Self-Tapes: Advice from GTA Students

It’s audition season and high school seniors are finalizing their self-tapes. Virtual auditions can be challenging and online submissions are not as easy as they seem. At GTA, we want to make sure you have the best experience with your self-tapes. I have asked fellow GTA students Zafyre Sexton, Josh Turner, Hannah Love, Ryan Vander Linde, and Ethan Baez for their best virtual audition advice.

How has the auditioning process changed?

Zafyre Sexton
BFA Acting Senior

Zafyre: Everyone is self-taping right now, and this will not be something that goes away post-pandemic! Self-taping allows companies to see double or triple the amount of auditionees as traditional in-person auditions. Typically, a singer would be looking for sheet music for in-person auditions, whereas now, finding quality piano tracks for self-tapes is becoming the norm! It is very difficult to find someone to play live piano for a self-tape, especially in a pinch.

Ryan: Due to COVID-19, almost all auditions are virtual. I find myself spending hours at a time filming and editing self-tapes to send in to companies.

Josh: Moving to virtual auditions is a lot less different than you may think. The objective is still the same: tell the story, represent yourself well, and make them picture you in their cast. Auditioning virtually can be a challenge due to how much it requires the actor to provide on their end, but you can still present great work virtually! The benefit of virtual auditions is that you can cast a wide net and audition often from your home base.

Hannah: Before the pandemic, GTA auditions were completely in person except for preliminary self-tapes, and this was the same for most theatre programs as well as professional theatres. While film was used to self-tapes, everyone had to adjust as an arts community and learn the ways. It has made auditions much more accessible, but it also takes out the excitement of being in a room full of people with passions for the projects. We have had to look at how we present ourselves through self-tapes and see if we are bringing our authentic personalities within the one or two-minute videos we share.

Ethan: In a sense, it’s gone from blocks to pieces. Before, if we had two monologues required for an audition we would be expected to do them both in one fell swoop, but now there is the opportunity to separate the two and send one full package of audition material.

 What equipment do you use for self-taping?

Hannah Love
BFA Acting Senior

Hannah: I use my ring light, a gray king size bed sheet that I ironed and have hanging on my bedroom wall, my Canon camera (but also sometimes my phone if I need to send and edit super quick), and an external microphone. I also always have a bottle of water sitting by me just in case, to take breaks in between tapes!

Josh: I have a tripod and an iPhone 11 which works well if I’m in a bind. Fortunately, I have buddies that will let me use their setup as well. Faculty are also a great resource if you can reach out ahead of time. I auditioned virtually at the URTAs this year and I was able to get a lot of help from GTA. I was able to use one of our spaces and I also had help setting up the room, checking sound, framing, etc. Your faculty and friends are a really important resource that should not be forgotten. Just make sure you give plenty of notice so it doesn’t mess up what they have on their own plate. Your community is there to support you as much as you support them!

Hannah’s self-tape setup

Zafyre: I use a grey sheet I bought at Walmart that I steam to get all the wrinkles out, and I thumb-tack it to a wall in my dorm for an appropriate and non-distracting backdrop! I use a ring light I got from Amazon to ensure good lighting no matter where I’m filming. I use a small tripod that I have to stack up on a bucket, rolling cart, and three textbooks to get the correct height and framing!

Ryan: I use a ring-light on a stand for lighting, a black sheet for a backdrop, my laptop connected to a speaker for the music if I am singing and, for right now, my iPhone to film. Soon, I am hoping to get an external microphone for my Canon camera to be able to film on there and still have it sound good.

Ethan: I personally use my phone and a tripod. After I feel satisfied with the filming, I send the videos to my personal cloud, edit them on my computer, and then send it in to the director for review.  

What do you suggest to people new to self-taping? 

Josh Turner
BFA Acting Senior

Josh: The first thing you want to do is figure out your framing and run your pieces so you know how everything looks. Do plenty of takes so that you can get warmed up and have options to choose from. If you have to do a live virtual audition, record yourself before so you know how your pieces read. Lastly, don’t be scared of self-tapes! Self-tapes give you the added benefit of choosing which take is best. You can’t do that in live auditions, so make the most of it.

Hannah: Treat your first take like it is the only take that you can film. Allow yourself to breathe for a minute, and then film another take with the same mindset. Watch these over, and decide if you need to film any more takes. Act like the amount of takes you have is limited, and do not get too into your head and compare yourself from one video to the next. Also, when you do your slates for self-tapes, be yourself because this is the best chance for you to show who you are to the people watching.

Ryan: Don’t take too many videos of yourself. For me, the more videos I take of myself the more I overthink them, so it’s best for me to take three or four shots and pick from that, and doing it with only one shot is what I have been trained to do had it been an in-person audition.

Zafyre: GET CREATIVE!! You do not have to spend hundreds of dollars for this! Work with what you have and do not stress over whatever this may be. By the same token, I also stated that self-taping is here to stay, so instead of a new pair of expensive shoes or that Ulta splurge, invest in your craft at some point soon and buy the equipment you know will be reliable. It’s worth it. Instead of asking for gift cards and clothes for Christmas, ask for acting equipment. The more you invest in your craft now, the less stress these tapes will cause you in the future!

Ethan: Do not be afraid to keep rolling, and do not be afraid to have multiple takes. Although the nature of theatre is not something that can be exactly replicated, there’s an advantage to allowing yourself to experiment while you’re still recording so you can find and use the best take, as well as giving yourself space to play.

Have you ever self-taped pre-pandemic?

Ethan Baez
BA Theatre

Ethan: No, not at all. For me, the draw of the stage was that there was no recording necessary, and the moments in a play only exist within the walls it’s being performed. So, the idea of filming my own acting had never truly occurred to me, especially considering I’ve never had to audition for a company that wasn’t at least a drive away from home.

Ryan: I had not self-taped prior to the pandemic. My very first self-tape was actually for one of my classes, it took me about 30 tries to get it right.

Josh: I have several times before, but the number of self-tapes required has ramped up significantly for all performance arts. It’s always been a requirement for film work especially.

Hannah: Yes! I had done a couple self-tapes before the pandemic, but I had not yet invested in the backdrop, ring light, or external microphone then.

Zafyre: I filmed a self-tape for the very first time my junior year, in my Acting for the Camera class with Zechariah Pierce! THANK GOD FOR THIS CLASS! I got to get all my self-taping struggles out of the way pre-pandemic!

What is the best and hardest part about self-tapes?

Ryan Vander Linde
BA Theatre Senior

Ryan: The best part of self-tapes is being in the comfort of my house and not having to leave. The worst part is not being able to show as much of my personality as I usually am able to.

Josh: The best part is that you can do your audition over and over again without the auditioners seeing it. The hardest part is coordinating your auditions and maintaining that same sense of “play” that you should have in normal audition circumstances.

Hannah: The best part about self-tapes is that if you go up on a line or don’t like the choices that you make in one take, you can always film again! However, this is also one of the hardest and worst parts about self-tapes is because you can spend hours making 45 different clips of your monologue, and you may just end up stressing out and not being able to decide on a take that you enjoyed. Also, because you’re not in the room with the people, it can be hard to capture that personality you have that comes with walking into a room.

Zafyre: The best part about self-taping is the convenience! You make your own schedule when it comes to filming an audition. Whether you prefer to get up bright and early before you start your day and get a tape out of the way, or film at night when the day is over, it’s completely on your own time (with respect to the deadline of course). The worst part about self-taping is the obsession to film over and over again until you burn yourself out with self-criticism and frustration. Unless I make an obvious mistake while I’m filming, I give myself a five take limit! I know that may sound like very few, but this way I am not trying to choose between 10+ tapes that are either identical or only minutely different from one another. Save yourself the headache and give yourself a take max! Do not spend hours and hours trying to get the “perfect” take, because it won’t happen, and you’ll be crying by the time you decide to stop.

Ethan: For one thing, the notion that I get to have multiple versions of the same monologue that I can send in does help take out a lot of the stress of the process. But when I’m playing to a camera, in all honesty, I feel empty. I don’t mean to put down filming, and I’ve practiced a performance alone many times before, but that was always for the sake of memorization and familiarization. The lack of any audience at the time of filming takes away the “this is it” excitement I really enjoy from being in theatre, and as much as there are ways to solve that problem, I’ve unfortunately yet to learn them.

Do you prefer self-tapes over in-person auditions?

Ryan: Personally, no. I would much rather be in a room filled with other actors and actresses where the energy is high and adrenaline is rushing than be in my kitchen in front of my phone. I think I can blame my past in competitive sports for that. There really isn’t anything that can compare to the feeling of a live audition, it’s one of those feelings I live for. I also feel like it is easier to get to know the director you’re auditioning for and for them to get to know you when you are standing right in front of them and they are able to ask you questions.

Josh: There are pros and cons to both. Self-taping is an essential part of the industry and that will not change post-COVID. In-person auditions are loads of fun, and that is what feels normal/comfortable for me. Self-tapes get a lot more fun/comfortable with practice. My best advice is to learn to love it because it is an essential skill that can be very rewarding.

Hannah: While the nerves of in-person auditions are much more intense, I do prefer the in-person audition due to the fact that I have the ability to engage much more with the director and show them who I am. The adrenaline kicks in knowing that you don’t have multiple takes, and it is exciting.

 Zafyre: I prefer in-person auditions! I love being able to have one shot at what I bring into the audition room. I go in. Audition. Leave. And hope for the best. I also do not necessarily enjoy watching myself on tape, I am getting more accustomed to it, but I’m always still slightly uncomfortable watching myself. Although there are many self-taping pros, I’d opt for an in-person audition any day!

What are your tips to high school seniors auditioning for their dream school? 

Ryan: Show as much of your personality as you can. Be the person they have to have because of your personality. Be the person they look at and immediately want to work with.

Josh: Pay attention to the faculty in your audition, and the vibe of the school. Your dream school may not be what is right for your development as an actor/person. Keep a keen eye out for what environment feels like a good fit. Focus on the joy you get from performing/sharing your art during the audition because they will have fun if you allow yourself to have fun first.

Hannah: Choose materials that you love and would love to share with the world. Do not try to pretend to be something that you are not because the perfect school for you is the one that sees you for who you are and loves that. It is much better to bring material in the room that you love and enjoy working on rather than extremely challenging material that you cannot find any fun within or does not hold any piece of your heart. Also, envision someone in the spot where you look in your audition that you would want or need to perform your material to. Make your own audience to cheer you on!

Zafyre: My number one tip is to not try to be something/someone that you’re not. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing a lot of makeup and a bold red lip, don’t do it for an audition. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing a dress and high heels, don’t wear them for an audition. If you aren’t extroverted and bubbly, don’t pretend to be on camera. The closest to your authentic self you can be, the better your audition will be! In a career path where you are constantly being judged, you must stay grounded and centered in who you are.

Ethan: Stay excited! Unfortunately, stress is always a given, but the last thing you want to do is let it take over the fun of starting a new chapter in your life and creating new possibilities for yourself. If you show your dream school you can maintain some semblance of play and fun in the face of stress, that shows them you have qualities they are always going to need.

What is something you know now that you wish you knew then when auditioning for schools?

Ryan: I actually never auditioned for schools because I was originally a Math Major, but what I wish I knew for auditions in general is to not take not getting the part personally or as an attack on who I am as a person. Be able to put not getting the part in the past and move forward.

Josh: Pick pieces that you are super excited about. Make sure you do work that is representative of the style of shows you want to do in the future. Don’t pick pieces that you feel so-so about just to meet the requirement. It’s ok to bend the rules in auditions if that choice represents you and your work better. Innovation in the structure/piece selection is a great way to stand out. Just make sure that your choice has a payoff if you break the rules.

Hannah: I would have loved to have known how to have a proper setup for self-tapes such as we are doing now. After taking Acting for the Camera, I was able to find a much better backdrop than my wall that had a door slightly in the video frame. I would love to have known the great ways of relieving tension in the body so that I could let myself go and be as authentic to the pieces as possible. For clothing, it is way more important to dress comfortable and authentic to you than to wear a dress that makes you look professional. You should be professional in how you present yourself in the audition room and outside of the audition room!

Zafyre: I wish I knew that I didn’t have to adhere to a certain appearance of what a professional actor looked like. I wish I’d known that my big curly hair was something to be confident in, not something to hide. I wish I knew that there is an entire world of theatre OUTSIDE of your undergrad theatre program (side note: your talent isn’t measured on what schools you get into- train, hustle, take classes, polish your skills; you don’t need a degree to do these things!)

Ethan: More than anything, I wish I knew it was possible. It wasn’t uncommon that I would let my own stress overcome me throughout the process of being accepted into GTA (woo hoo!), but almost every time that happened it was because I didn’t believe I could achieve any kind of college acceptance. Looking back now I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I did, and it was because I didn’t think I could do it when in reality I absolutely could.

Lastly, what is your go-to outfit for auditions?

Ryan and GTA alumna Margaret Holtkamp show off their favorite audition looks

Ryan: I have two go-to outfits for auditions. My go-to for a more dance-heavy show is a red leotard with a flowy black knee-length skirt over the top of it, some nude tights, and my black LaDucas. With this outfit, I am able to simply take off my knee-length skirt and replace it with a sheer black wrap skirt for the dance call. This way I am keeping the exact same color scheme when both singing and dancing so the directors remember me.

My singing-heavy/play-audition outfit, which also works best for self-tapes, is a flowy mid-thigh length burnt-orange dress with a white turtle neck, cheetah-print belt, and cheetah-print booties to match. My (Alpha Psi Omega) Big once told me to “always wear fun shoes to an audition, that way they’ll remember you.”

Josh: I always wear something I can move in, even if the audition is a bit dressier. I don’t really like wearing collared shirts all the time so I will usually wear a solid-color long-sleeve henley and some chinos. I usually dress up/down with what shoes I wear, but I can move freely in my dress shoes as well. I always make sure they can see the silhouette of my body unimpeded by ill-fitting clothes or distracting patterns. Personal opinion: I’ve always felt that a suit is tacky to wear to audition because it feels/looks way too dressy to move freely and play in.

Hannah: For in-person auditions, I like to wear this one blue top with cute red paper-bag pants. For self-tapes, I put on a green t-shirt and jeans!

Ethan: Shorts, sneakers, and a t-shirt. This is the most comfortable outfit I wear on a day-to-day basis, and it has the added advantage of showing the director a part of my personality in which clothes I choose to put on regularly. I always have all-black attire for when needed, but my goal when I audition is to give my audience a sense of who I am as a person when I am working, and I think my clothing helps with that a lot.

Zafyre: My go-to outfit for auditions would have to be either:

  • Comfortable+contemporary: Dark wash, no-rip jeans with a red sweater and snakeskin booties.
  • Feminine+classy: Forest green mock-blazer dress with knee-high black boots.
  • Movement: Fitted grey shirt with black leggings and jazz shoes or sneakers

** I wear medium-sized gold hoops with all of these looks. No shame in the game, they are my confidence boosters and lucky charms**

If you want more tips on how to film your future self-tapes, watch our self-tape audition tutorial.

Good luck to every student sending in your auditions. We believe in you!

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