Dressing in costume for an audition or casting

Is it right to dress as the character when you are attending a casting or audition
Should you ‘dress the part’ when you are auditioning for a job? And how far should you go? I once coached a girl auditioning for drama schools in London. She was doing a speech where she was playing a queen, much to my horror after all our good work she decided to dress for the audition in period clothes, wore a crown and carried a sword! Needless to say she didn’t get the place. But did her ‘fancy dress’ let her down?
In my opinion, it smacked of desperation and amateurness. Her next audition, I told her to strip away all the crap and just arrive in a long black skirt, and plain top, this time she got through the first round of auditions.
I recently read a book which was compiled from over 200 interviewers with casting directors. Casting Directors from all areas of the industry, everything from studio mega-hits to low-budget independants, adverts to theatre. The book indicated that the bulk of casting directors out there do not want to audition you in costume and they also don’t want to see you using props in auditions. They also never need to see a headshot photograph of you in costume.
I recall one casting director telling me that she went out into her waiting room to call in the next actor during a commercial audition for all sorts of types and realizing it looked like a reunion of the Village People!
Does that imply that every casting director feels the same about this? Absolutely not. However, it does mean that the majority of the casting people you will encounter would rather that you take a minimalist approach, when it concerns dressing for the character when casting.
Sometimes your agent will have been told to ask you to dress in a certain way, and if this is the case then make every attempt to dress the way you have been told. Sometimes though that just isn’t possible. Recently I was called in for a casting on the following day. I was however staying away from home and therefore I wasn’t able to go dressed as a ‘city trader’ as instructed. I had to rock up in my trainers and jeans with a stubbly face. I wasn’t the only one ‘dressed down’ and the casting director didn’t bat an eyelid. Infact it turned out we were only being shot sat behind a desk, so it really didnt matter at all.
The finest advice from a casting director on dressing for the part is “come ‘in-character-esque’ when you audition for me.” A terrific way to think about it! Hint at the character. Wear black jeans and a plain, button-down shirt if you are auditioning for the character of a uniformed policeman. Wear a smart suit and polished shoes if you are trying out for a lawyer part. And if you are auditioning for the role of a homeless person, be slightly disheveled. Utilise your wardrobe to assist you get to the persona, but don’t smack them around the chops with it.
Casting directors don't need to see you in costume at an audition
You must trust that casting directors have plenty of imagination to ‘see’ you in costume, it’s what they get paid for. The crew on the job will include a wardrobe person and hair and makeup stylists. Just as you would not arrive for an audition with a camera to show them that you can do the cameraman’s job, there’s no need to show them that you are able to do the job of a costume designer or makeup artist!
The exception to this rule is if you are registering with an extras agency. They want to have photographs of you in your assorted costumes, because you could very well get an extras gig because you already own a dinner jacket, ball gown, or an nurses uniform. If you ever visit an extras casting office, you will spot lots of pics of background artistes dressed up in costumes ranging from hospital scrubs to waitress gear. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again being an extra is NOT being an actor, it’s a different job completely.
Deciding to go to your casting in jeans is perfectly all right. You didn’t make a bad decision, even if everyone else is dressed in shorts and t-shirts, or hot pants and crop tops! The goal of any audition is to go in and show the casting panel that you have an appreciation of the character, that your craft is honed, and that you are the right ‘type’ for the part. Demonstrating to them that you have the costume just proves to them that you have the outfit, nothing else. And the production company have already employed someone to do that job!
Remember at all castings, the casting director is on your side. Enjoy yourself. Be you at your best and stay focused on your job.