Nerves and Narcissism
Posted on: November 27, 2011 in category: Steve's Blog
5:40pm. You open the email from your agent. You have an audition. You read the email and note the time and location. It is at this moment when your egotism rears it's hideous head, opens its jaw and begins vomiting fear.
5:42pm. You see who's casting the show and your mind wanders back to the last time she called you in. It didn't go well. She was cold to you, you didn't do what you wanted to do and she hasn't seen you in a year. Obviously this audition must represent that casting director offering you another chance. She's always casting great projects so you will need to make a good impression in order to make up for the last audition.
5:43pm. You examine the breakdown. They're looking for a woman in her early twenties but you're twenty-nine and play mid to late twenties. You officially feel less-than. Perhaps you can wear that T-shirt that you think makes you look younger and put your hair in a braid? Maybe then you'll be what they want. You write yourself a note to go to CVS to buy more make-up. You're going to need some help looking twenty-one. Moreover, the breakdown describes her as "brash and ballsy, one of the guys." You cry during The Bachelor and prefer the color pink. You now hold a firm belief that you are not the actor they are looking for.
5:48pm. You download the sides. The first thing you see is the page count. 11 pages. For an audition at 10:00am tomorrow. And it includes a half-page monologue. Your fear of failing forces you to place an intense focus on the lines. You must get them right or you'll be disregarded. Later in the evening you'll post a Facebook update expressing your hatred for getting 11 pages of sides the day before the audition. 24 comments. 36 Like this post. The fear mounts.
5:50pm. You call your friends and cancel your dinner plans so you can concentrate on your audition. You won't go to yoga tonight either. Your mind tells you that you have to spend the entire night working on this audition.
Ten minutes. In ten minutes you have allowed your fear to ruin your evening and more importantly get in the way of you having a compelling human experience in the audition room. Why? Because your fear is all about you. Fear, anxiety, nerves- they scream at you to protect yourself. They convince you that there is some impending doom about to befall you and then demand that you look out for number one. And that undermines everything acting is. Acting is a relationship, a truthful reaction to another. And in ten minutes you've become so wrapped up in protecting your own feelings that you won't even notice the other person in the audition room. You won't talk to the reader. You'll talk at the reader. It's all about you.
The truth is that the casting director probably didn't remember your last audition. Not because you're not special but because she sees hundreds of actors for a project. The truth is that breakdowns and age specifications are almost always flexible and either name recognition or talent usually win the day. The truth is that having an interesting human experience in the room is so much more important than being word perfect. Not to mention that there are a multitude of issues that the entire production team face that are so much more pressing than what you did in an audition a year ago, what you look like or what you will say tomorrow at 10:00am. If you really think about it you'll come to realize that the whole process actually has very little to do with you. But now that you've ignored all these truths and cancelled all your plans for the evening, you're going to spend the entire night nurturing and cultivating your fear. This audition will not go well.
I'm not saying you're a bad person. You're just a poor manager. Often times the source of your talent is hyper-sensitivity, the ability to feel deeply. The other side of that hyper-sensitivity is that you are affected by everything outside the world of the play as well within it. And you allow the high emotional stakes of being or not being validated in an audition room- or on set or in relationships, etc- to block access to your feelings.
It's all about managing the fear. And how does one do that? Well, there are a bunch of good options from adopting Navy SEAL stress-coping techniques (google them), to getting into an on-going acting class. But I think the best possible way to manage your fear, nerves, anxiety, etc is to make it about someone else. I'm about to blow your mind here...
MAKE THE READER THE STAR OF THE AUDITION. That's, right. Your audition has nothing to do with you. Make it all about the reader. Try doing what you can to support the reader. Try giving the reader what s/he needs and try to help the reader give you something in return. Convince yourself that the emotional consequence you're so afraid of is less important than affecting the reader in the way that s/he needs.
And it translates to set, too. All the "I'm not coming out of my trailer" crap and the "why is she getting more close-ups than me?" ridiculousness is really just your fear screaming at you to protect yourself from monsters you don't need protection from. Make it about the other person in the scene. The answers are all on the other person.
Wise people have always told me that the worst thing you can do when you're feeling depressed or unworthy is to stay home, sit on your couch and isolate. The best thing you can do is volunteer work. Working for someone else in a cause that may not seem like your own, pulls you out of your head, keeps you physically, mentally and emotionally active and makes you lose the selfish focus on you and your issues. And what you get back is immeasurable.
Same is true when we act. Whenever your head starts spinning elaborate webs of fear and anxiety, make it about the other person. Try to lift the reader up in the audition room or your fellow actor on set. You'll end up booking more work and the ripple effect might even change your life.