The most damning response I’ve received for an audition was: “…acting’s hard, isn’t it?” Apparently I just didn’t cut the mustard for Cinderella in panto. In the 3 years since I graduated from drama school, I’ve experienced a plethora of embarrassing, hilarious, reaffirming and downright terrifying auditions. It is without a doubt my favourite thing to ask a new cast— what has been your worst audition? Actors with anecdotes, I love you with all my heart.

1/ Dora the Explorer: Live on Stage

Being unable to dance, I was sent to one of those auditions where the casting breakdown specifically states, “We don’t want dancers.” Which always translates as, “You must be able to click your heels mid-flight like Dick van Dyke.” It was for a touring production of Dora the Explorer: Live On Stage. I was auditioning not to lend my drama school training to the nuances of a young woman and her outlandish adventures. Not to Meisner the shit out of her relationship with Boots the monkey. But to clamber inside a sealed costume, and dance and ‘react’ as the story went along. Dora’s voice would be recorded and piped through the theatre.

Why my agent thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I may never know.

As soon as I arrived at the dance studios where they wanted their non-dancers to congregate, I found the place full of dancers. My instinct was to turn and leg it back down Shaftesbury Avenue as fast as I could. But I’ve done worse things for the sake of a funny story. So I decided to be brave.

The best part was being taught the complex dance routine to the theme tune from children’s show Fifi and the Flower Tots. I’ve never seen it and I fear if I chanced upon it now, it might trigger a form of Post Traumatic Stress. As each new group filed into the hall to be taught their choreography by a bouncy lady, you could spot the non-dancing actors instantly; a glazed terror behind the eyes, a flailing of limbs. At one point, the bouncy lady asked, “Does anyone have any questions?” Someone raised their hand and I thought, Thank God! An ally! But no, “Is it a triple or a quadruple pirouette?” “Quadruple.” Ah.

The audition is on video. I forgot to use a false name.

I didn’t get the job.


2/ Romeo and Juliet

You would imagine after three rounds of auditions, a casting director might have started to come to some decision about the identities of his two romantic heroes. I arrived, flush with the pride of being recalled, only to find a stairwell literally full of women. Twelve Juliets, as it turned out, and four Romeos.

The director asked us to ‘speed-date’ the Romeos. This took about 20 minutes due to the abundant Juliets. He then asked us to rate one another out of 5. I genuinely wasn’t sure if this was an acting exercise… until the director asked us to hand our scores in ‘to help us with our decision process.’ What do you do? Give the guy a 2? Do the Romeos rank their dozen paramours based on a minute’s interaction? Or on which ones they fancy? Regardless, it was massively humiliating for everyone involved. Just the feeling you want to conjure up for Shakespeare’s greatest romance!

The scene work that followed tended to be easier for the ones who’d memorised their lines, than for those of us still clutching crumpled A4 sides. As I watched my rivals, I’ve never been more proud of womankind; a dozen Juliets throwing themselves into the arms of their designated stranger, then groped, kissed and nuzzled into stunned silence. All made even more horrific by the director remarking, “God, you guys! You’re all such whores!”

I didn’t get the job.


3/ Sausages Advert

Commercial auditions are an entirely different kettle of fish, of course. Twice the number of people and half the time in the room.

The premise involved an art student returning from university for the first time in several months, running in from the car to sit down to a gorgeous family meal, starring own-brand sausages with an unnatural sheen.

“OK,” said the hideously young casting director. “Alison?”

I pointed to myself (dressed in an outfit I hoped suggested art-student-y-ness) “Me?”

“Yeah. You’ve just got home. You run in, give your Mum a big hug and then you smell something delicious. You rush to the table. You say, ‘Something smells good.’ You take a bite. Then you say ‘Gosh, Mum, I do love these sausages.’ Got it? Amazing. Let’s have a dry run.”

Easy. I can do that. And I did. Or, at least I thought I did.

“No, no, quicker on smelling those sausages, please!” barked the casting director. My Scandinavian surrogate Mum gave me a worried smile.

Six takes are on tape somewhere.

I didn’t get the job.


4/ Skype

For all the evils of CastingCallPro (in its neverending quest for nubile young women to get their boobs out on camera), it can be great. It connects creative people and makes you feel like there is a way into an industry which often feels like a house without doors or windows.

I’m not sure if Spine Chiller ever got made by the two film students who got me to audition via Skype. But they sent me the script and asked me to perform a speech or two into the webcam. All fully clothed and above board— I tried to ignore the fact they were both watching me whilst sitting on a bunk bed in their dorm room.

“OK, great, cheers, Alisa. Could you do a few facial expressions for us now?”


“Right. You’ve just found out your Dad’s died. Go.”

And I’m not proud of it, but I’m a little glad I didn’t get that job.

Series 3 of the podcast is coming soon, including interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood and Jonjo O’Neill. Series 1 & 2 are available free on iTunes, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up interviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen

Ailsa Joy

Ailsa is an actor, writer, usher and tourguide, with a CV-enhancing ‘startled woodland animal’ look.