The Art of the Slate
This post originally appeared here in October of 2020. As someone who coaches and tapes a lot of actors, one of the most common things I hear over and over from them is, "I feel so weird introducing myself." Now that self-tapes are the primary form of initial auditions, knowing how to strike an appropriate first impression has never been more key.
It’s amazing how the words, “Hi, my name is _____” can become so nerve-wracking and angst-ridden once the camera is rolling. Slates are a vital part of an audition, though many might think of them as more of a necessary evil. So why are slates so difficult? To the chagrin of many, standing still and introducing yourself while exuding charm and trying to appear oh-so-perfect for the role can be an anxiety-inducing challenge. This feeling is magnified when you are trying to self-tape and don’t have the energy from the director/producer/casting associate in the audition room. The good news is slates don’t have to be terrifying, and the more you do them the easier they become.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to slates. The first is that you should slate as yourself. In other words, introduce yourself as you, not the character you are trying to play. Allow your own personality to come through in those first few seconds before you launch into the scene. The second school of thought is that you should slate in character. So which do you choose? Different casting directors will have different preferences, and sometimes these preferences change depending on the project.
Sometimes you can determine what kind of slate you should do based on the information you have about the project. If you are doing a general open call as a way to introduce yourself to a casting office, it’s probably a safe bet to go with the first school of thought. Be yourself. You’ve probably heard the phrase “You’re auditioning for the room, not the role.” An open call allows casting directors to meet actors they haven’t worked with yet, and they want to know what it is they’ll get if they call you in for a project. They want to get to know YOU.
If, however, you’re auditioning for a director or producer who has auditioned you before and already knows you or your work, then slating in character is perfectly acceptable and possibly even preferred. This is especially true if the scene is particularly emotional or dramatic (it would be rather jarring for an actor to walk in and slate with a smile and bubbly personality and then launch into a tearful funeral scene). Use your best judgment. To that note, you also don’t want to scare those that are in the audition room. If the role is an angry, loud-mouthed character who is constantly shouting, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to yell your name right into the director’s face.
If you’ve done the work and are mentally prepared for the scene before you walk into the audition room, the slate will come naturally. Often, I find the most organic slates come from a combination of the two aforementioned options. If you get yourself into the mindset of the character before you walk into the audition room, you’ll set the right tone in those first few seconds before you begin the scene.