked for is offering you a bit role… but another company is offering you the role of Hamlet or something… well, that’s not a hard choice.)

What to do instead:

Don’t assume you should have as many companies on your resume as possible. If you want to audition for another company for an opportunity that’ll be good for you, you can totally do it. But at the same time have a look at what the company you’ve worked with is doing. If you see a role that would be a good fit for you—and assuming you’ve proved that you’re good to work with, it’s within your interest to audition for that. If you get cast, you’ll gain more experience, you’ll get that gold star on your resume and you’ll likely build connections.

#2: Using an audition monologue that’s from the play you’re auditioning for

Hey, I get it. There’s an audition for a play you wanna be in. The audition instructions say to have one or two monologues prepared. You wanna show the director you know the play. Or maybe you’re trying to impress them by showing you already know a monologue from the play, perhaps you think this will show you can take initiative. And you think this will make you stand out in the audition. Not so fast! First of all, if this were a good habit, then every actor would do it and that means you’re subjecting the director to hear the same speech over and over for hours. Directors hate that! Secondly… well, it comes off as pushy. The director already has a plan for this show, and the characters. If you jump in and do the character from the play, you haven’t given the director a chance to direct you in it, and this can be off putting. It can also be read as an off hand way of telling the director they needn’t bother considering the other actors because it looks like you’re saying “hey, look at me, I’m doing a monologue from the play”. Whether you meant to do any of these things or not, this is likely what’s gonna happen.

What to do instead:

Show the director you’re capable of conjuring the emotions of the play, by picking a monologue with a similar story or personality. Say you’re auditioning for Richard III and you really wanna play Richard. Think about this character. He’s a monster, likely because life hasn’t been very kind to him. ( Of course, I’m not excusing his actions though.) How about doing Edmund’s “bastard” monologue from King Lear?

It’s also worth noting that if the subject comes up that you know a monologue from the play you’re auditioning for, you can, in the moment, ask the director if they wanna see it. But unless the opportunity comes up in the audition, save it for if you get cast!

#3: Looking at the director when delivering your audition monologue or sides

DON’T.EVER.DO.THIS! Even if your character is breaking the fourth wall! Seriously, it’s the worst! It’s annoying and it reeks beginner! Why is it bad to do this? Rather than observing an actor perform a piece, and having a chance to be moved by it, a director will feel as though they are a part of the scene and that the character is talking specifically to them. And because of that, they will have a hard time observing your acting abilities. This is especially cringe inducing when you’re conveying an intense emotion. For example, if your character is yelling at someone or insulting them, the director will, at least on a subconscious level, feel like they are being yelled at or insulted. Whether that’s the intention or not, that’s simply what happens. It’s very unpleasant and makes the director feel extremely awkward!

What to do instead:

Pick a spot, off to the side of the director, or above them and deliver your lines. (If the director is way below you, like if you’re standing on a raised stage and they’re in the audience you can look above them, but be weary of this if they’re sitting in a chair in front of you. If it’s the latter, it may still appear you’re looking at them.)

#4: Doing an accent in an audition

Say you’re auditioning for a show that’s set in another country (or another region in your own country). You may be tempted to do an accent for an audition. But there are several reasons not to do this. For one thing, unless you’ve thoroughly trained yourself to do a specific accent, you have no business doing it. Some actors think they know an accent so they wing it by imitating what they hear. Accents are way more complicated than people realize, and sometimes you may not realize that a person from another country will pronounce a word in a way you totally didn’t expect. Ever hear an American say the word “schedule”? Ever hear a British person say it? This is just one example of why you shouldn’t do an accent without being formally trained in it. But let’s say you’re not guilty of this because there are other factors to consider. The director may be choosing not to do accents at all! Or maybe the director has chosen a specific region of a country the play is set. Maybe they want an accent, but don’t want it to be very thick. If you’re jumping right in with doing an accent, you’re taking the director out of the driver’s seat. Or they’ll think you’re trying to show off at a time when it’s not appropriate.

What to do instead:

Assume no accent is needed unless it says otherwise. You also shouldn’t do an accent in an audition monologue—even if the play is set in another country.

#5: Falling into the traps of the scene

What are “traps of a scene”? Well, it’s basically an actor assuming a character should say or do something, or act a certain way when these assumptions are incorrect. For example, let’s say you’re doing a scene when characters are having an argument. Many new actors will just jump right into a scene and start yelling. Arguments generally don’t happen like this in life; arguments build. No matter how angry two people are, they don’t just walk into a room and start screaming at each other! Another common trap is actors playing the end. Playing the end means either anticipating the end of the scene or even the end of the play. Here’s an example: let’s say you’re in an acting class and you’re doing the Desdemona/Emelia scene at the end of Othello. SPOILER WARNING FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH BY THE WAY! What if the actress playing Desdemona was exhibiting a tone that was sad, or even scared? This would be a poor choice. As far as Desdemona is concerned, she’s going to fix the problems she’s having with Othello, and she’s hopeful about that. She has no idea Othello has decided their marriage is over and she certainly has no idea Othello is planning to kill her. If the actress acts as if she knows these things or is afraid of these things, she’s “playing the end” and this would ruin the scene. As an actor, it’s easier than you think to fall into traps like this.

What to do instead:

Remember, to be an actor you have to be a bit of a psychologist in that you have to observe human behavior. This is kind of a given, but you have to ask yourself how a person would act or react to certain things and why. It may seem easy to do this, but the laws of human behavior can surprise just about anyone. It’s not about what the actor knows is gonna happen, it’s about what the character thinks is gonna happen. And what the character wants to happen. A good way to sharpen these skills is to enroll in a good scene study class or script analysis class, or both. Acting takes a lot of mental energy—it’s not as easy as it looks!

Of course, there are many more errors rookie actors can make, but this is a good list to start with.

…Oh, and in case you’re wondering… yes, I’ve totally made all these mistakes before!

Live and learn! 😀

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