Auditions! Tryouts! All parts open.

Words to make would-be actors' hearts beat a little faster to the "This-time-I'll-get-a-part" tempo.

The community theater season will be starting soon. Casting and audition notices are appearing, and all around the area actors and actresses are reading them eagerly, searching for the play that has the perfect, the just-made-for-me part.

Good Fantasy -- You walk into an audition, the director takes one look at you, hears you read two lines and shouts, "Eureka! I've found you, you're perfect for the lead part."

Medium Fantasy -- You're thanked, on look at you, hears you read two lines and politely and asked if you would consider a walk-on role, or perhaps you would like to be an usher or work backstage.

Bad Fantasy -- You're thanked politely.

What is the best way to present yourself at an audition?

"The most important thing," says Susan Denny, who teaches theater classes at American University and directs for Glenmont Players in Wheaton, "is to be well prepared. Read the play first. Know the characters. If you are auditioning for a musical, prepare a song and bring along the music already transposed into the correct key. Don't expect the audition pianist to be able to transpose on sight.

"When you're singing," she says, "sing with enthusiasm. You can sing 'Happy Birthday' for all I care as long as you sing out loud and clear and keep going, no matter what happens."

It isn't, she adds, a good idea to explain or apologize. "Don't tell me that you have a cold or a sore throat or are a little hoarse. I can hear that for myself. I'll ask if I want more information.

"A woman once auditioned for a musical I was directing. Her ankle was in a cast and she was on crutches. She never said a word; she just got up and belted out two songs from the show and read a few lines. All she said was that she guessed she'd have to skip the dancing audition."

Janet Rodkey, who directs for Rockville Little Theater and Cedar Lane Stage, Bethesda, says it is helpful if actors give her a written resume of previous work in the theater. "Also, recommendations from other directors are useful."

Rodkey often has auditioners read several different parts "to see how flexible and versatile people are, and also to see how well they take direction. It's important to remember," she stressed, "that if you're not cast it isn't a comment on your talent. Auditions are difficult at best."

"That's not always true," counters Clifford Smith, well known in community theater both as an actor and a director. "The first time I auditioned for a show back in Pittsburgh, it was a William Saroyan comedy-drama, I just walked in, read and got a really good part, one of the leads in fact.

"It was pretty exciting but later on, when I auditioned for more professional groups, it was kind of a letdown to realize that I wasn't quite as good as I had thought, that I still had a few things to learn."

Smith often can be found acting in one play, directing another and conducting auditions for a third. "It's a hectic pace but, like everyone else in community theater, I really enjoy it."

"Auditions are like job interviews," says Joe Seldon, vice president of Chevy Chase Players. "It's vital to really know the play and the character you want to play. Some directors ask for readings from other shows, so it helps if you have one prepared and ready to do.

"Community theater atmosphere is very casual. You could try to suggest the character in the way you dress, but that is very tricky. If you go overboard on that you'll be laughed out of the room."

Spike Parrish of the Sandy Spring (Md.) Theater Group is impressed if people have taken the trouble to read the play. "You'd be surprised how many people show up and have no idea what the play is about."

He looks for ease of delivery, the quality of a person's voice, the way a person carries him or herself and different or unusual types that seem to fit the play.

"That's one of my problems," says Edith Nilsson of Rockville. "There aren't enough parts around for my type -- an old, well, make that older, woman."

Nilsson has been acting in community theater since the early 1930s and has no plans to stop. "I audition for any play where I could possibly fit the part," she says. "I've been studying the plays my group, Rockville Little Theater, is going to do this year but the situation doesn't look too hopeful."

One of Nilsson's favorite roles was that of the old grandmother in "Teahouse of the August Moon."

"I got to sit up regally in a rocking chair on top of a jeep and ride clear across the stage." She also liked the play, "Waiting in the Wings," because I was on stage almost every scene."

Most community theaters hold auditions for two or three nights. "If you really want the part," advises director Parrish, "it's good to go to all of the auditions. You can hear your competition, kind of protect your own interests. If someone reads better than you did you can ask to try again.

"If you can only make one audition it's probably best to hit the last one. You'll be fresh in the director's mind when he or she begins casting."

Irene Elliott, who directs for the Bridge St. Players in D.C. and for Adventure Theater in Glen Echo, tries to assemble a cast that will blend together and look well on stage.

"That's why some really good people don't get cast sometimes; they didn't happen to fit in with the rest of the cast. It's not a reflection of talent."

She advises auditioners to "look at the person you are reading with, try to relate to him or her. If you just stand there slumped over, dead-pan and read, it's not very interesting. I look for body energy and an expressive face."

The directors agree that auditions are difficult, but they advise against getting discouraged. Their message: If you really want to be in a play keep trying. Somewhere that perfect part is waiting for you.

[For free-lancer Barbara Fox's first audition, she took her husband along for moral support. He got the part.]