How to get the most from an audition
Most of the time when we go up for an audition we want to succeed! That’s human nature, to some extant. We all want to get to where we want to be ultimately, and for actors that’s primarily through auditions.
Almost every time we go to an audition, either beforehand or right when they call us in, the nerves hit. The nerves at an audition usually come from the idea of ‘wanting’; the want to be good, the want to shine and stand out, the want to be better than others and many times the worst of them all, the want to land a job, because you’re desperate for it, either for financial or artistic gains.
There is also an idea of fighting against the odds. The ‘odds’ are your competitors, sometimes you might worry about the preconceived notions you think the casting director or director might have of you and of course self-doubt which is naturally present in most actors and artists; it is after all very similar to the self assessment tool that’s used when developing a character for a show or a film.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the right way to go about it, and there are some contradictions you will have to face before you can make the most of an audition, and hopefully land a job.
I’m going to attempt breaking down the issues you might face, they are very personal most of the time, and it’s very much down to each individual’s attitude and their subconscious believes.
1. Excessive nervousness - When you get too nervous it’ll show. The worst thing about this is that no matter how much you have prepared, unless by chance your brain suddenly switches off due to excessive nerves, your performance will suffer. Making you seem like a self-conscious mess who’s trying to impress.
2. The want to shine and stand out - I think many actors have a problem with this. During training many students might misunderstand the concept of creating ‘interesting characters that stand out’ and they can turn it into a self-absorbed habit of trying to stand out at all costs. Firstly, the actual want to shine is a self-sabotaging thought, it originates from a ‘lack’ belief, which sounds kind of like this ‘as it is, as I am, I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I have to show more’
3. Desperation - Whenever you have desperate thoughts, they show. Growing up you have possibly experienced this on different levels. For example when you want to talk to a girl or a guy at a party but you’re desperate rather than being genuinely interested in human interaction, chances are they will be able to tell and in turn will distance themselves from you, to put it plainly, you’ll scare them away. It’s the same with auditions.
4. Trying - This mainly refers to trying to be better than others, or just trying to be better in general. In certain ways it’s connected to point No.2. But unlike point No.2, the ‘trying’ I am talking about here usually ruins your audition before you even get to the casting.
You could break this whole subject down even more if you wanted to, but I think these four major points will suffice to put you on the right track.
Lets take them in order.
1. Excessive nervousness
Nerves serve their purpose. It’s good to be nervous up to certain levels. Nerves can get you in the zone, they help you get into the heightened state you need to perform with energy, and some of you might have experienced this, whenever you’re about to go on stage for the first time during a play, your nerves do actually switch off your brain for a few moments and all that can come out is the character that you’re about to play.
What we are talking about is not the above. It’s the excess of them.
Here you need to realise this simple fact, you have nothing to be nervous about, really nothing at all. There are no set standards; there is not a fixed way as to how you should perform during an audition. So why worry?
I am sure you have got a few answers to that rhetorical question. Maybe they seem valid. Even if they do, even if you think you’re being realistic, the truth is, they aren’t helping you as much as you think so stop thinking about them.
There is practical way to make sure you have nothing to worry about, which is: DO THE WORK!
Have you got sides? Do you know what you’re going up for? Do you have information on the director, casting director and production? If yes, then read all about it, find out what they did, what they are doing, what their style’s like etc. Learn the lines, try them out and perform them. Don’t wing it, and don’t use the script. Whenever you’re off the page, your performance will shine more.
If it’s a known play of course do your research on the character and prep the speech or scene according to what you found out.
If it’s a new play or if it’s something for film or TV, chances are you will have limited information on your character and the production.
In this section I will have to diverge from the main point for a bit and talk about preparation as well, it has a great deal to do with your levels of nervousness later on.
As mentioned above, if you have got a wealth of information, use it. It will either help you or it won’t but it will definitely not harm you to know more when the knowledge is readily available. Also if you are going up for a well known play or something along the lines, where you can actually read the source material, if time allows it, read it and use it to prepare for your audition, I don’t have to say too much about that in here.
In the other hand, when you’re up for something new, such as new writing, film and television, you will have limited resources. You’ll be using your sides and the breakdown, which can be very sparse and barren. Here what I’m going to say is, go with your first instinct, sounds odd I know, but as long as that ‘first instinct’ is within the boundaries of what you know about the character, your best guide will be your gut. You can of course build upon that first instinct, but that original idea you get will help you to keep your character original, personal and truthful. Always above all remain truthful and believe in what your doing and saying as that character you’re auditioning for.
This way, if you are prepared when you go for that audition, you have one less thing to worry about, as you know you’re as ready as you can be.
Then, of course there are the auditions that you cannot prepare for, they are usually commercials. Here, in an ideal world, you should not worry about anything at all. You can only do one thing, which is act and do what you love the most. Unfortunately people who are prone to being nervous will not be that calm about it.
So here is a more psychological way of overcoming nerves. This is the following. You either know that you really are amazing, people with a lot of self-confidence can do this, or if you don’t have a wealth of self-confidence you will have to ‘accept defeat’. This simply means that you need to sit down with yourself and accept the fact that you will never be good enough, you will never live up to the expectations you have. It won’t work straight away and you will not want to accept it, but move past it and accept defeat, it’s worth it. Even if it sounds really weird. Whenever you get to a point of no return, you will find yourself in a balanced state. You won’t be afraid of losing anything when you have accepted defeat and have nothing at all, so you’ll be free to do whatever with the utmost calm and confidence, because you will only be as good as you can. This method is pretty much an explanation of “You’ve got nothing to lose”.
Combine the two methods, prepare and be sure that you can only really be yourself and you won’t have anything to be nervous about.
2. The want to shine and stand out
You are who you are, and you are pretty unique as a person, I am sure of that and you should be too. The fact that you have been picked for the casting already means that you are good enough as you are and what they want to see is, do you fit the part or not, do you bring something to it that either matches their idea of it or maybe you bring something that they didn’t even think of but still works perfectly well. That’s when you amaze them.
The only way to do that is, if you go there being yourself, nothing more and nothing less. Some people have a bigger problem with this than others, and it’s partially due to old thought patterns that have now become habits and ideas that are limiting or that are based on struggle and the struggle of getting things.
You won’t be able to perfectly guess what their idea is but by being yourself you gave the best chance to being truthful and showing your talent as an actor. You most of all aren’t the struggling actor who goes into the audition room, you are an artist, and they have invested their time in you because they believe in your art, so show them the artist not someone who wants to be one. The extra, the added essence and the art that you can bring to a character is you, if you make it into a struggle to put something more in it than you can truthfully feel and perceive in the role that you’re going for, your performance will become contrived and dishonest and the character will lack life. It will look like when someone is shouting on stage because for them that’s an interpretation of being angry. When you do something without an essence that you can connect to, they won’t connect to it either, so be yourself above all and accept yourself.
Don’t get me wrong here, by being yourself I don’t mean forget about the character that you’re playing. You will need to be that person too, but if you’re not comfortable with who you are and how you are, your characters will be wooden and boring. Each actor will play a part differently and will bring something else to it, and the ones who get it are usually really comfortable with who they are (or well known to famous) and thus radiate a quite confidence that both helps them act and makes them more attractive to casting directors and directors.
This is most of all an unhealthy mental attitude. It comes from another ‘want’. A ‘want’ to achieve something and it’s coupled with a lack of sense of self, because you measure your success by outside factors, but more on that in the next point, No.4.
There is no denying if you are desperate to achieve something, more or less you’ll come across desperate.
To explore this more, before we go ahead you are going to have to ask yourself a question, ‘Why am I doing what I am doing? Why do I want to become an actor?’
I hope you will come up with a good answer that’s satisfying and even the thought of it makes you happy and confident. A few examples for a positive answer to this question would be: ‘I love the art behind it’, ‘I am excited by telling stories through acting’ or ‘I like being other characters and playing’; you get the gist of it, something that relates to the love of what you’re doing rather than a love for the outcome, which might be wealth and fame. As much as I’d love to say it can be like that, a want to be famous and loved by the masses in it self will not help you through rejection. If that’s your only reason why you’re doing it, and don’t have natural talent to deal with pressure, you are not as likely to get past the rejection phase.
For some people things might take off fantastically as soon as they leave drama school or even before that, and for others it might take years. That’s when things get a bit ropey and difficult. The more it takes to get your break the harder it is to keep up the momentum, the momentum is a state of mind in which you’re sure you’re going to make it. Sometimes that state of mind bursts like a bubble when you leave drama school, sometimes you’ll live happily in it for the rest of your life. It’s really up to you and up to your personality. What can keep up a positive state of mind is your reason for why you want to do it. That’s why you need to find in yourself the love for the craft.
Now to get back to the ‘want’ mentioned earlier, if you want something and keep on wanting it and you don’t get it instantly you’ll develop a mental and emotional rigidity. Which basically means that sooner or later, when you go in for an audition, you’ll desperately want to get it. You’ll only be concerned about the outcome and in turn you’ll forget about the actual reason why you’re there, which is your love for the art.
I say, forget about the outcome, acting is not outcome oriented, acting is an art form, and though it’s part of the entertainment industry, you can’t treat it as a money maker and something that will save you from working in a bar. Relax, let go of all the dreams you have about how you’ll spend the buyout for your commercial and how a big contract would change your life. Forget about wanting to make people proud or jealous, forget about wanting to move to another country and so on, you’re not acting for the outcome, you’re acting because you love it, all else is just added bonus. So go in and enjoy yourself, play, don’t try to change your life. And if you get knocked down, don’t take it personally, it’s a huge industry and every project has a certain requirement, which are set by individuals who might not even be looking at your acting talent when making a decision, so don’t be concerned by those details.
Trying and trying to be better than others is possibly the worst thing you can do to yourself. You have most probably heard about it in drama school or read about it in a book that simulating or copying someone’s performance is not the right way. And trying to be better than someone else, even if you don’t know that person, will lead you into a similar kind of trapping.
When you strive to be better is good, it means that you are building yourself up as an actor, may that be through meditation or learning accents and gaining new skills such as archery or whatever you might think will help you land you the role of your dreams.
But when you want to beat the competition, when you want to be better than someone else out there or you just feel that you’re not good enough and you’ll try to better yourself, well that will lead you into a sort of mild neurosis.
Trying is a horrible thing. As an actor you should play and you should flow, you should use whatever you know to build up a character and measure yourself by feeling the emotions of a character by the feeling of truth you get out of your performance. During a great performance you forget about yourself, as XYZ and you’ll become the character you’re playing. During bad performances you keep your conscious actor’s mind and think about things such as why aren’t you getting a laugh when something is funny or whether you look good on stage or not and sometimes you even think about how you’re delivering the lines. In cases such as these you have detached yourself from the art of acting and you have started measuring yourself through information you get from the outside or you wish to get.
When you are trying to be better you will most probably set up a system for yourself by which you can measure your performance. Lacking a live audience you might do it in front of the mirror, you might record yourself or might just record your voice and listen back to it, with the thought that your accent has to be amazing, better than the ones the others will do or as good as anyone who’s from that region you’re doing the accent from. Maybe you will record yourself and watch it back so you can see that your movement is on point with your expectations. And the more you do this the more you leave the truth of the performance and the character and get bogged up by technicalities. All because you’re trying, this almost a combination of points No.2 and 3.
So I’d say this. Don’t worry about who’s going up for an audition with you, don’t worry about the competition that you haven’t even met, don’t try to be better and don’t try to be amazing, don’t even try to create an interesting character, it’ll come to you. Be yourself above all, be the actor that you know you can be and only strive to achieve one thing, the truthfulness in your performance.
Instead of aiming for clear diction when doing a speech, aim to understand and feel why you’re saying what you’re saying. To live with an example, in The Revenant, Tom Hardy mumbles an awful lot, and if you were unlucky enough to watch it in a cinema where the sound system was a bit dated, you could have missed as much as 80% of what he said. Did he care? I don’t think so. Did the director care? Of course not. And why? Because he had truth in what he was doing, he could make such strong eye contact with the audience that you had a sigh of relief when he looked away, knowing you’ll be safe.
Never start working on your accent with the speech you’re going to perform.(Especially if the accent you’re doing is totally new for you) If time allows it, do it with other speeches first, read a book in that accent or learn a poem.
Don’t mechanically overdo the physicality of the character while doing the performance. Work out your journey during the speech but, in the case of physicality again don’t practice it with the speech, first work out the reasons behind the physicality of the character and then use that new way of being and behaving in the speech you’re going to do.
Aim to get the essence of the character you’re auditioning for, or if you cannot do that, just be yourself and accept the truth that you have nothing to lose, you can only win.
If you don’t get an audition, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad actor or that you have messed up. It’s how the industry works. So keep on shining and doing what you love.
I had to interview and audition quite a few people for projects that I have worked on, either as a director or just helping out. I know for a fact that we are attracted to confidence, and with confidence your talent comes out.
There are a few people out there who would say dress for the part and go into the room in character. You can totally do that if you like, but in cases where your character is downbeat, depressed and overall in a negative state, I’d say don’t do it, dress in a manner that doesn’t make it hard for anyone to believe that you could be the character you’re going for but don’t overdo the character before you start your audition in front of the panel. I feel it’s nice to be relaxed when you go in for a casting, the ones I get or get pencilled for are the ones where I went in to with a happy and good state of mind, regardless of the part. In that way you invite the people in the room to make an instant connection with you, positivity, happiness and confidence are attractive. Don’t forget chances are they have sat there for hours or they can expect to be there for many hours after you leave, so if you break the routine and instead of a worried actor they’ll see you, who shines and lights up the room when he/she enters, they’ll remember you. Even if you don’t get the part, you might have made friends with the casting director or director during your audition, they’ll have this nice feeling about you and will call you back again for other projects.
So enjoy every bit of it and happy auditioning!