Shurtleff’s “Audition”

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This book is a giant.  No book before has captured, so accurately, in a nutshell, what an actor should do before an audition.  How to prepare for an audition is crucial, since they are often conducted with one shot for the actor to deliver their best performance.


Shurtleff’s book describes an intimate preparation process, addressing the questions a performer should ask to give a powerful audition.  The book is littered with perfect examples, and snippets of notable actors’ audition experiences. Shurtleff worked in casting for most of  life, he launched the careers of Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, & Elliot Gould to name a few; these stories paint a picture of how to work.


The book focuses on 12 guideposts, with an additional chunk exploring tips (which is where the extra three guideposts come from–by his successor, Tom Todoroff). ‘Guideposts’ guide you to success.  One of the ways Shurtleff communicates the importance of each guidepost in the book is by proposing questions the actor should answer and explore before performance. I studied each guidepost- going through the chapter, taking note anytime Shurtleff stated to “ask yourself…”  so in this way, this list of questions below condenses the book into a streamlined tool. Here they are listed by level of importance that Shurtleff deemed them:


15 Guideposts


Questions to Ask:


#1.  Relationship




What is my Relationship with the other character(s) in the scene?
What is my feeling of the Relationship now?
Where is the Love in the scene, its deepest emotional content, is it deprived?


#2 What you are fighting for . . .




What are you fighting for in the strongest, most positive terms?
Who’s interfering, how many different ways can you fight?


#3 What is the moment before . . .




What’s the moment before? What is its emotional commitment?
What is the trigger to that feeling?


***    What are you fighting for in the relationship in the scene and exactly where are your feelings at the specific moment before?


#4 Humor




How can I alleviate the burdensome aspects of life with Humor?
How can I find the real life humor without playing up the jokes?
How can I find the absurdity in what I’m doing?


#5 Opposites




What do I want? What is the opposite of that? Add it.
What are the two extremes you feel for the person in the scene?


#6 Discovery




Find what is new, what is different for the character in the scene
What is particularly, uniquely at stake in the scene?
Take nothing for granted, make an emotional discovery as often as you can find.
Ask yourself, what’s new?


#7 Communication & Competition




Did you look for warmth? If it’s not in the writing, it’s the actor’s job to add it.
Did you choose involvement with the other character rather than attachment?
What response do you badly, fiercely need from the other person? What do you need to feel and communicate to get it?


#8 Importance




Did you make the discovery so important that it becomes an event?
What is your character’s dream, how do they wish that life was different?


#9 Find the Events




Did you create and register as many changes in the scene as possible?
Did you let the events happen in the scene?
What happens in this scene? What are the changes?
Did you progress the scene forward? Did you turn thoughts into action?
Do your changes require the awareness and acknowledgment of another character?
Is there a threat of the Event or Change earlier in the scene or play?  Is there a build to a large event?  Momentum?


#10 Place




Did you choose a place you know well? A place that has corresponding emotional events that take place there?
What is the scene’s emotional use?
Are you sure that your place isn’t chosen for the auditors, is the place chosen to deepen your own sense of reality?
Does the place give power to one character over another?
Who does the place let you be? Who does the place make you become?
What people, items, aromas do you need to place around you?
Does the scripted place give you any insight into yourself?
Do you have a strong sense of the events that could occur because of the place?
How does and how can I sue the place to aid in what I am fighting for in this relationship?


#11 Game Playing/ Role playing




What sincere game am I playing in this situation?
What role do I assume in order to best play this game?
What do I think the other person want from me?
What am I playing for, what do I expect?
What are the rules of the sincere game?
Have I chosen to do the role I play well?
Are you predictable?
Did you choose exceptions or generalizations for your substitution?
Did you look for romance?
Are the stakes high enough in the game?


#12 Mystery & Secret




What is hidden, inexplicable, and unknown about your opposing character, self, and life as a whole?
What is a cause of wonderment in the other person?
What is a cause of wonderment within yourself?
What type of secret do you have? Know one knows, you don’t want them to know/ You want them to know you have a secret, but you won’t tell them what it is/ You want them to know you have it, and you’ll tell them if they coax you.
Do you ever ask yourself, why you do something in a scene?


*An additional 3 guideposts were added after the book was published by Shurtleff’s successor Tom Todoroff.


#13 Mischief




How can I meddle or interfere with the other person’s wants? Is there a way to physically express this?


#14 Vulnerability




Where am I vulnerable and sensitive? Which topics do I naturally want to avoid?


#15 Architecture




Am I physically and emotionally different in the beginning of the scene versus the end?
Am I acting with my feet?
Are my beginnings and endings strong?
Am I telling a story physically? Could someone take a snapshot in any place of the scene and know the story?


*** The possibilities of “yes” are always more interesting to act than the certainty of “no”.



Posted: 7-3-13 11:11am

One Response to “Shurtleff’s “Audition””

  1. […] Micheal Shurtleff’s “Audition” — it literally, step by step, tells an actor what specific things to do and questions to answer before an audition.  It easily applies to scene work and any work for the stage or screen. […]

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