Nailing the Tone of the Audition: 3 EASY TIPS

shutterstock_700715575In the age of self-tapes and market saturation, auditions can come fast and furious. Especially if you live in a major film city, keeping up with every show, pilot, miniseries and web series can feel like trying to count grains of sand as they sift through your fingers. Free yourself from this expectation now: there is just no way to be fully versed in every show that is filming in your area for which you might be called submit.


However, you still want to put in a good audition. So you need to come up with some sort of shorthand to guide you through, right? One of the surest ways to set yourself up for success is by nailing the tone of the project. But tone can be an elusive concept. Here are some ways to break it down for yourself.


  1. Define tone. Essentially, tone is the “voice” of any project. It’s the lens through which all events and characters are seen by the audience. It’s the ratio of comedy/tragedy within the show. If need be, think of in terms of shows that have a very specific tone. For example, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. That show has a particular brand of comedy that governs the rules of its world.
  2. Research the project as much as you can. If you have time to watch the show, even just an episode or two, absolutely do it. Look up the trailer, which should give you the tone of the show in a neat little package. Listen to the vibe, or feel of scores and background music–they are huge indicators. Does the show have a laugh track? If so your comedy will broaden and every scene will end in a clear button. Stylistic clues can help you define the tone. If episodes, clips or trailers aren’t available, look up previous work by the director, writers, or producers. In the example above, 30 Rock would have been a good tone predictor for Kimmy Schmidt. Or look for promotional material. Even a poster image can clue you in. (Lots of deep blue tones, burly dudes with stoic square jaws, and cars blowing up? Serious action drama. Warm tones, block colors, and multiple actors mugging at the camera? Quippy ensemble comedy). Find creative ways to quickly infer and assess the tone of the project.
  3. Use tone as a qualifier. I was recently in an acting class, working hypothetical audition sides for MacGyver (the reboot). The scene on its face could be read as a melodrama: long lost lovers, sky-high stakes, bitter regret. But. It’s MacGyver. And as we kept having to remind each other, that means layering a certain charming flippancy over all. Think of tone in terms of consequences. The consequences of failure in Kimmy Schmidt are worlds away from those in The Walking Dead. Use those consequences to inform your audition.


Tone can be subtle, but it is essential. The heart of the project lies in it. Whiffing on tone is a one-way ticket to the reject pile. The more you practice assessing and recreating it, the better you get. Start by identifying shows you know and love. Try describing the tone to actor friends as concisely as possible and see if they agree. Once you’ve got the tone nailed, you have a strong foundation for your audition. Break legs and book!

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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

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