Shut Up and Act: How to Kill it at Commercial Auditions Without Dialogue

Audition room

Acting is hard.

Not to sound whiny, but it really can’t be said enough: no matter what normal humans may think about the supposedly cushy life of the actor, the vast majority of us are not passing our days hanging out in massive trailers fully stocked with our favorite snacks and fitted out with killer entertainment systems, all the latest video games, and on-call visits from massage therapists–that is when we’re not hanging out in one of our many mansions.

If we can agree that acting is hard; we can probably all agree that auditioning is harder.

The reality of the actor’s life for most of us is we spend a good chunk of our time slogging from commercial audition to commercial audition, battling commuters, self-doubt and nerves to fight our way into overcrowded, over-tense audition rooms, only to wait there interminable hours for a chance to do what we love for 30 seconds or so.

And most of us would probably agree, the commercial audition with no dialogue is among the most difficult type you can be faced with.

“I mean,” as many aspiring younger actors ask, “what am I supposed to DO?”

Well, there is no easy answer to that–or is there?

The thing is, as at any audition, you are being asked to act. And you already know how to do that, right? We’re so used to using words to express ourselves as actors that sometimes we forget that the real truth of acting comes from the root of the word: Act, defined as “Something that people do or cause to happen.”

Where does it say anything about saying anything in that definition?

Act, as in, “Action!” That word directors use when they are ready for you to perform an action. So with that in mind here are a few additional thoughts to help you focus when it comes to the dialogue-free audition.

1. Be positive

As we all know, being positive kind of comes with the territory of auditioning in general, but even more so at commercial auditions. And for an audition that has no dialogue, you really need to amp up the positivity. You must exude joy and desire not only for the product you are there to sell, but just in general. The main thing most commercial auditions are looking for is fun energy. Forget about your look, accent, voice, body type–if you are a business looking to sell a product, you want potential customers to make positive associations with it. So make an extra effort to bring that type of energy into the building with you when you go on this kind of audition. If you’re asking people to spend money on something–like hiring you for instance!–you can’t expect them to be eager to pony up for something that bums them out.

2. Use your imagination 

When you are asked to work without words, imagination is even more important than usual. It’s easy for us to hide behind the thoughts and actions embedded in a script we are handed. But it’s actually a great exercise in activating your imagination to make yourself express something without words. Say you’re auditioning for a commercial for a kind of coffee: what does the kitchen look like? What kind of kitchen table is it? Are you sitting or standing? What’s on the walls? Is the sun up and shining into your kitchen as you get ready for a fun day at the beach? Or is it early on a weekday morning before dawn and you’re getting ready for work? Is your partner sitting with you, or are you alone? What’s the aroma of the fresh-brewed java put you mind of, does it bring up memories of anything? Does it perhaps perk you up a bit, if you are one of the hopelessly caffeine-addicted like yours truly? You can get super specific with imagining things like this. Create the room, the time of day, the time of year, the mood, the wallpaper, the flooring–everything you think of. This kind of detail work won’t take anything away from what you are doing–it will only add richness and layers and genuineness to what you are bringing to the table.

3. Try several different things

If you are being asked to gesture to something, work out in your mind some different ways to do so, and try them all. Back to our coffee commercial: say you are being asked to offer a fresh-brewed cup to a partner at the breakfast table. How will you gesture to him or her that it is something you have made especially for them? With a crooked grin and a small hand gesture? With a silly magician’s presentation? With a heart over-brimming with love? Use your entire instrument to create a variety of pictures for the camera with body positioning, gestures, facial expressions, attitudes and motion. Play, have fun and show them everything you can possibly think of until someone yells cut.

4. Have fun, for God’s sake

As mentioned above, an important part of any commercial audition is the kind of positive energy you need to bring into the audition room. A big part of this positivity when it comes to non-dialogue auditions is even more specific: it is a ridding yourself of the burden of thoughts that you might potentially look stupid. You need to find a way to eradicate any lingering sense of feeling ridiculous or silly–which is super easy to fall into when you are trying to sell something using just facial expressions, a goofy smile, and gestures! So even more than usual, when you know you’re going to be auditioning for a commercial without dialogue, psych yourself up any way you need to in order to bring your best sense of the playfulness of acting. Remember how lucky we are in that we get to basically be little kids every time we work a new character or scene: think of yourself as child playing dress-up as you try on different facial expressions and gestures at your audition, and let go of any fear of looking silly. In fact, if you check out many of today’s commercials, looking silly could be considered a prerequisite for booking the job!

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