“Acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion. ”
“Some actors I have met possess an intelligence that I can only dream of. It’s about character, it’s about behavior. They understand things about people that I simply don’t see.”
As actors, we walk a tricky line every day we practice our craft. It requires a hefty investment of intellect, but to be a great actor you also have to be able to readily access your emotions. Sometimes that big ol’ brain is more a hindrance than a help.
One example of our brains tripping us up and getting in the way is an audition experience that is familiar to most of us at one time or another: you’re well-prepared, you do your due diligence, you’re totally comfortable with the lines and the role—you feel confident and ready to do your best work.
But moments before your name is called, suddenly you’re seized with doubt. You get nervous. For no good reason at all, you stammer and stutter through lines you had nailed cold that morning in your house.
And while this is a common experience and one that most of us will go through at one time or another, there are nonetheless some mental tricks we can play on ourselves to reduce the possibility of our brains betraying us. Here are few audition mindset errors and quick fixes!
1. But What Do They Want?
This is a crippling mindset to take with you into the audition room. If you’ve read the sides, familiarized yourself with the character and the piece and set yourself up with a strong, achievable objective, you’re all set. Beyond that, there is literally no way you can access the inner thoughts of the casting team to try to figure out what exactly they are looking for, so stop trying to!
Quick Fix: You are here to do a job, and you are a professional who has prepared for this. You ARE the right person for the job. Take that mindset into the room with you, along with a sense of openness and play, a willingness to talk, to listen, and to roll with what you are given. It’s not about whether you can squeeze yourself and contort yourself to fit into the role. It’s about making them see the real you and all your uniqueness, and how the role can and should be molded to fit you.
2. Running Your Own Race
In the down time waiting for your turn to read, of course as curious actors we’re going to look around the room and take in the other actors who are also waiting. But a crucial mistake many actors make is to do “pre-casting” in their heads before they read. You see someone with “the perfect look” and you sabotage yourself by psyching yourself out, ruining your chances before you even begin.
Quick Fix: Remember that visualization is a powerful tool—and that negative visualization is just as strong as positive. So instead of picturing the stellar, incredible audition that the chisel-jawed actor next to you is going to deliver, visualize instead your own strength and power as an actor. You know what you’re doing, so mentally prepare yourself to do it. You can’t run anyone else’s race but your own. The only thing you have control over is you and your work, so picture it going well!
3. Locked And Loaded
There is such a thing as being over-rehearsed. One symptom of this is when you have pounded the lines into your head to such a degree in one particular way that you find yourself unable to imagine them any differently. This phenomenon manifests often with less experienced actors growing frustrated with a reader who is “doing it wrong.” The danger here is a profound misunderstanding of how acting really works: it is fluid, dynamic and changes constantly. That’s why performers can act in eight shows a week on Broadway for months or even years on end: every show really, truly is different.
Quick Fix: A great way to prevent this rigid mindset afflicting your audition is to remember that acting is all about play—we even call it “playing” a role, right? So while doing the work of learning your sides, make sure you reserve yourself some time for having some fun with it. Try out different accents, different levels, different tactics. Try learning your sides in different places too—this is also a great exercise for helping you get the lines more solidly down. Run lines while you’re doing dishes, walking the dog, commuting, working out—while you’re anywhere and doing anything, really. And keeping your mind open and your sense of playfulness when you hit the audition room will help show you off as a versatile and adaptable actor who can think and act on his or her toes.
4. You’ve Got Nothing To Prove
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The same concept applies to auditioning and acting: if you walk into the audition room with something to prove, it shows. It reads as desperation and it also prevents you from fully focusing on the work at hand.
Quick Fix: You are here to audition not because there is a possibility you might be right for the role, it’s because you ARE right for the role. They wanted you here for a reason: something in your headshot, your smile, your experience, or your first audition sparked an interest in the casting team. The trick now is to be fully engaged as yourself and connecting fully with every ounce of your free, crazy energy and the joy you take in performing and letting all of that shine out like a beacon they cannot ignore.
5. Forget About The Job
Related to the previous point, if you walk into the audition carrying an urgent need to book the job for whatever reason, it shows. It reads like a literal weight sometimes when you see actors desperate to book a job. Yes, of course its nice to think about landing a dream role or getting a big fat paycheck. But visions of shopping sprees or critical accolades resulting from a role you are currently auditioning for is a sure-fire way to sabotage your audition performance and thus prevent that fantasy from coming true. A man can’t serve two masters, and that certainly applies to our brains. If you’re not focused on the work, then the work will suffer.
Quick Fix: You’re here to act because you love to act. You love the joy it brings you, and you love the fun of it. That’s where your mind should be when you are auditioning, taking advantage of this opportunity to act. As the Beatles said, “There’s no where you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be,” and this is a useful mantra to keep in mind as you navigate the loopy world of the professional actor. The roles we book are the right ones for us to book, and the roles we don’t book free us to pursue some other opportunity. There is no “coulda, shoulda, woulda” in acting, there is only now. Be in the now when you audition, and you will find yourself in the roles you’re meant to play!