6 Skills That Separate Novice Actors From Pros

In many fields and careers, there are different levels of credentials, like associate, professional, master, etc. In acting, we talk about novices, actors who are just beginning, and professionals, actors who have training and experience working in the industry.

I teach my students how to act and audition like a professional, even if they’re still at the novice level of experience. Use these audition tips, no matter what level of experience you have, and you’ll garner more attention and have a better chance of being hired. Even if you don’t get the part, you’ll have at least made a positive impression.

1. Make choices.
More often than not, you won’t have the entire script while auditioning, nor will you know exactlywhat the CD and director want from you. Not the easiest scenario, but one that means you will need to make choices about how you play the character. What is she thinking? What is he feeling? Don’t worry about being right or wrong—just make a choice in each moment, trust yourself, and go with it.

2. Keep the scene active.
Acting is doing, not talking. When choosing monologues and picking songs, find pieces that are active, not passive. Narratives usually don’t have much action, so scenes where a character is doing something—like breaking up with a girlfriend or convincing their friend to skip school—are far more exciting than telling a story about it.

3. Acting is reacting.  
I see many novice actors who believe acting only happens when speaking dialogue. What about when someone doesn’t say anything? Does that mean they aren’t feeling something? No, of course they are. When someone is speaking to you, there must be a reaction. Otherwise, you aren’t listening. Be sure to focus on both your speaking and reactions to the other lines in the script.

4. Make the decision before doing.  
I recall working on a dramatic scene with some young actresses who were auditioning for the lead role in a television show. There was a key moment in the scene when the character lies to her mother. A novice would just tell the lie when the line comes up. A professional actor knows to take a moment before speaking where she decides to lie.

5. Find the moment before and moment after.  
The scene begins before your first line and ends after the last line. Find your moment before and be ready well before the first line of dialogue. Know your character’s emotional state and tap into it before speaking. This concept holds true at the end of the scene as well. The scene doesn’t stop on the last line. It ends with your reaction after the last line is spoken, whether it’s your line or another character’s.

6. Develop quiet confidence. 
As I say to my students all the time, only confident actors get hired. However, there is a difference between quiet and cocky confidence. Know your talent and strengths and own the room, but do it with humility. No one likes a know-it-all. When you leave the audition room, you want the creative team to say, “Stop that actor and bring him back. He’s the one I want.”

In acting, there’s no substitute for experience. It takes practice and training to become a professional, as well as time and maturity. But by acting like a pro every time you audition, you will have made a mark and hopefully earn a callback, or even the role.