Seems like this is a very common question. What is the deal with props? Outside of the audition situation and in my class, people ask this all the time.

Knowing how to navigate scenes that involve props comes with experience, but even experienced actors sometimes have questions. What if a scene is about the prop? Or changes when the prop is taken out? Well, like a lot of things with acting, trusting your own instinct will probably serve you better than any rule you may have heard. Every situation is different, and the same prop in the hands of one actor might be completely different in the hands of another. That said...

The word out there seems to lean towards not using props. I've heard people say never, ever use them in an audition situation - that props of any kind look awkward, end up getting in the way, or show you're trying too hard. For good reason, most actors look for ways to make an audition about their work, not the props they bring in to a room. Valid point. Any time you feel the prop is getting in your way, you should lose it. The fact is, there is almost always a way around actually using any prop, or at the very least a way of economizing things. Of course, there are examples when props just seem unavoidable - as in the most common of all situations - phone calls? The answer should be fairly obvious when the prop is inherent, like a phone, particularly when everyone has one and no-one looks good miming one. (or anything else not meant for comedic effect) But driving a car? Firing a gun? Hard to make either work, with or without the real thing. I have had someone come in with a very real looking plastic gun, and point it at my head. All I can say is that for the better part of that guy's audition, my focus was on the gun and determining whether the actor knew anything about guns. Not exactly what he was hoping for by bringing in a realistic prop. Clearly, logic dictates that for every scene where the use of a prop is sort of a grey area, go without props and keep it simple. Having said that...

There are times when an actor's sheer passion for a project cannot be ignored.

That could mean wearing full combat camo for a war movie, or bringing in something very personal to you. There is truth to the notion that if you go for it and believe in your choice, we'll be with you. Make a bold choice and second guess yourself and we will too. That's called detrimental empathy and it's the exact same thing as dropping something onstage in a play and not working the mistake into the moment. If you act like it's part of the scene, the audience will go with you. Break character by acknowledging the mistake and they're suddenly feeling bad for you.

This applies to so many instances in auditioning, but it seems to be polarizing when it comes to props. Apologizing for a makeshift prop is as common as omitting a prop that is unavoidable. But a well thought-out prop shows an actor cares about the material and character, and that can be a good thing. It applies to dressing the part as well - I remember a great character actor getting a great role because he had decided to make his ears stick out with tape and toothpicks. Never spoke a word about it in the room, but the director cast him on the spot because of the toothpicks. A true actor's director knows how valuable a passionate actor is once they're on set, in overtime, and on back-to-back night shoots. You just have to make it work for you, not against.

The real lesson I've learned about props is that there aren't any hard and fast rules. I love actors who come in with the feeling they have something up their sleeve. They've taken the time to own their work, and put their stamp on both the role and the story. That could mean using a prop you feel strongly about, or paring the scene down to the dialogue between characters. Either way, it's more important to trust your own judgement and stay true to the scene than to adhere to a rule you've heard. And that goes for a lot more than just props...