I asked my actor friends what they felt was the biggest hurdle when self-taping, and this was the number one response: finding a reader.
As we all know, a good reader can make a HUGE difference in your performance. They can work with your timing, give you something to help provoke honest emotional beats, and they can take direction if you need them to tone it down or amp it up. (The reverse of this, of course, is that a terrible reader can’t do any of these things and your performance suffers because you are either a. compensating or b. allowing their energy, whatever it may be, to affect your performance.)
Here are some tips, listed from BEST TO WORST case scenario, for dealing with this particular issue:
1. Find an actor pal to read with you. (Duh.) In fact, do yourself a favor and have a “self-taping group” of actor pals, so you aren’t stuck if your person isn’t available to help out.
– One caveat here: don’t let your actor pals over-direct you. The nice thing about having an actor opposite you is that they can provide you with some real perspective. But at the end of the day, it is YOUR audition. Take their feedback, but YOU need to decide whether or not to incorporate their notes.
2. If you can’t get anyone there in person, get one of your actor pals on Skype or FaceTime. Even if there’s a tiny internet lag, you’ll still have someone you can connect with, and who will bring out the best in your performance.
3. Find an able-bodied, non-actor to whom you can give a little direction. Maybe your neighbor is a writer who understands timing or perhaps your roommate did theatre in high school… as long as they can follow the dialogue and take feedback from you, they’ll more than suffice. (Hot tip: summarize the scene, and then give them a few minutes to look it over so they aren’t reading it totally cold.)
– What you don’t want in a non-actor is someone who has an overly thick accent/doesn’t really understand what they’re saying, can’t pace it up/slow it down, or is a child (unless the scene is written between your character and a kid.)
4. Use one of those rehearsal apps. This is a worst case scenario because they eliminate the possibility of spontaneity, and they tend to make your beats either rushed or overly drawn out. These apps are terrific for REHEARSING/LEARNING your lines, not performing the scene. Use these as an absolute last resort.
And the I-HAVE-TO-MENTION-IT-BUT-PLEASE-FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-MIKE-DON’T-EVER-DO-THIS:
5. Don’t read with anyone. If you just say your lines and pause in silence when the other dialogue is supposed to be read, that’s not a performance. That is just saying/reading lines. This will never make a successful audition. Ever. Seriously. The best thing that could possibly come from a read like this, is that you hear from casting that we want you to do it again, but this time with a reader. But it’s more likely that we won’t be able to see enough of a performance to request another take.
So, no matter where you live, create your self-tape group of friends. And don’t forget to give what you want to get back: be as ready/willing/able to be another actor’s reader as your pals are to be yours.