10 Tips to Overcome a Crummy Audition Partner

You’re ready. You’re in a good headspace, you know the character inside out and you made it through the first round of auditions and into callbacks. You don’t swagger over to the monitor, because you are too classy for that, but you could if you wanted to. Highlighted sides in hand, you flash a magnanimous smile as the monitor points out your assigned scene partner. And then that smile melts faster than the Wicked Witch of the West in the splash zone at SeaWorld.

Maybe you know them by experience or reputation. Maybe it takes the first read through to figure it out. Or maybe your actor’s intuition throws up the red flags on sight. However you come by the knowledge, the terrible fact remains the same: you have been saddled with a crummy scene partner. For one reason or another, this will probably happen with some regularity. So it’s good to have a battle plan in place. Here are some tactics I find helpful when I get thrown this particular curveball:

1.  Break the Ice

Often you’ll be reading with a stranger, but even if you have worked with this person before, they might be suffering some audition nerves. So it is never a waste of time to establish a rapport before launching into the scene. It is likely you’ll be pressed for time, so there’s no need to swap childhood traumas. Just introduce yourself, maybe make a joke, and find something to bond over—maybe the location of the audition is endearingly shady, or you’re both apprehensive about attempting a required dialect. A little small talk can go a long way toward easing the tension, and since you’re going to have to work together on the audition anyway, it can only help the scene.

2. Locate the Source of the Weirdness

I almost always start with a read-through. First of all, it is the bare minimum of preparation needed before you head in, so it’s good to knock that off the list. Additionally, since for the purposes of this article you don’t feel comfortable with your scene partner, a read-through will help get you back on familiar ground. But it also will buy you time to analyze your partners’ weak spots. This sounds pretty cold, and I do not mean you should be using your precious time to pick apart your assigned ally. But a read-through can tell you if you’re dealing with a talented actor who is just nervous or shy, someone who doesn’t really care about doing a good job, or someone who straight up can’t act (it happens).

3. Take Control

Once you’ve made it through the read-through and have assessed the situation, it’s time to start working with what you have. If I have the time, I always like to try to put the scene on its feet in the hall. Even if we don’t end up keeping any of our on-the-spot blocking, it helps me to feel out my scene partner’s physicality. Plus, putting a scene on its feet is a good way to subtly and tactfully guide the scene in the direction you feel is right for your character. You will find out quickly whether or not your scene partner is on the same page. If you have been stuck with the dreaded apathetic actor (why did they even show up if they don’t care??) moving around is a diplomatic way to try to inject some energy into the scene on your end.

4. What if They’re Aggressive?

It is quite possible your problem lies on the other end of the spectrum, and far from being apathetic, your scene partner is very passionate—and a bit of a bully. If you’re butting heads, you need to diffuse the tension quickly, so you can get on to the actual work. A stubborn scene partner is a rough one, so we’re going to break it down further:

  1. Compromise—you can’t get what you want all the time. Put your diplomatic hat on, and prepare to be a little flexible. Remember the audition will look just as bad if you pressure your scene partner into choices they hate. Find some middle ground.
  2. Choose Your Battles—this is not the time to be nit-picky. Isolate one or two things that are most important for your character and fight for those. Let the rest go.
  3. Redirect—sometimes you have to put your foot down, but there is a way to do it considerately. I recently was in an audition where my scene partner thought we should start the scene off with a gag. The joke, while momentarily funny, was inappropriate to the scene and cut the legs out from both our characters three lines later, when we had to respond to extremely serious news. My scene partner was enamored of the joke however, so I gave it a try. I put my best effort into it for one read-through, laughed about it and admitted its comedic value, and then said in a friendly yet firm manner: “That was a lot of fun, but I don’t think the joke is worth it.” Since I’d given it a chance, my scene partner was much more willing to concede this point, and we skipped the joke with no hard feelings.

5. “What Do You Need From Me?”

 Regardless of whether or not I like my scene partner, I always end one of our early runs of the scene with this question. First of all, your partner may have some valuable insight that you have missed. Or maybe they were uncomfortable with the scene because they needed something they weren’t getting from you, and the whole thing is an easy fix. At the very least, it allows you the opportunity to state your needs in return. Don’t waste this chance. Don’t try to direct your scene partner. Choose one attainable, respectful request that will actually help your audition, such as “do you mind if I touch your shoulder here” or “is it OK if I push the pace a little at the end.”

6.  Listen and Respond

Relax. A lackluster scene partner is not the end of the world. Just do your job and respond to what they’re giving you. Sometimes it really is just that easy. The auditors are looking for people who can make a connection anyway. After all, presumably you won’t be doing monologues the whole show—you’re going to have to act with someone. And on that note . . .

7.  Act the Scene You’re In—Not the Scene You Wish You Were In

You’re not the director. You’ve been assigned a partner for a reason. It’s time to make the best of it. If you go into an audition and act as though your scene partner isn’t there, or is someone else (with whom you would rather read), it is going to reflect badly on you. You will look stubborn and unprofessional. Stay true to your character, yes! Absolutely show off your best work. But do it in the context of the scene that is happening in front of you, not the one in your head.

8.  Trust your Own Work

You got this far for a reason. Don’t wig yourself out over someone else’s work. Trust that the work you have put in will shine through regardless.

9. Find Something to Value

Although it’s easy to make excuses and complain about your scene partner’s ineptitude, being generous and positive will serve you better in the long run. If you go in with a chip on your shoulder, it’s only going to shut you off from your scene partner. There is always something of value to be found. Even if you’re reading with the greenest, most terrified actor in the room, find their strengths. Find their humor and set them up for a joke. Or figure out where they are honest and vulnerable and support that. Setting them up for success will make for a better scene and a better audition for you as well. Elevate the work.

10.  Have Fun

The auditors are looking for someone with whom they want to work, so if all else fails, just go in with a great attitude and open energy and have fun. It will do you more good than you think.



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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com