SCENE: You climb the stairs and reach the top. You open the door on the right. And there they sit – like 26 identical Agent Smiths, all staring at you – willing you to die. And in a chorus, they say, “Welcome Neo, to the Audition Matrix.” BLACKOUT.
I’ve often wanted to write a ‘pep talk’ for young actors going into auditions, because only us actors know the tight-chested terror that comes with these evil but necessary torture sessions, in which you have to be tough as old boots, but at the same time, take your emotions out of their safe place and expose them to critical people you’ve never met.
I have a student who’s going up for two productions, so I thought I’d finally set down on paper what I’ve learned through thirty-five years of pain and ecstasy in this process of auditioning. There’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to break up these tips into individual posts. This first one’s the most important, so I want to plant the seed now, but it should be refreshed the morning before the event.
The worst attitude you can take into an audition is competitiveness, but we’ve all said this to ourselves: it’s me against them. I have to out-perform, out-think, out-maneuver, out-shine everybody else, or nobody will notice me.
Actually what they’ll notice is the fear and ruthlessness. And it’s not pretty. No producer or director (and I’ve sat in that seat a number of times) wants an actor who’s vain, competitive or overly sensitive. If I’m going to spend eight weeks of my life with a person, I might as well choose someone where I'll enjoy their company.
WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?
I’ve learned that what works is to have the courage to let that fear and competitiveness go and adopt an attitude that calibrates higher - and that is an attitude of service. This will be noticed by your auditors as much as they'll notice the behavior of those who are trying to clawing their way to the top. You may not be spiritual, but you might want to take a look at the Prayer of St. Francis. Hell, learn it as a monologue. For many years, I've silently recited this to myself before every audition (we do love our rituals) and it largely works – unless they’re looking for an actor who looks like a 30-year Anglo Saxon.
In a nutshell, St. Francis is saying,
“Okay director, you may be older and very mysterious, but I’m here to help your project, and to help you tell the playwright’s story. I have some talents and they come in this package that you see right here, and for the next hour I’m going to work my butt off trying to help you achieve your artistic vision.”
You go in with that attitude and they’ll notice you. Why? Because you're not thinking about yourself anymore. You're not worried about being cast. And you know what? Whatever happens you will have done a successful audition. Forget about the job. If you get it, that’s nice. But the audition is the job. Let me repeat that: the Audition is the Job.
PERFECT FOR ADOLESCENT ARTISTS
This is the perfect remedy for teenage actors. I myself have been fourteen and I’ve been shy, and I’ve felt gawky and convinced that my chin is too big and I’m 20% less talented than all the others there. Looking back, I wish I’d incorporated that Service attitude into my early years. Who knows if I would have gotten further. But I certainly would have enjoyed more of my work over the years than before I hit thirty when I first tried this altered attitude.
And you, teenager, if you use this tactic you will separate yourself from the prima donnas who are selfish, self-centered and full of fear – trust me, they are. They’ve just developed a calm mask that hides their raw meat.
And consider this: remember those emotions that we all want to hide? That’s what makes you human. That’s why the playwright wrote this play that you want to join. And that’s what a director (and audience) are dying to see. Because most other humans don’t dare take down that mask. You’re doing it for them.
You’re a priest – like it or not. So go into that audition and help us all.
Bryan Bounds is a US-born and UK-based professional actor, voice-over artist, director, teacher and founder of the American School of Acting.