So in the amazing and totally free OMG-it-turns-out-to-be-as-valuable-as-any-acting-class-you’ve-ever-taken 30-Day Self-Tape Challenge we run as a part of the Self-Management for Actors world on Facebook, a lovely actor sharing one of her brilliant self-tapes talked about the eyeline issue of trying NOT to lose connection and good face-angle for the camera while keeping sides low enough that they don’t show in the frame (making that “looking down” thing a little more severe than she would’ve liked).

“Why are you trying to keep your sides from showing in the frame?!?” I asked, kinda shocked.

Oh wow.

Apparently that’s a thing. Many of y’all think you need to go to great lengths to hide the fact that you’re not off-book — or if you are off book, you’re hiding that you’re keeping script in hand in case you go up on a line.

Honey, no! Let me tell you WHY — especially in first reads — you want those sides to show!

First off: Even if you’re totally off-book, you may go up on a line. It happens to the best of us. Having those sides in hand to glance to so you can pick up that lost line is just smart prep! It’s your safety net.

Second: You make us more comfortable! Yup. Those of us on the buying side actually have a more easygoing experience in the room when you’re holding those sides. It means we don’t have to be ready to help you if you call for “LINE!” in the middle of your audition (Oh gawd, please never actually DO that!) and of course we can tell when you’re fully off-book and not consulting those sides you’re holding. We always notice!

Third: We know you’re directable! You’re clearly not so married to your choices that we can’t talk with you about “that line a third of the way down the page, right after the big confrontation” and have you check out the page, consider the direction you’re given, ask a question if you have one, and then have another go at the material from that new direction.

Fourth — and this is the one that’s important for you whether you’re in the room or self-taping: You give us (including higher-ups watching the footage to make decisions) a reminder that THIS IS AN AUDITION! This is a work in progress. This is an undirected bit of brilliance that is the starting point for all the places the director, your co-stars, the costume designer, hair and makeup, the DP, and a whole bunch o’ other Teamsters can take you.

That psychological trick is small but mighty in its impact on how your work is perceived. Just the slightest corner of a page sneaking into frame and just one or two glances down over the course of an audition provide buyers with the perception that you’re this awesome while still working solo at this! It allows us the room to play with how much more you might be able to do when so much more is provided to you in support of your performance.

Now, if your show bible research on a certain casting director has shown she absolutely wants you off-book, no sides in hand EVER, of course, you go with that! And at callbacks, you very definitely want to be off-book, no sides in hand, and of course having taken any notes you were given between your preread and that callback session! As with every stitch of Self-Management for Actors, you track patterns, learn what works for your buyers, decide what aligns with your gut, and then DO YOU without apology!

But because it was so surprising to me to learn that actors were trying to HIDE sides rather than using them for the tool they can be, I figured this was worth a convo. 😉

Of course, as always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Pop ’em in the comments below! Let’s jam about this!

Happy auditioning, ninjas!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

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  1. Elizabeth Zimmerman April 14, 2017 at 4:53 am

    Okay, but I’m not gonna do another 30 Day Challenge just to practice that! I think THREE is plenty!
    But, I will go forward doing my best to break this habit. It will be tough.
    I’m almost always off-book for every audition, due to being so incredibly nearsighted and auditioning without my glasses now. I reprint my sides in large type, so I can pick up lines if I need to.

  2. Bonnie Gillespie April 17, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Oh, Elizabeth, I don’t want you to NOT be off-book! That’s awesome and I hope I was clear that we always notice. 🙂 I’m just suggesting some ways that us seeing the sides can help you out!! 🙂


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