First Auditions: Getting Involved in Performing Arts at Oxford

What to expect during your first foray into Oxford drama

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Like many freshers, I was eager to try something new at Oxford. I had always been interested in drama, but never quite had the confidence to actively get involved. The opportunity to try acting came in Michaelmas, in the form of Drama Cuppers. If there’s any chance you might be interested in theatre at Oxford, I would really recommend taking part in your college’s performance. There are lots of roles available, including directing, sound and lighting, promotion, and acting. It was my first experience of working on a proper, collaborative production and, from then on, I knew that I wanted to stay involved with the Oxford drama scene.

I signed up for the official OUDS newsletter at the Freshers’ Fair, where most auditions are advertised. Every week, an email is published which gives a brief overview of all the productions that are casting, and how to arrange an audition. Usually, the director requests that you prepare something for the audition; often, you will have a choice of extracts from the play (if it’s a musical production, you might have to prepare a song). These are generally about two minutes long. It’s worth thinking about what kind of piece will best demonstrate your skills, especially if the director offers you a choice of audition pieces. Choose wisely!

My first audition came later in Michaelmas. It was at a huge college, in a tiny room, across the quad, past the gardens, though a couple of archways, up the stairs, and tucked away on the right. Unsurprisingly, I ended up getting horribly lost and arriving very, very late. Not a good start (although the director was very understanding). As a result, by the time I arrived, I felt pretty tense. Make sure you know where your audition is before you set out for it, and don’t be afraid to ask the porters for directions once you get to the college!

Generally, in an audition, you’ll perform your monologue or the extract you’ve prepared (somebody else will read the other part if it’s a dialogue). After you’ve performed your chosen piece, you might be asked to do it again, but with directions. The director wants to see how you respond to their guidance. For example, in my first audition, I was asked to perform the monologue second time ‘as if I was saying it to my younger sister’. On another occasion I had to try and use as much of the space in the room as possible. In every audition I’ve been to, there’s also been a ‘cold read’. You are given a piece of the script, a brief overview of where it fits into the play, and then asked to perform it. You usually have time to read it through a few times first. Again, you might be asked to perform it a second or third time with prompts from the director. At the end of the audition, you’ll have the chance to ask any burning questions.

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I have a contemporary monologue and a Shakespearean one that I know really thoroughly, and one of those normally serves me well if the director doesn’t ask for anything more specific. Performing a monologue I’m really comfortable with immediately boosts my confidence, so it’s worth working hard on a couple of different pieces and keeping them in your arsenal. It goes without saying that it’s best to know your audition piece by heart: not only does it help you to act more naturally, but it also shows suggests that you’re prepared to dedicate your time to their production. That said, it’s fine to bring a paper copy with you just to peek at if necessary – I always feel a bit more relaxed if I have it with me, even if I don’t need it. It’s handy to take a paper copy to your audition anyway, because often the director will want to take a look at it before they give you some prompting.

Lastly, don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back. There are loads of plays, musicals and concerts put on in Oxford, and it might be a while before you find something you’re suited to. I’ve been involved in a wide variety of productions – from an ancient Greek comedy to a modern dystopia – and I’ve made lots of new friends through drama. Don’t give up!