An audition is a sample performance by an actor, singer, musician, dancer, or other performers. It typically involves the performer displaying their talent through a previously memorized and a rehearsed solo piece or by performing a work or piece given to the performer at the audition or shortly before. In some cases, such as with a model or acrobat, the individual may be asked to demonstrate a range of professional skills. Actors may be asked to present a monologue. Singers will perform a song in a popular music context or an aria in a Classical context. A dancer will present a routine in a specific style, such as ballet, tap dance, or hip-hop, or show his or her ability to quickly learn a choreographed dance piece.
The audition is a systematic process in which industry professionals select performers, which is in some ways analogous to a job interview in the regular job market. In an audition, the employer is testing the ability of the applicant to meet the needs of the job and assess how well the individual will take directions and deal with changes. After some auditions, after the performer has demonstrated their abilities in a given performance style, the audition panel may ask a few questions that resemble those used in standard job interviews (e.g., regarding availability).
Auditions are required for many reasons in the performing arts world. Often, employing companies or groups use auditions to select performers for upcoming shows or productions. An audition for a performing opportunity may be for a single performance (e.g., doing a monologue at a comedy club), for a series or season of performances (a season of a Broadway play), or for permanent employment with the performing organization (e.g., an orchestra or dance troupe). Auditions for performing opportunities may be for amateur, school, or community organizations, in which case the performers will typically not be paid. As well, auditions are used to select or screen candidates for entry to training programs (ballet school or circus school); university programs (B.Mus, M.Mus, MFA in Theater); performance-related scholarships and grants; or to be considered for representation by a talent agency or individual agent.
For actors in theater, film, and TV, the "audition is a systematic process in which industry professionals make final casting decisions. Industry professionals may consist of casting directors, producers, directors or agency representatives". In film and television, the audition is called a screen test, and it is filmed so that the casting director or director can see how the actor appears on the screen. Auditions are advertised in major media outlets (such as newspaper or radio), industry magazines and newsletters (e.g., auditions for musicians are advertised in the American Federation of Musicians newsletter), audition websites, and through a talent/casting agencies. Some performers hire an agent, to be able to draw on the agent's connections with casting directors and performing arts companies. However, the agent will take a cut (often 10–20%) of the performer's earnings. Although an actor's talents comprise crucial criteria in the casting process, an almost equal amount of attention is given to an actor's "type", (a combination of personality, looks, and general casting intuition) as required for a particular production.
Actors who are selecting an audition piece may select a monologue by a character who is close to their own age. They may wear neutral clothing that allows freedom of movement. Auditionees may avoid going over the stated time limit. By convention, some actors choose to not direct their speech to the audition panel if they are doing an on-stage audition. In some cases, the audition panel may request that the auditionee interacts with them (e.g., a director may ask the actor to speak the lines while looking directly at the director). An actor who is doing an audition may warm up before the audition, like an athlete would, although, with an actor, a warm-up might include vocal exercises in addition to stretching. Just as with any interview outside of the performing arts world, an auditionee may dress well. Even if the auditionee does not have expensive clothing, simple clothing may be acceptable if it is clean and of good quality. Auditionees know casting directors are also considering "whether or not the actor will be easy to work with, that they know what they are doing and can take direction well".
Audition pieces are not always from the show the actor is being considered for; an actor wishing to be cast in Hamlet may not do a monologue from that play. Most performers do have a range of audition pieces and select something appropriate; an actor auditioning for Hamlet would have a dramatic Shakespearean monologue ready, and not perform a monologue from an Oscar Wilde comedy, or a contemporary playwright. Some auditions involve cold reading or performing a script that the actor is not familiar with. Auditions often involve monologues or speeches, but not always. In some cases, an auditionee is asked to read a scene (with a second person reading the other character).
For most auditions, it is expected that auditionees will bring a professional 8"x10" photo called a "headshot" and a resume that indicates their acting experience and training. Actors may bring additional copies of the headshot and resume, in case there are additional members of the casting team present at the audition. The casting agent or company may "call back" auditionee days, weeks, or even months after the initial audition for a second audition. At a major audition for a professional company, the time limits are strictly enforced. A musical theater performer may be given a moment to tell the piano accompanist the tempo and state their name and audition number to the audition panel. Then, once the auditionee starts acting or singing, the clock starts running. A buzzer sounds when the time limit runs out, which may be a minute and a half, two minutes, or three minutes, depending on the company. At this point, the auditionee is expected to stop and leave to free up the stage for the next auditionee.
Right before the audition, the casting director may give new instructions that were not in the advertisement; for example, due to time constraints, the time limit for the monologues might be cut in half, or the vocal selections might be cut. Actors know that it is important that they follow these last-minute instructions, and not be "thrown off balance" by these changes. At an audition, a director may ask for changes in the delivery of the lines or in other aspects of the performance. The goal may be to see if the auditionee is versatile or because the director disagrees with the initial approach used by the auditionee. In either case, the behavior of the auditionee is important; if the auditionee is cooperative in making the changes, it shows that he or she will be easy to work with. If a script is provided beforehand, actors often try to memorize as much as possible, because this shows that they have prepared and it allows them to look up from the script and show their facial expressions more.
Film auditions are different from theatre auditions. For film auditions, actors and actresses are given "sides" which are often a few pages of the script with the roles that they are auditioning for. These sides are often given to the actors 1–3 days before the audition.
In 2015, the widespread availability of relatively inexpensive video cameras has made video recordings of auditions feasible. To find their talent, casting directors are able to request video auditions from actors and actresses from a different state or country.