If I knew then what I know now.
Resounding words. There are countless lessons I wish I could share with my fresh-off-the-boat, newbie actor self, but the most important would be this one:
Your mentality around acting/auditioning is AS important, if not more so, than your actual skill.
Wow. What a statement, right? This is NOT something people talk about. They talk about HOW to audition, but they don’t tell you how to silence the nerves that stand in your way. But yet, as someone who has struggled for YEARS with auditioning, I can vouch for the validity.
Does any of this sound familiar:
You cannot book a role to save your life. You work HARD in class. You consistently get good feedback. But, auditioning is a beast. You shake like a leaf. You drop lines, even when you’ve worked on the script for hours. The reader just ISN’T giving you anything, or jumps your line, which gets you in your head. A phone rang in your audition. The girl going in before you hugged the casting director. The guy sitting next to you is talking to his agent about his wardrobe fitting for a role on a network show. You left in plenty of time for the audition, but there was unexpected road construction, and then street cleaning, and PHEW, you’re still 5 minutes early, but your heart is pounding.. and you’re first on the list to go in, so there’s no time to calm down. You’ve worked for several hours, but you still just don’t feel like it’s enough. You feel like a failure at your chosen career… even though you KNOW that you’re good at what you do! You know you can DO the job, but you just can’t get over that audition hump. And you HATE auditioning.
Friends, this was me. Despite having taken classes for years with some of the most well-regarded coaches in town, I just couldn’t get out of my own way during auditions. Under the tutelage of a new mentor, I realized that acting wasn’t my problem. It was my mentality. I’d set up this mentality around auditioning where, instead of coming in, doing my job, connecting, listening, living, I was anticipating judgement. I was measuring all those around me- was I better prepared, or less? Were they more attractive than me? Did I pick the wrong clothes for the read? I’d blame the reader (to my friends, of course- not at the audition), blame myself for bungling a line, etc. I’d harp on everything that “went wrong.” More-over, I was terrified of not being “good enough.”
Of COURSE I wasn’t having any success with this mindset. Acting isn’t supposed to be about YOU, the ACTOR. You, the ACTOR, are a vessel. If you’re overly concerned with yourself, your performance, how you look, analyzing within the audition, etc., you aren’t a vessel. You’re just you, the actor. You can’t be a self-involved actor and also a fully-fleshed out, present human being with needs, desires, challenges at the same time. If you’re angry because the reader said the line wrong, and that’ll screw up the brilliance of your created interpretation, then you’re bound to fail. Because, you’re not present for the reality- which, like in life, is unpredictable. If you create the other person fully enough, then it doesn’t matter HOW they say the lines. You’ll hear the words through a different ear. I can assure you that if I grew up as a female in Afghanistan rather than the USA, I’d have a remarkably different perception of the world. I’d hear the same words, see the same actions, but my interpretation wouldn’t be the same. Your challenge is to create so fully that you hear through the ears of your “character,” rather than the judging ears of you, the actor. No one wants to watch an actor who is thinking about his lines, concerned with how they’ll be said. People want to watch a human being going THROUGH something.
Okay, so that’s all easy to say… but how DO you change your mentality?
1.) Reflect daily. Analyze what happened in “the room”- were you psyched out by the casting directors? Did you lose your lines when something went differently than your expectation? Identify and meditate what it is that prevented you from being a fully present human being.
2.) Re-wire your brain from ego-centric to purpose-driven. You must make your world on the page more important than the world of the audition room. Personally, I’ve found listening to YouTube meditations to be helpful. Listening to these gives me a jumping off point to begin to reflect on my larger calling as an artist, and the power of speaking for those whom cannot speak. Telling stories that are important to increase awareness, change mindsets, promote action. You must accept in your heart that “the audition” isn’t about you at all. If you’re a rape victim in the story, and you’re more focused on whether or not you can cry when recounting your rape in front of the casting director, then you are NOT being service to the actual rape victims in the world. You are NOT being a voice for those who’ve perhaps been silenced by fear or shame. You are being a self-involved actor, worrying about your own momentary experience. And, you won’t get the part.
3.) Consider purchasing Diana Castle’s “Audition vs. Opportunity,” available on iTunes. I listen to this lecture on the way to my “opportunities,” and it helps me calm the nerves that inevitably pop up, center myself, and continue to re-frame the way I think about “the room.” Diana also provides helpful ways to change your language to aid in the re-wiring of your brain.
4.) Seek healthy and supportive class environments. There are teachers in this town who essentially create fear and anxiety within their students for the purpose of creating “disciples” to their method. If you fear “putting up your scene,” you may be in one of these classes. You shouldn’t FEAR doing what you supposedly love to do! What’s the fun in that? These type of teachers are doing you NO favors. They are encouraging a mindset of fear and judgement around your work which, trust me, will be a hindrance for years. A great teacher WILL hold you accountable for your work outside of class. However, he/she will guide you to grow in a constructive manor that will help you expand in empathy, accessibility, confidence, and ability to see more deeply into the words on the page.
What happens when you start focusing on your purpose as an artist? When you find your voice, it will become more about what you’re saying through your character, and less about what they think of and about you. When their perceived judgement is no longer important, the nerves will start to diminish. You will not only be more interesting to watch, but you’ll start to actually enjoy the process. As for me, I never thought I’d say this, but auditions are starting to actually be FUN! When you take away all the judgement and icky feelings, they become a chance to play. So, before you condemn yourself as a “classroom actor” forever… consider putting effort into changing your mindset. You may surprise yourself with how high you may, indeed, be able to rise.
Dream big, and live in your purpose!