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  • Writer's pictureRay Watters


Updated: Dec 21, 2022

More than fifty years have passed since I had the honor of meeting the brilliant pianist and comedian, Victor Borge, when I visited Copenhagen, Denmark. Borge was affectionately known as The Clown Prince of Denmark and anyone who watched this wonderful entertainer perform no doubt can remember some of his act…turning sheet music upside down and playing it backwards; stating that Chopin’s Minute Waltz can be used as an egg timer, and more. One bit in his act was his use of phonetic punctuation. He would take a page from a book and read the words, adding a vocal sound effect for every period, comma, exclamation mark, etc. The result would have the audience roaring with laughter. This brings me to the subject of how an actor uses punctuation when using sides in an audition.

Punctuation is important when we read and write to clearly convey the meaning in written words. When reading out loud and coming to a period, we use a downward inflection in the voice and an upward inflection if there is a question mark, a pause for the comma, and more. However, I have seen actors deliver lines with clear punctuation…maybe not like Victor Borge…but one can clearly tell where the periods, commas, and other marks are. In my opinion, this is not good acting. Punctuation marks in your audition sides are there for a reason, however, they can also be traps that can hinder your performance.

Acting is not about just memorizing and saying the words. If that were the case, everyone could be actors. To quote Sanford Meisner, “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” When I get the sides for an audition, I look at my character’s breakdown and determine his importance to the scene and story. Then, from the sides and using the POV of the character, ask what I am trying to achieve; what are my obstacles; and what I am doing to overcome these obstacles. I look at the other character’s dialogue in the same way.

When it comes to the question mark, I determine what the writer is trying to convey in the question. Am I angry? Sarcastic? Frustrated? Too many times, an actor will see the question mark and assume the vocal inflection should be up at the end of the dialogue. Depending on your natural way of speaking, it could be that way, or not.

Another common trap is the exclamation point. Many feel this indicates you should speak louder. Not true. This could indicate surprise, frustration, anger, but does not mean you should automatically raise your voice. This is the same for the “All CAPS” trap. Again, it does not mean you should always speak loudly. It’s important to note the character’s intent. Is he trying to make a point by emphasizing a word or sentence in a clear manner, but not raising the volume?

There is another trap that is not punctuation, but a word…BEAT. Without knowing why, some actors will pause their dialogue for one or two seconds and continue. If you’re not emoting the meaning of the beat, then you have given no reason for the beat to be there. It does not have to be a long pause at all, but show that the character may have lost his train of thought and cannot think of the right word, or perhaps is experiencing an emotion. The same goes for the ellipsis (…). In short, when you see the word “beat”, or an ellipsis, determine why it’s there. There are many more traps in audition sides (stage direction, emotional, physical) that an actor should question why they are there.

In my opinion, actors who fall into these traps and just read the words without making informed choices are destined to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride (OK…I know that was sexist. Just deal with it).

And now for the caveat. What I have written is my opinion based on my training and my experience. You may have another method that works for you.

Do what works for you.

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