It’s sometimes hard to believe, but in acting, as in life, we are often our own worst enemy.
But how could that be possible? Why on earth would we not want ourselves to succeed? It’s our success after all…
The truth of the matter is that inside these big, beautiful brains, the same brains that give us our love for music and art and acting, there lives a legion of voices that often tell us things that are simply not in our best interest.
We sit on the couch and eat ice cream even though we planned to go running; we stay out late the night before a big presentation at work; we fight with people we love even when we can see that it’s over something completely stupid.
As actors we love the voices in our heads. Heck, we NEED the voices in our heads! However, we also have to know how to tame them. Especially in the hotbox of the audition room, where we feel the most pressure and are often at our least secure. Here then are a few tips for avoiding self-sabotage when auditioning, and giving yourself–and all your lovely voices–the best chance to succeed.
1. Get Your Head In The Game
Acting, as we all know, is a matter of focus and intent, a matter of objectives and ways to go about getting them. So when you go into the audition room wondering “What do they want?” Or thinking “What if my look isn’t exactly right for this part?” Or “Why isn’t that guy looking at me? Does he hate me?” Or, god forbid, thinking about all the lovely, lovely money you will be paid if you land this part, you aren’t focused on what you need to be doing, which is your job. The audition puts you in an awkward position: you have to relinquish control over certain things. You can’t do anything about the temperature of the room, or about what might be going through the minds of the casting team, or about the terrible reader you’re stuck with any more than you can do something about your height or weight or hair color at that moment. You CAN do one thing and one thing only: focus on your damn job. It’s always going to come down to what you do with the material you were given at that moment, and when your head is all over the place thinking about things you can’t control, you aren’t using your skills and training to the best of your ability.
2. The Actor Prepares–No, Really
You think you’ve prepared enough but have you really? If you aren’t the actor in that waiting room who has done the most preparation for the audition you are selling yourself short. Yes, we’ve all been given sides at 9:30 on the night before a 10 a.m. read. And of course any reasonable casting team doesn’t expect you to be off-book in such circumstances. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your character and his or her objectives, relationships, desires, and beats solidly locked down. Not only that, we are all walking around with our eyes glued to the tiny computers in our hands 24/7. Do some research on the project, know what you’re reading for and know who you’re reading for. The actor who walks into the room and asks what the character is or what the scene is about might as well have stayed home.
3. Listen To Eleanor Roosevelt
She said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and that is a phrase actors should tattoo on the inside of their eyelids. Look, it’s intimidating to walk into the audition room; it’s a tough thing to bare your soul for 90 seconds, out of context, for a roomful of strangers who are after all there specifically to judge you. However, these people are human beings just like you. When you give away your confidence and meekly scuttle into the room as if you are about to offer yourself up as a sacrifice to the gods behind the table, you are destroying your chances of being your true self–which is all casting directors want to see in the first place. As Cathy Reinking, CSA (Frasier, Arrested Development) says: “I look for charisma: an actor being their authentic self, and not trying to be someone else, or trying to second guess what you think we might be looking for. We just want your authentic self in that role. And never be intimidated by casting people. We’re just normal.”
4. Keep It Simple, Stupid
This may seem like a contradiction to the mandate to prepare in number 2 above, but nevertheless, it is possible to over-prepare. That is, sometimes we try to do too much with the material. Sometimes we can fall into a trap of overthinking every possible angle and insinuation and undercurrent a scene has to offer and it muddles the audition. And understand, generally it’s a good thing to be super analytical and detailed when it comes to your character–but only once the rehearsal process has begun. If you are chasing possible demons your character may or may not have encountered in childhood and reading symbolism in stage directions and trying to imbue your lines with seven layers of meaning, you’re going to look a mess for the casting team. Do explore various ideas and potentially different angles as you prepare, of course. But then it’s vital that you land on a solid grounding for what you want to try to do once you’re in the room. You just don’t have time to create a multi-faceted one-man show in the time allotted. Focus on the main objectives and the main beats of the piece and the ways you’ve chosen to go for what your character wants, and make sure you don’t lose the primary point of the scene by darting around between too many often contradictory secondary objectives.
5. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
It is of course impossible to have a perfect audition every time. Just as its impossible to have a perfect show or a perfect take–or for that matter a perfect football game or a perfect night out or a perfect drive to work–every time. But when it comes to actors we have a tendency to club ourselves over the head when we make mistakes. This is a mistake, haha. Find a way to absorb what you’ve done, assimilate what you learned that day, and then let it go. Truly, if you talk to casting directors at any length you’ll find that the main thing they’re after is seeing actors who are relaxed, having fun, and genuine. So find a way to have a good time and not put so much pressure on yourself, and your auditions will benefit.