CWP Blog

The Top Five Easy to Fix Mistakes That Actors Make

by Jim Russell I love community theatre for many reasons, but one of the top reasons is that it gives people an opportunity to try something they’ve never done before – acting. And it gives directors like me a chance to help them shine doing it. If you’ve ever worked with me, you know that I tend to harp on some areas of the craft that are essential. In thinking about this with a blog about acting tips in mind, I have drilled it down to five things. These are the top five mistakes, if you will, that I think many novice actors make. They may sound obvious. They may not. But I am going to share them here, and I hope they might be helpful to someone out there who has recently made the leap onto the stage, or is thinking about doing so.

Mistake #1 – Memorizing Lines Too Late By waiting to memorize your lines until the drop-dead off book deadline, or even worse, until tech week, you are not allowing time to develop your character, to analyze your script, to experiment with different delivery styles, to engage in true listening on stage, and so much more. The longer you have your script in hand at rehearsals, the less chance you are giving yourself to truly shine. I know most community theatre actors have day jobs and busy lives, but there are lots of tricks you can use to get those lines down early. There comes a point in the rehearsal process when you as an actor should be diving into polishing your performance. You can’t apply the polish when you are still building the shoe. You have to possess absolute command over the words before anyone is going to have any chance of seeing how talented you are. You must be a master of the words in that script. The sooner you reach that point, the better. And yes, there are actors out there, in community theatre even, who are off book at their first rehearsal. That, of course, is the opposite end of the extreme, and I certainly wouldn’t expect that from anyone. But something close to that would really benefit you and allow you and your director to work on so much more. And there is more. Lots more. Learning your lines and blocking is just the beginning of shaping a performance you will be proud of. So allow time for the more! You’ll be glad you did. As for me? I’d rather work with an average actor who knows his or her lines than with a brilliant actor who doesn’t. Looking for some great tips on line memorization? Google it. There are many great methods you can try.

Mistake #2 – Not Picking Up Cues This mistake is often a side-effect of mistake #1. But not always. Either way, it will kill a good play every time. So, what do I mean by ‘picking up cues?’ It’s simple. In the script, you have lines. You know what lines to say because you’ve memorized them. But how do you know when to say them? Almost always, it is because you have also memorized your cues. That is to say, you know that when the other actor finishes his or her line, it is time to say your line. Sometimes your cue might be a sound effect or lighting change, or the movement of another actor, or even the movement of yourself. Whatever the cue is, you’ve got to know it so you know when to say that line you’ve worked so hard on memorizing. I often see actors who know what their cue is pause before saying their line. Sometimes, this is intentional to create a dramatic moment, and often actors are directed to do just that. But more often, the pause is usually the result of three possible problems. Problem #1 is that you haven’t memorized your lines, so you aren’t sure what to say. That is bad bad bad. Problem #2 is that some new actors intentionally insert a pause because they think maybe they are supposed to for some reason. Problem #3 is that you weren’t listening and got caught off guard. This issue of not picking up cues affects a crucial aspect of live theatre called pacing. What is a good play, with good actors, can very easily become absolutely painful to watch when there are long periods of dead silence on stage because actors are not picking up their cues. You may be thinking, “but in real life, people pause all the time in conversation.” You are correct. And we want to allow a little bit of that in a stage performance, when and where it makes sense. However, in theatre, we are creating an illusion on the stage. We are attempting to draw our audience into a reality that is being crafted before their eyes. We don’t want their minds to wander, and we don’t want them to start thinking about what to make for dinner tomorrow. Even worse, we don’t want them to think “is something going wrong up there?” And guess what? They’ll buy it. “It” being the artificial, intentional act of not allowing as many “natural pauses” in conversation as you would in everyday life. And they won’t even notice they are buying it. What they will notice is that the story kept them engaged from start to finish, that the play flowed and they never felt bored, and that the actors really seemed to be who they were portraying. So, how do you practice picking up cues? For starters, know your lines! Then practice them with the other actors with a focus on leaving NO DEAD AIR between lines (except where specifically intended for dramatic effect.) Start your line almost on top of the last word in the previous actor’s line. Make a point of almost talking over them. But don’t quite do it (unless the script calls for that.) Oh, and one last thing. If your director asks you to pick up the pacing, it does not mean say your lines faster. It means don’t allow so much room in between lines that an entire freight train could have driven through the space.

Mistake #3 – Not Projecting This one may seem obvious, but if not taken very seriously, it can and will destroy what could have been a really good show. There is nothing worse than having an audience member, right in the middle of the most dramatic moment of a play, yell out “LOUDER!” And trust me, they WILL do it. You must be heard. In the back row. Clearly. Without sounding like you’re shouting. This is called projecting. If you can’t do it, you shouldn’t be on the stage. But not to worry, because with the right tools, anyone can do it.
jimSo what are the tools? Well, you were born with every one of them. Let’s start with your lungs. Practice the art of breathing deeply, and experiment with letting those deep breaths act as a magic flying carpet for your words to ride on. Let the words ride on the air as you exhale. Your words can’t reach the back row of the theatre on their own. They need a mode of transportation, and that vehicle is your breath. Next time you are running your lines, consciously practice this and experiment with it. Next comes your mouth. If your breath is a magic flying carpet for your words to ride on, then your mouth is a megaphone. Have you ever noticed that the end of a megaphone is large and open? Think of the hollow space inside a guitar. Large and open. These designs create something called resonation. And you can use your mouth in the same way. The larger it is, the more the sound inside it will resonate. So open wide! And what about your face? Do you think the back row of the theatre will be able to hear you if your face is looking away from them? No. And that’s why we do something in the theatre called “cheating out.” In real life, we usually look directly at someone when we are speaking to them. On stage, we often use another illusion that our audiences will accept without even noticing it. We almost always turn our face to the front, toward the audience, when we are speaking to another character. We don’t do this overtly. We do it subtly. And we don’t always do it. But we do it. And it works. It helps our magical flying carpet fly away in the correct direction, towards the people who must hear what we’re saying! And then there’s your body. Are you standing up straight (unless the scene dictates otherwise)? When you have good posture, it is easier for you to breathe correctly. When it is easier for you to breathe correctly, it is easier for your words to hop onto your breath for that ride out into the audience. It all comes together, and your words are heard. Remember: breathe, mouth, cheat out, posture. If you consciously focus on developing these key habits, you’ll master the art of projecting with ease.

Mistake #4 – Not Enunciating I hate to tell you this, but sometimes good projection can be absolutely useless. You see, the audience is going to squirm and pray for curtain call if they cannot understand the words you are saying. There is only one thing worse than not being heard, and that is being heard in Swahili, no offense to my friends in Kenya. Just as a live theatre audience can and will interrupt a performance to tell you to be louder, they can and will turn to the person next to them and say “WHAT did he say?” It’s just not pretty. Thank goodness, you can avoid this, or you can at least do your part to make sure it is a faulty hearing aid, and not you, that is to blame. What is enunciation? Daniel Webster says it is “the act of pronouncing words or parts of words clearly.” Pretty straightforward. And not so hard to do when you think about it, practice it, and develop it. There are many ways to master enunciation. One good exercise is to intentionally over-pronounce every word while running your lines. Be sure your projection is strong not only at the beginning of each sentence, but at the end. Be sure to get every “T” sound out. Slow down. Overtly say each word, as if you are repeating it to someone hard of hearing. Another good technique is to imagine every single word in your script as an individual, sovereign nation, with your script being the United Nations. Go through your script and look at each word, and say each out loud, all by itself. Pause. Think about the meaning and context of the word. Go on. Then do it from the back of the script to the front. Say each word clearly and completely. Try it right now with this sentence. Finally, get in the habit of warming up your mouth and voice before every rehearsal and performance. This is so important, I considered making it a category of its own in this list. Warming up is essential to giving the best performance you can. And by the way, in addition to warming up your mouth and voice, you really should also be warming up your body and your mind, using specific warm-up exercises. So what if nobody else in the cast is doing it. You’ve GOT to do it. Use tongue-twisters, stretch your mouth and face, “motorboat” the air with your lips, whip your tongue around, go outside and screech like a banshee and howl like a monkey. Usually, a good warm-up of your mouth and voice should make innocent passers-by think you are absolutely crazy. If that isn’t the case, you have not properly warmed up.

Mistake #5 – Not Listening When I decided to make “listening” the last item on this list, my intention was to discuss the importance of listening to the other characters on stage. And I will discuss that, but it just occurred to me how broad I can – and probably should – go with the term “listening.” For example, listen to your director when he or she is giving you notes. You are expected to put those notes into practice at the next rehearsal. If the director has to keep giving you the same notes, is your performance growing? Are you getting closer to “show ready?” Also, listen to, and do, whatever your stage manager tells you. He or she may not have time to explain that if you take one step backward right now, your foot is going to catch a wire and the entire skyline of Manhattan is going to come crashing down on stage two scenes early, on top of twelve innocent people. So just listen and yes, obey immediately and without question. But to get back to the art of listening to the other characters on stage, well, all I can say is this: You may have your lines mastered, you may have perfected picking up your cues, you may be able to be heard in East Afghanistan and understood by your own dog, but if you are not listening on stage, you are inviting (best-case scenario) mediocrity or (worst-case scenario) disaster in for a cool mint julep. Why is listening so important? It’s important because if you are just robotically delivering lines when it is time to do so, you are giving a one-dimensional performance. You must try to get into your character’s head enough that you can, as your character, listen to and understand the words, needs, desires and motivations of the other characters in your “reality.” If you can master this, you will find that it leads to great discoveries about your own character. This is not to say that there aren’t hundreds of other methods and beliefs about “understanding the script” and “knowing your motivation,” because there are. But it all begins with listening. And there are some pretty down-to-earth, practical reasons for listening, too. If you or someone else on stage forgets a line, you can keep the story moving with “ad-libbed” words until you get back on track. But you can only do this if you were really, truly listening and understanding. Make sense? Also, a little secret: listening actually helps you memorize and retain your lines better. Here’s an exercise you can try to get focused on listening: Run through a scene in the play with your fellow actors. But use only your own words to get through the scene. The goal is to get everything accomplished in the scene that the scripted version accomplishes, but to do it with “ad-libbed” words. It’s harder than it sounds. Don’t allow yourself to slip and use the scripted words. Try this a few times with different scenes. It will force you to understand every single thing going on in a given scene. It will teach you not to “rest on your laurels” and hide behind the script. It’s fun, too!

Knock Their Socks Off I hope this list helps you hone your craft and find that standing ovation we all dream of. While this list was about some of the key basics, there is more, lots more! For me, one of the joys of acting has always been the continual process of learning. No actor should ever stop learning. I wish you the very best as the house lights dim and the curtain rises. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran, I can speak for everyone in the Carrollwood Players family when I say, you are welcome here!

Fret Not!

by Marc Sanders

Having performed, directed, produced and written for Carrollwood Players since 1993, I can honestly say that auditioning for the latest up and coming play has never been a familiar experience for me.The fact is, what I’ve experienced before with past auditions is not necessarily going to work to my advantage the next time around. Different plays, different directors, different actors and different factors at hand. Every director that helms a theatre’s mainstage production has a different way of seeking out the right actors for the roles that are available.

When I enter an audition, I always want the best person for the part to get cast, but I also focus on the best way for me to show the director what I can offer. When I’m the director, I’m also looking for the best that the actors can show me in the short period of time he/she has for a cold reading.

So let’s assume you are interested in auditioning for your local community theatre. Here are some strategies that might work to your advantage:


Relax and be yourself. I know. Easier said than done, but consider that most directors are not just looking at simply your capability to learn and deliver lines effectively. We want to work with people who are enthusiastic to put on a great show and get along with people. If we see that your heart is not in it right from moment we meet you, you are already doing yourself a disservice. Don’t be shy. Be outgoing. Get energized. Fret not and have fun.


Check your calendar before you come to auditions. If you know you are the maid of honor or best man at your sister’s wedding during performance time then this is not the show for you. If your name is Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, it just does not matter. We, and you, cannot expect you to physically be in two places at once. So come to auditions with a list of your schedule conflicts. If you have a pulse, you likely have commitments elsewhere with family, work, friends, etc. Make sure the director knows about those commitments before you accept the role. If this one play does not work for your schedule, fret not. There’ll be other shows.


What should I wear? Well if you know nothing about the show you are reading for ahead of time, a good strategy is to dress comfortably. You probably don’t have to wear your tuxedo or bridal gown. However, if you do have an idea of what the part is, you could be doing yourself a favor by dressing according to the subject matter of the show/character. For example, if you were auditioning for Felix the neat freak in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, you might not want to wear your ripped jeans and Nine Inch Nails t-shirt. On the contrary, if you have your heart set on Oscar the slob, that outfit might work to your advantage. A good actor has to be a good judge of character. So before you head out to the audition, take a look at yourself in the mirror.


“I’ve just been given a sheet of paper with lines I have never read before. How am I going to make this work?” Welcome to a cold read audition, the standard operating procedure at most community theatre auditions (though some directors do ask for prepared monologues.) As a director, I’m more interested in your actions, instincts, facial expressions and the way you carry yourself on stage, than how well you read. You just lost your place in the script? Fret not! I’m not worried if you lost your place in your reading, because when show time arrives, you won’t have a script in your hand to lose your place in. You’ll have prepared and memorized your lines by then. Just take a deep breath, ask the other actors on stage to help you find your place again, stay focused and carry on.


Look at the other actors around you. See what they are bringing to the table. Unlike many professional, equity theatres, most auditions at Carrollwood Players and other community theatres are not private. You are reading in front of all of the other actors. That is not something to get intimidated over. Fret not! Use that to your advantage. During the audition, you might see an actor reading for the same role and he/she just tried something that you think you might be able to pull off. If you get the opportunity, go for it. I actually think this got me the part one time. A close friend of mine and I auditioned for the same role. He went up there first and suddenly I see him running from one side of the stage to another in a frenzy. I thought it was brilliant. It never occurred to me to do that for the role. When it was my turn, I tried it out and the rest was history. On the contrary, you also might see an actor try something that didn’t seem right. This might tell you to avoid that technique. Bottom line, don’t take a nap or check your iPhone when you are at auditions waiting for your name to be called. See what the other actors are doing. Pay attention to their delivery and their movements. This is one time where it is okay to look at someone else’s “test paper.”
marcBe fearless. You cannot be afraid to make a fool of yourself. In one show, you might have to be on your hands and knees barking like a dog. A musical might require you to do a solo number – ACAPELLA! If you want to audition for anything, then you can not hide under a shell. You have to be willing to PROJECT YOUR VOICE. You have to be willing to maybe jump up and down on a sofa or speak in an English accent. If your accent is just not right yet or you tripped on stage, fret not! We just want to be sure you are willing to do what it takes. A nude scene? Fret not. Community theatres are not likely to be crossing that line. However, some roles do require appearing in your undergarments and/or kissing someone other than your significant other. If that’s a problem for you, you guessed it – fret not. Just tell us you are not comfortable doing that. We’ll respect your boundaries, but tell us at the audition. Two weeks before show time is not the time to inform us of that. If I tell you at auditions, could that mean I might not get the part? It might. It might not. We might be able to work something out. Again, fret not. There are always other shows and other roles.

So you have been called to the stage. Now pay attention to your positions. I mean pay attention to your body. In theatre, it is important to face forward. You might be looking really good in those jeans tonight but that is not going to get you the role. You have to perform with your face first and foremost. So make sure the director can always see your face or at least your profile. Use what objects are available to you, if any. For example, if there is a chair, you might find an appropriate time to sit on it, lie on it, stand on it, etc.

Don’t keep your nose in the script the whole time. If the other person reading with you has a sizable monologue, that isn’t the time for you to turn off your character and just wait for your next line. Stay alert and react to who is speaking to you. Acting is not just about delivering lines. It’s also about your perception and reaction. Use your face and your body to react to the other person on stage. Try to commit to memory the other actors last 5 or 6 words so you can listen for your cue and bring the script back up to read your lines again. (You lost your place when that time comes? Fret not. See item #3.) But when you are not speaking…try to hold your script at your side and focus on the other actors auditioning with you. That will only enhance your cold read.

Be courteous. You might run into some friends you have not seen in a while and you want to catch up. Wait for the break or for when the auditions are over. Keep your conversations to a minimum and avoid talking over others that are on stage. (Remember, item #4!!!! Pay attention to the other actors!!!!) Also, stay off the cell phone and away from texting. Whether it’s a performance or an audition, theatre folk tend not to care for the habitual texter. You would want the other actors to have respect for you. Make sure to give it back in return.

Know what you are getting into. So the director wants to offer you a role. Before you accept you will check your calendar one more time. You’ll also be accepting the responsibility to arrive at your scheduled rehearsals and call times on time. And you’ll be looking at some late nights of rehearsals. Finally and most importantly, you will accept the responsibility to have your lines memorized. Accepting a role is a very flattering and encouraging feeling. Be aware that your cast and crew are depending on you to do your part. If you can’t memorize your lines because the role is too large or you have too many commitments outside of rehearsals, then fret not. There will be other roles in other shows with not as much dialogue to memorize, and again there will be other shows that are more in line with your schedule later on. Don’t paint yourself into a corner. You might not see it, but your cast and crew will be really frustrated if you are not coming prepared to rehearsals while they are. Know the responsibilities and commitments that come with accepting a part and ask yourself if are up to the challenge.

I didn’t get the part. FRET NOT!!!! It happens to every actor. You might not be the right age, the right size, the right color, the right sex, the right breed of animal. I promise you this. You will not get every part you audition for. So, even before you ride out to the theatre for the audition, make sure you don’t set yourself up for disappointment. What is important is to never, ever, ever give up. If you want to do this, then you are likely right for the stage. The one way you will never get cast, is if you never try again. So keep on trying and fret not, there is always another audition.

Lastly, HAVE FUN!!!! Right from the start at auditions, have an absolute blast!!!! We folk in community theatre are not doing this for the money. If we were, we’d be waiting tables in New York, Chicago or L.A. and squeezing in 5 auditions a day. We are doing this, and we hope you want to do this, to just have fun and enjoy ourselves; to enjoy working on a great project with new and old friends and to earn our audience’s applause; that’s the real paycheck. When you come to auditions and rehearsals and performances, the most beneficial thing you can do for yourself is to just liberate yourself of your daily trials and tribulations. Fret not about all those things. You’ll worry about them later. Just open yourself up to a new experience each and every time you audition, rehearse and perform. As you watch the other actors, be open minded, and when you see how much fun they are having and how passionate they are around you, follow suit! It’s a complete compendium of wonderful feelings that only gets contagious if you allow it to.

So fret not any longer, and go to to check out the latest upcoming auditions. We can’t wait to see you on stage.

How I Survived Joining Carrollwood Players

by Jen Martin

“How do I join?” – I hear this question fairly often about Carrollwood Players. For some reason, community theaters sometimes seem to have an air of exclusivity and mystery when it comes to their players. I’d like to take this opportunity to dispel a few myths while telling the story of how I came to be a “Carrollwood Player.”

I hadn’t done very much theater before I moved back to Tampa a few years ago, but I knew I wanted to keep doing it. I had to do some research about the local community theaters before going to auditions, so in the fall of 2008, I summoned up my courage and headed over to see The Mousetrap at Carrollwood Players. I remember thinking about how intimate the space was and how close I was to the actors. I also remember thinking it was a first-rate production. The cast was excellent, as were the costumes. But what really knocked my socks off was that set! It was exquisite and far beyond what I thought community theater was capable of. I decided that Carrollwood Players had incredible production quality and I wanted to “join”.


I was ready, primed, and excited about finding a place that invested so much love into its shows. Plus, it was close to my house, which is a great bonus. The next step was finding an audition. Finding them was easy; a quick internet search revealed auditions….for plays. Plays? Ugh, I wanted a musical! I waited. And waited. And waited. For several years.

Then, in the summer of 2011, there was an audition listing for a Holiday Musical at Carrollwood Players. Even though I was confused about the show’s premise, I knew it was a chance to sing at a theater I admired. I prepared a short song, ratcheted up my courage and ventured in on a Sunday evening in August.

My heart was pounding as I pulled into the parking lot. “This place has The Players. These are serious actors. Why didn’t I volunteer as crew a few shows ago to get a foot in the door? I bet this place is super clique-y. I have only been in a handful of shows. I bet that’s not enough!” My head was swimming as I walked in the door.

Auditioning was very straightforward. I filled out a form with my basic info. and acting history. No need for a headshot or resume (that was a huge relief for a newbie like me.) The director, Tiger Von Pagel, gave us a speech about what the show was going to require and how the evening would go. I was calming down, especially when she made her own husband audition. It was a small gesture, but it was professional and alleviated a lot of my worries. I had some nerves, but I made it through. A few days later Tiger called me and offered me a part.

The Holiday Revue wasn’t a traditional musical, but it got me in the door. After that show, I started auditioning for the plays as well. Much to my delight, in September of 2013, Carrollwood Players came back to musicals with Nunsense. That show’s success heralded a new beginning of sorts for Carrollwood, with a decision to attempt at least one musical per season. I know from personal experience that putting on a musical will get more actors to audition, and some might even stay for the plays, like I did.

Since “joining” in 2011, I’ve been involved in at least ten productions at Carrollwood Players and am now on the Board of Directors. One of the things I love the most about this theater is that, even with my level of involvement, I still have to audition. I still get nervous, and I still worry about getting a call back, because casting isn’t based on who you know.

When I see a scared new face at a Sunday evening audition, I try to reach out, because I remember so well the daunting feeling of trying to “join”. I remember how much it took to walk through that door for the first time, and how much a friendly smile and professional process made it so much easier. Looking back, walking through that door was a pivotal moment in my life; I had no idea what I was getting into, but I’m so glad I came and tried to “join” on that Sunday in August. And I hope you will, too!