By Jenn Ingram
I was sitting in a hotel restaurant in Vancouver, BC, Canada, in April 2023. The restaurant had booths and a fun, interactive staff. I remember feeling very happy to be there. I had just spent the previous seven hours sleeping and the previous 12 hours before that hanging out with high school friends, having a blast, drinking and eating and chatting. Now it was time to get back to reality.
My television commercial agent from Los Angeles, CA, was sending me tons of auditions. This might be routine if I were an actor, but I am not. I am a journalist. I don’t have much acting experience at all. So I was in a booth in the restaurant with my tripod and my camera gear, figuring out my lines. My mood started to decline a little as I realized I was in way over my head. Then, an idea dawned on me. I decided to call in a favor.
I dialed my friend from high school, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee now and is having success as an actor. I always thought he should be an actor—for years, I said, “Be an actor! You’d be so good!’ And finally, fate turned upon him, and he’s in a bunch of short films, and commercials. He picked up the phone, and he said, “There’s only one book you need. I read it years ago, and it says it all.” Sold. I went on the hunt for the book.
It’s called “The Audition” by Michael Shurtleff, published in 1980. It’s a must-read for all aspiring actors who want to make their mark. Shurtleff is a former casting agent who offers “invaluable advice and practical guidance” about the art of the audition. His vast experience with other casting directors will also be evident throughout, as he shares his insights with his readers.
Once I had my copy, I settled into my favorite Vancouver coffee shop to read it. It’s called Grounds For Coffee on Alma Street, and its main fare is cinnamon buns. It’s a writer’s paradise because there are plugs and the internet and it has a good atmosphere.
Shurtleff’s tiny book is laid out with twelve guideposts. Each section zeroing in on a different component of the audition process. Shurtleff explains that actors have to bring out their personalities as much as they can in their roles. What stood out for me, is how he spoke about opposites, and figuring out what would be the opposite meaning of our actions.
Shurtleff provides numerous real-life audition examples. He shares personal anecdotes. He points out both the do’s and the don’t of auditioning. He also points out practical exercises and tips throughout the 264 page book. He encourages actors to develop their improvisation skills, scene analysis, and emotional depth. I didn’t have much time to do all of that before the audition, but his suggestions were duly noted.
Shurtleff’s passion for acting is infectious. I found this book how-to book a page-turner for an art I didn’t know that I cared about. It’s very relatable whether you are a novice or experienced performer. With this knowledge in my mind, I returned to my hotel and found a spot upstairs in a lobby area to set up for my audition. My requirement was to perform music with water in glasses and say a funny line—in front of a team of directors and producers on Zoom. Did I get it? No. Well, come on. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
After reading “The Audition,” I still came out of my audition with a greater appreciation for the audition process. I felt inspired and energized to do better and try harder with auditions. Reading this book made me feel getting better at acting is an attainable and worthwhile goal. Plus, Shurtleff enlightened me to the enjoyment of the craft. “The Audition” has stood the test of time. I understand why so many people say that this book is a must-read for actors. My advice is that if you’re interested in auditioning, be good to yourself and enhance your chances to land that role by giving this book a read!