There’s a trite saying about writing that unimaginative professors like to trot out when they’ve run out of original thoughts: “Writers write,” is what they say, generally with a smug, knowing look.
Although this is a meaningless phrase disguised as something profound, we can actually make use of something like it when we think about acting: “Actors act.”
But here’s the thing: while this is self-evidently true, the fact is it’s not only actors who act–we all act, every day, even those of us who have never set foot on stage.
Every job interview, every time you order a coffee, every time you say hi to your neighbors or even talk to your mom on the phone, there is an aspect of performance involved: we are presenting a certain version of ourselves to the outside world in the hopes of garnering a certain response.
That’s not to say that everything everyone does is fake, just that it’s important to keep in mind that we’re all “on stage” all the time–especially when it comes to auditions.
So you’ve done all the prep work, you’ve learned your sides and done your research on the character’s arc and the piece you’re auditioning for, and of course that’s the core of the audition. But there is so much more! Here are a few non-acting aspects of auditioning to keep in mind.
1. You Are On Stage
In keeping with the idea that we’re all acting all the time, it’s important to keep in mind that you are being evaluated from the moment you walk into the audition waiting room. Especially at an audition–which is of course all about evaluating actors–people are watching you as soon as you enter. I have seen far too many actors behave abysmally toward the person taking names and headshots outside the audition room, not realizing that that person is often much more than a secretary; they might be a production assistant, or even an assistant director if you’re auditioning for a low-budget play production. Then there are the other actors in the room, actors you might end up working with should you land the role. So be on your best, most professional behavior the entire time you’re there. Treat the pre-audition part of it for just what it is: a job interview. Sure, if you know other actors there, say hello and chat briefly, but this isn’t a time to share vacation photos and laugh uproariously at your drunken antics in Cancun. Get yourself mentally focused on your job, maintaining a professional, friendly, and confident demeanor.
2. Hit Enter
Speaking of having a confident, professional demeanor, they say first impressions are the most important ones. And while we’d all like to think that given a chance to convince someone, we could get them on our side even after a bad first impression, there’s still some truth to the notion that you are stuck with whatever reputation you cemented when you first met someone. Malcolm Gladwell’s eye-opening book “Blink” strives to demonstrate through an exhaustive list of scientific studies that the human mind makes evaluations and judgments long before we are conscious of it–and they are often more correct than those we make with more time and research. For instance, according to Gladwell, this “thin-slicing” or using a very narrow window from which to evaluate something or someone is what allows us to instantly know how a person is feeling based on their facial expression and body language. So if you scuttle into the audition room like a terrified mouse who is fearful of being stepped on, that sends a signal to the casting team, and it’s not the kind of signal you want to give off. Yes, entering the room subjects you to an array of new stimuli, and it’s a lot to take in while your brain is already working overtime to remember your sides. But just remember, you are a professional. This is what you do, after all. You got this. Enter the room with your head held high, with a bright smile and greet the casting team. One useful tip is to not focus on relaxing yourself or forcing down your own nerves, but rather focus on getting the people behind the table to relax and be comfortable with you. Even a calm, direct gaze and a smile along with a hello can reassure casting directors that you know what you’re doing.
3. Don’t Bend the Knee
Speaking again of confidence (funny how that keeps coming up, huh?) a big mistake rookie actors make at auditions is they treat the casting director and their team as if they were gods seated on Mount Olympus passing judgment on the unworthy. But unless you happen to run into a pathological CD, craven servants is not what they’re looking for. These folks are just like you: professionals looking to work with a team of creative people to make something unique and valuable. They don’t need empty vessels to fill, or pawns to manipulate; they need collaborators who will bring their own autonomy and agency to the role and to the production and put their unique stamp on it. They are people too; treat them as such and you’ll make them very happy and avoid awkwardness.
4. Pleased to Meet Me
The way you slate is important for all the same reasons outlined above: that’s the very first thing the client, director or producer is going to see of you. There are people who suggest slating in character for this reason, and certainly that’s an option. But most CDs agree that a simple, open, friendly slate as yourself, then taking a beat to shift into character is the way to go. This way you not only show them who you are: a pro who is confident and on point, but also you show them your ability to shift gears into character.
5. Exit Stage Left
The exit from the audition room is just as important as the entrance. After your read, take a beat to let the piece breathe, then make eye contact and say thank you. It’s okay to hold for just a half beat to see if they have any questions or if they want you to go again and make an adjustment, but don’t linger. The only thing worse than an actor silently begging for approval with big blinking doe eyes aimed at the casting team is one who apologizes profusely right after they read. It’s done, the moment has passed, and it’s time to move on with your life and let them move on with theirs. Say thanks and head toward the door with a calm, confident, deliberate stride. Remember, you’re still performing until you hit the street. Most of all, break legs and have fun!
6. Get More Auditions
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