You may think you have the material memorized and can do it without holding the sides in your hand. But here's why I don't think that's a great idea.
- Casting directors have had too many bad experiences with actors who thought they knew their lines and then forgot them. It makes casting directors uncomfortable seeing an actor in panic mode. And it wastes their time when the actor has to scramble to find the sides in his briefcase and start the scene over again. So when an actor starts the scene without the sides, the casting director already is worried. A worried audience is not a great audience.
- Even though you think you know the lines cold, the stress of an audition is often enough to throw you.
- If you're given an adjustment or direction, you want to be able to fully commit to it. Throwing something new at an actor can cause them to either forget their lines or not fully commit to the new direction for fear of forgetting their lines.
- You don't want to seem like a desperate actor who has nothing better to do than spend the evening before memorizing lines. You want to seem like a busy actor who was doing a staged reading the night before, has three auditions today, and couldn't POSSIBLY memorize them all! You still want to impress them with your preparation. Holding the script allows you to give them the illusion that you are perfect for the role and it just comes naturally to you without much effort. If it's memorized, they know you've worked hard to get there.
Instead of feeling like the script is the enemy, learn to love your script and use it. I'll write up some tips for doing that some other time. Ideally, you want to be so well-prepared that you probably are memorized, but still have the sides in your hand and are able to use the page, if necessary, to find your next line.
Yes, I agree that being off book can often free some actors to do their best work. And, if you're at a 2nd callback or testing for a pilot, yes, you should be memorized. If this is the case, here are some tips for fool-proof memorization.
- Learn your lines by hearing rather than reading off your script. Record all the lines of the scene in a monotone on an ipod or other device and then play it back over and over saying your lines over your own voice. Eventually, you can stop the recording right before your line and say the line. Then you can continue playing back to make sure you got the line right and continue on. The advantage of this is that you can go over your lines in the car on your way to the audition. This is much safer than looking down at the sides as you're driving!
- If you'd still rather memorize by reading, trying memorizing from the end of the scene back to the beginning. First memorize your final speech. Then when you have that down, back up to the speech before that and continue to the end of the scene. When you have those speeches down, back it up one speech earlier. Keep working your way back to the beginning of the scene. The reason this works is that when you start memorizing at the beginning of the scene you usually know the beginning best and your confidence gets worse and worse as you get to the end. Psychologically, it does not put you in a great frame of mind to worry more and more as your audition progresses. By memorizing from the end first, you know the end the best. Therefore, you will gain confidence as the audition progresses. This is a much better state to be in!
- Finally, do the scene in 10 different locations. If you've only been doing it in your bedroom, you'll end up leaving the audition room wondering why it wasn't as good as it was in your bedroom. Do it in the post office, the grocery store, washing the dishes, standing on the corner, etc. If you can get through your lines in 10 places, taking in the environment and activity around you (and the strange looks you're getting from people), then the 11th place (the audition room) will just be the 11th place you've done it. Being in the audition room won't seem so strange and won't have the power to throw you off your game.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!