Should You Use Costumes or Props in an Audition

An actor recently posted someting on Facebook asking where she could rent a uniform, prop badge, and prop gun for an audition. Several people, including myself, responded that it’s not customary for one to wear a uniform or bring props to an audition. I’m not sure she was completely convinced. So, should you use costumes or props in an audition? Whether the audition is live or on tape, the simple answer is, no, unless specifically asked by casting to do so. Here’s what I think….

Should You Use Costumes or Props in an Audition

Costumes:

Wearing a costume to an audition can be distracting and take away from your performance. If you are auditioning for a cop, wearing a cop uniform may take the CD’s eye off of your face and down to the uniform. They may miss the choices in your performacne that could win you the role. Dressing in specific costume also makes it harder for anyone to imagine you as something else. If you show up in a military uniform, it may be harder for someone to imagine you as a lawyer. I was once cast from tape for a pilot for NBC. I auditioned for the owner of a country diner wearing a simple button down. I didn’t book that role, but instead was offered the bigger role of a news reporter. Had I worn a greasy apron in the audition, they probably would not have seen me as the reporter.

Should You Use Costumes or Props in an Audition

Should You Use Costumes or Props in an Audition

The rule is to dress to suggest… for cop auditions, I wear a dark blue button down and dark slacks with black shoes. The dark colors suggest that the character is a cop without drawing the attention away from my performance. For a doctor role in a scene where he is in surgery, why not wear a blue v-neck? It’s not a uniform, but it suggests the character because the blue v-neck is similar to scrubs (they may also be able to see you as someone who could be the parent of the kid having surgery). If you are auditioning for a lawyer or a politician, a suit would be in order. You get the idea. It is also a good idea to stay from patterns, sparkles, bright white, or stripes (which can also be distracting and look bad on camera).

Recently, I was invited to audition for the role of a police officer on a very popular network show. I wore my dark shirt, slacks, and black shoes as usual. Another actor who had a very similar look and age came to the audition in full police uniform. He told me he would not normally dress in costume, but he actually WAS a cop who was auditioning on his lunch break. A friend of mine who actually works for the production informed me I was the CD’s top choice (while the guy in uniform wasn’t on the list of those sent to the network). Ultimately, the director wanted a much younger guy, but as you can see the full uniform didn’t help the other actor at all.

In short, it’s all about you and your performance, so make sure YOU is what stands out, not your wardrobe.

Props:

I don’t think you should ever take props to an audition, unless it is something you would naturally have on your person when you show up. For women, if the script calls for you to fumble through your purse, perfect, you already have it. If your character answers his cell phone and you happen to have it (turned off, of course) in your back pocket, why not pull it out? If you have a pen and your character needs to write something, use the pen and your script. Got glasses or a tissue? Use them. But don’t bring anything into the room unless it would be something you naturally carry with you.

Your script can also be an amazing prop. Need to knock on a door or slap someone? Hit your script. It can also serve as a magazine, documents, or a fan.  You could even roll it up and use it as a stick or a bat. Be creative!  Again, you have it on you, so use it if you feel it would help your performance. I once did a scene where I had to struggle with someone and simply tugged on either side of the script to provide resistance, making sure the script wasn’t in frame. It gave me what I needed to make the struggle look great on camera.

It should also be noted that you should NEVER bring anything that could be considered a weapon to an audtion — no guns, knives, pipes, or  chains.   Don’t bring anything that will leave a mess.  This will get you thrown out of the room faster than you can say, “oops.” I used to own a taping studio and a newer actor came in with a prop gun and pulled it out during the audition and scared the shit out of me. By the way… if you need a gun in an audition, cup your two fists together, thumbs up and forward, as if you are holding a gun and raise your arm and point (and don’t stick out your index finger). This will put your body into the correct position and hint that you are holding a gun without the need for a prop.

If you feel like you must use a prop, always make sure to ask the casting director if it is acceptable to use it. There is a possibility that they will say “no,” which is why it is always best to prepare without props.

A lot of us may feel like we need a costume or a prop to fully get into character, but such things can really distract from your performance (and make you look like an amateur in the room). I think the beauty and challenge of being an actor is using our imagination to get into character and make someone believe we ARE that characer in that moment. Imagination should be the only costume or prop we need in an audition.

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