This is a tricky one and almost every casting director I’ve ever spoken to or seen interviewed has a slightly different answer. One said: “If we sent you the sides, we expect you to learn them.” - another said: “It’s a casting, don’t worry about learning the sides.”
I would suggest you memorise them the best you can and take the sheet in with you. Even if you don’t look at it, it’s there for your confidence. Plus, plus - you WILL be nervous. And - pressure has a funny way of fucking with your memory. So having the sheet there will reduce the stress and if you have a wee wobble, you can steady yourself and move on.
However, if you’re taking the sides in with you, don’t get glued to them. They can become magnetic to you when you’re feeling the pressure. Don’t forget that the Casting Director and whoever sees the tape will want to see your face, particularly your eyes, so make sure that you don’t use the sides as a crutch.
However, let’s be clear. If they know you got the sides the night before. And you stroll in, lines learned, and give it your all, it would be hard for them not to be impressed by you.
If you can’t easily learn three sides of dialogue in a night, you need to upgrade your line memorisation skills. Everyone should be able to do it. Nonetheless, if you think you might falter under the pressure, then it is better to take the audition sides in with you.
Even if you don’t have time to learn the lines, you’ve got to have a process for auditions. You need to make some clear decision and choices about your take on what’s happening in the scene/scenes. That’s your creative and artistic decision there. And it really does matter. Off-book with no decisions, is not audition at all.
Best Wishes for your next audition, knock ‘em dead!
To You, The Best
Mark Westbrook is the author of the Twelve Obstacles - an eBook on the 12 major obstacles that prevent actors doing their best work. It’s free to download here.