50 shades of auditioning
I meet very few actors for whom auditioning is "vanilla" -- i.e. the same thing every time, no big deal, walk in, read, walk out, slam-bam-thank-you-m'am.
Nor should it be. It's loaded. It comes with all kinds of of hopes & expectations. It's a different animal than the rest of acting. It carries the promise of more than just a job. An audition for a good role can be the seed from which blooms a whole career. No sense pretending this isn't the case.
So it's only natural to try to find one or two key things that work every time. But, really, that's sort of like using the exact same routine over & over in the bedroom. Depending on the occasion, the mood, the people involved, more often than not something ... un-routine, something innovative, something ... atypical ... is called for. I'm not just talking about your results, I'm talking about your process.
I've gone through periods where I found the koan of this thing absolutely crazy-making. But if I had to pull just one thing I'm sure of from my own journey & from working with any number of actors, it's that there is no one-&-only / works-every-time / one-size-fits-all / "key" to a great audition. Every piece of audition material is different, every genre is different, every day you are different, every audition room is a different environment. What matters most is being highly aware of what your needs are in all different situations, & knowing how to take care of them.
From the many voices out there espousing audition technique, including mine, your job is not to choose who to follow, or to frantically grab at & hang onto everything someone like me says. Your job is to meticulously stock your own tool kit, completely personalized to you & the specific demands of the material you're working on. You've got to know what turns you on -- & be fully conscious of all the big & little things you need to have a fulfilling / meaningful / creatively hot time of it in the room. For every actor it's different. 50 shades.
That said, I've got one of those lists: 5 things I believe can radically enhance your audition experience. (Or shall I say, here's 5 out of about 60 or so I will eventually share!) You probably don't need all 60 & someone else will offer something perfect for you that I completely left out. That's good. Again, your audition manual will be different from anyone else's. My 5 picks today are about the disciplined use of your time before & after the audition. Pick what works for you & discard the rest.
Let's jump off from here: The audition's tomorrow. You've done your home-work. You've made strong choices, almost or completely memorized the lines. You've found your connection to the material, you've researched the things you don't know, you've got for a coach to work with or another actor / husband / wife to read aloud with & get feedback that you trust. You know how to skillfully prepare & you know how to work hard. Oh, & you are trained & talented!
By all counts you should walk in there an knock it out of the park. But it doesn't always work that way, does it?
As we all know, there's another aspect to be reckoned with: how you handle the experience of auditioning. How do you occur in the room as my friend, coach & terrific actor Raphael Sbarge puts it? When your talent is under pressure, how much do you get in your own way? And how do you take care of, nuture & pay attention to your needs / instincts / ideas / feelings that you have in the moment?
It's a big conversation & right now I just want to focus on one aspect: How you take care of yourself before & after the fact. Habituate yourself to these 5 things & I promise your audition experience will change radically.
1. Practice the discipline of being calm & centered before you walk through the door.
You can't achieve the inner conditions you want to have in the room & that you need for your best work if you're anxious & flustered before you arrive at the audition. Potential anxiety triggers include not having everything you need at the ready, being late, fussing over what to wear, taking a phone call from your ex, your mother, etc.
Be intentional about what you need to get in your zone. What focuses you / calms you / energizes you? Music? Reading or listening to something inspirational? A chat with the BFF who always gets it? Yoga? A run?
Build a specific routine that coaxes your talent to come out & play. Follow this routine every time you want to call on the muses. Your routine turns into a cue for an intentional response. (Read more about forming success-habits in a new book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life & Business by Charles Duhigg.)
Have what you need for every audition at the ready. What is it for you? Directions printed out? Cough drops? Water? Tissues? Make-up? btw -- The time to get the things ready that you want to have with you is not on the day of this audition. It's on the day of the last audition you had. No thinking, worrying, forgetting. Just pick up & go. No drama except what you let loose in the work.
2. Visualize the audition & how you want it to go.
Don't think of this as something new-agey. Before we go to the grocery store, we visualize what we'll buy. Before going to the car wash, we see that clean car we'll drive away in. Before a party we imagine the space, who will be there, what we'll drink & eat, & even the self we want to project. If we swoon for Downton Abbey, we anticipate feeling good after watching an episode.
Visualizing successful outcomes is also a mundane & natural thing we all do all the time. For example, when we think about going to the grocery store, we assume we'll be able to find all the things we want! But when it comes to audition, it often seems just the opposite: the actor actually conjures & carries around a sense of foreboding, of everything going south. She is not looking forward to it, she imagines the possibility of (somehow) humiliating herself in the room, or not doing her best work, or she paints a picture in her head of people not responding positively. She sees herself not feeling good when she walks out the door. She's not doing this on purpose. It's not intentional. But that's the problem.
So, intentionally, try this: sit down for 5 or 10 minutes on the day & see it all exactly as you want it to go. Image how you walk in the room. What they say. What you say. Where you sit / stand. How connected / sharp / responsive / energized / easy you feel as you are reading. Doing the work you prepared & more. Their responsive reaction. How satisfied you feel when you leave. It's not a mantra. It's seeing things realistically -- the way that most of the time they can & will work when you're not getting in your own way.
3. Have a plan for something pleasant to do after the audition.
It can be as simple as going home to watch the news, cook a meal or sitting down to read a good book, but make a specific plan in advance & look forward to it. Let the rest of the world not come to an end because you have an audition. Make it clear to your demanding inner actor that you get to have a life, too.
4. Promise yourself that no matter what happens, there will be no recriminations afterwards.
Didn't go the way you visualized? Interesting! That's the only reaction you get to have. In that space you can observe & learn things about how your talent reacts to pressure.
Because as you well know, there is not only pressure at the audition. There is pressure on set & on stage & every day you're on the job. The audition is a barometer of how much pressure you can handle in the real-work world. So you really, really want to know where you are with this. & no matter how high your barometer reading, you've made this promise to yourself: there will be no criticism, no castigations, no banging your head on the steering wheel. Not judgment, only curiousity.
You respect your talent way too much to attack it with self-loathing at the least provocation. If you beat it up, will it want to come out & play the next time? Imagine how a policy of "no recriminations" might actually change the whole texture of your audition experience. If there's no chance that you'll be shot afterwards, maybe then there's nothing to be afraid of. Then, you might as well have some fun.
5. Practice the discipline of keeping an audition journal.
After your pleasant activity, after you've had some time to process, write about it. There's something about picking up the pen (or keypad) that makes the unconscious conscious. I always ask my clients to send me a report after the audition. Write out how you felt & what they said & what you accomplished & want to work on the next time. Think of yourself like a violin; you're checking for any damage, for strings out of tune & then you're storing it nicely till you need it again. And fixing, if there's something to fix.
//// These are 5 mental disciplines, mental habits: not mantras, not positive thinking, not a replacement for the hard work of analyzing the script & making strong choices & drilling the lines. Don't be tempted to treat the audition experience as something that's not part of the work. You know, it's part of your job to work on this challenge, too. It's your job to take care of your talent. Only you know what your needs are & only you know all the explicitly specific ways to satisfy them! Your 50 Shades.
QUESTION: What do you do to make the audition experience work for you? Do you use any of these tools already? How? I'm eager to hear.