How to/Techniques: Get audition ready- Understand the text

In this final article to help you prepare for auditions, Camilla introduces you to some exercises that will get you into the rhythm of understanding text.


Featured image credit: Behind the scenes at UAL Insights Autumn/Winter Acting Workshops 2016. Video, Kalina Pulit.

So, you’ve got those vocal chords resonating within you, and you’ve mastered stepping into the skin of your character. But if you have no clue what you’re actually saying, the words might as well be from an ancient poem in Finnish.

These exercises are a lifesaver for Shakespeare and how to understand what you’re saying, but you can apply them to any monologue or piece of text. We’ve talked about leaving your brain alone and relying on instinct in the audition – well, there’ll be no instinct to rely on if you haven’t given your body and brain a ‘code’ so to speak. If you apply techniques to your speech or scene, then you will have a deeper, subconscious understanding to fall back on in your audition, without even thinking about it. So, try this new way of approaching text.

What you will need:
  • A studio or room where you can move
  • A speech or scene
  • A pen
    Top tip:

    Highlight every word you don’t understand in your speech, even if it’s modern. If you don’t understand what you’re saying 100%, the audience won’t either. Specificity is key.


    Exercise 1: Walk the punctuation

    Credit: Camilla Gurtler.
    1. Hold the speech in your hand and walk around the room. Read the speech out loud and change direction on every full stop, exclamation or question mark (.!?). Make sure you really change your direction and that you’re strict with yourself. This is to isolate the different thoughts.
    2. Continue the above, this time changing direction on every punctuation which is not a full stopsuch as a comma, semi-colon or hyphen (, ; –) and stop on every full stop.
    3. Notice the difference. If there are many full stops, it could be a political speech with lots of rounded statements, or your character could be really confident in what they’re saying. If you have a lot of punctuation which are not full stops, it tells you something about the character’s frame of mind – maybe they’re stressed, panicking, unsure or working something out.


    Exercise 2: Shakespeare and getting to the end of the line

    Credit: Camilla Gurtler.

    If you’re working on a Shakespeare speech chances are you’re freaking out about the meter, rhythm, and the lines. Don’t worry about this in your delivery, but it’s good to isolate when you practice.

    1. Imagine you have a ball in your hands. Pick a point in the room you can ‘throw’ to.
    2. Read each line out loud and throw the imaginary ball to the point in the room on every last word.
    3. The last word of each line is important – don’t hit them too hard but keep an eye out for them and don’t drop them. If you drop the ‘ball’ and rush on to the next line, you lose the meaning of the one you’ve just done. Highlighting every last word of a Shakespeare line gives you an idea of what the speech is about.


    Exercise 3: Physicalise the text

    Physicalise all words while reading out loud. Commit 100% to moving each word of the speech. Sometimes we filter what we read to only empathise the most essential words – but by slavishly going through every single one, you get more nuances to your delivery.


    Exercise 4: What’s important?

    Credit: Camilla Gurtler.
    1. Following on from the previous exercise, grab a pen and highlight the key words in the speech (e.g. mother, father, freedom, love, tyranny, revenge etc).
    2. Read the whole speech out loud and act out only the important words.


    Exercise 5: Events

    Credit: Camilla Gurtler.
    1. Events can help us divide the text into key moments. An event is when something happens that changes the mood or subject of a scene (e.g. Hamlet realises he can use the players to get a reaction from the King).
    2. Put a line where the event starts.
    3. Give each event a name.


    Exercise 6: Actions

    Credit: Camilla Gurtler.
    1. Often, you’ll have directors asking you “What’s your action?” It means what are you trying to do – e.g. To bully Macbeth into killing Duncan.
    2. Write an action for each event in the scene – an action can be played towards someone else, the audience or towards yourself. Be very specific about who it’s for and why.
    3. This will give your speech meaning – instead of giving it a general wash, you become clear on what your character wants, like why they are speaking and what do they want to change in the listener. Without this, a speech is just a rant and means nothing to the other actor in the scene or the audience.


    Exercise 7: Delivery

    After doing these exercises, perform the speech normally – and notice the change. Do you understand the text more? Are the character’s intentions clearer?

    Doing this work should make your delivery as alive and unpredictable as a living person speaking these words for the very first time. It’s important to be flexible in the delivery of your lines – life is unpredictable and so is acting! If you know who the character is, why you’re saying what you’re saying, and who you are saying it to, it will all fall into place. As long as you put the work in and prepare, you should be able to fly. As one of my tutors told me: “Plan it, rehearse it, forget about it, do it.”

    Looking for more inspiration?

    Discover more of Camilla’s articles in our related posts.
    Go behind the scenes with our UAL Insights Autumn/Winter Acting Workshops video

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