Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gotta Lotta Nerve

If there is one thing that can drain the life out of an audition and hinder its potential for success, it is nervousness. Palms sweat, voices quiver, faces shake – now that may sound extreme, but it happens, a lot.  To varying degrees, but it does happen frequently. Even seasoned actors, who are just out of practice with the auditioning process, can show great signs of nervousness.

It seems the fewer auditions actors have, the more nervous they get.  It’s like dating. If you have several dates lined up in a row, each one has less stress, less importance. So one way to combat those nerves (and I’ll be writing more suggestions in future articles) is to go on as many auditions as possible. Especially if you are newer to the world of auditioning – audition for practice. Audition for everything: short films, plays, industrials, commercials, indies, studio films…. everything you can find to audition for.  Okay, maybe not porn - but audition a lot. Sure, your ultimate goal may be to work with Scorcese or Spielberg, but along the way to reaching that goal, stay open and keep putting yourself out on that limb to grow your courage and calm your nerves. It is a cumulative process.  And you never know what will happen with certain smaller projects. I once cast a short film that wound up being nominated for an Academy Award. It was quite a surprise! So at the beginning, don’t judge projects too harshly or as less than how you ultimately envision your career. Just practice.

It is one situation to be getting up in front of your fellow actors in acting class, or to perform on a set in front of hundreds of crew members, director, producers and fellow actors. It is a completely different situation to be performing in the arena of the audition. One actor explained that once you are on the set, you have received the validation that you are “good enough”, you have been rewarded with the role, which automatically gives you a greater sense of confidence than you would have during an audition. Bu perhaps a worthy goal would be to have no difference exist.  Yes, we are all looking for approval. And in the gushing, immortal words of Sally Field, as she accepted her Academy Award for Norma Rae: “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

Awards give us undeniable approval. So it follows, the icing on the cake of any audition is to be given that ultimate approval by being awarded the role, but do not let that result alone be what gives you confidence. When you walk in to any audition already confident, when you live and breath your character brilliantly, then the role will more likely be yours. But don’t consider winning the role as your permission to be creative. You are already creative, or you wouldn’t have chosen this challenging profession in the first place, so find the joy in sharing that creativity during the audition.  The thrill of diving into a character can be yours as much during the audition as it is on any set. Enjoy that moment without the stress and worry. Perhaps then, approval will not be the goal. Sharing your talent will be sheer pleasure, that can be your new focus, and perhaps then, the nervousness will vanish. That is when the mojo happens.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fine Tuning Your Instrument

Surfers wax their surfboards, sculptors sharpen their chisels, musicians tune up their instruments before every performance and actors, in your case, that instrument, is you. So how do you tune yourself up so you are in the best shape for all your up-coming auditions? Everyone knows the basic level of tuning - eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. Sure, those are the commonly known basics. But there might be a deeper level of fine-tuning that miraculous instrument of yours. Here are a few suggestions:

1) TAKE AN IMPROV CLASS:  The nature of improvisation is creativity, fluidity, and the ability to handle all curve balls thrown your way with ease and inventiveness. Auditions are full of unexpected requests, line-changes and character adjustments. Freezing up or being freaked at all by these adjustments raises a red flag of warning to producers that you might be a high-maintenance diva on the set. And the set is the ultimate arena where “flowing” needs to be your middle name. The actors with improv background are the ones who most easily avoid getting stuck in their approach to any character. They are free to be spontaneous, in the moment, and real. Improv is often associated with comedy, but its principles have many benefits for dramatic actors as well.

2) GET YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP: Being tired for an audition only sabotages what could be a great reading, unless your character is sleep deprived. But that’s like suggesting you have a few drinks before auditioning to play an alcoholic. You’re being hired for your ability to act the role, not be the role. Producers will rarely hire an actual lunatic to play a lunatic. Not a great idea. So take the audition opportunity seriously enough to get sufficient rest the night before. And alcohol to build up your courage only makes you look bloated and puffy, and smoking certain substances makes your eyes red, so opt for sleep instead. No judgement on anyone's nighttime leisure activities but just be sure they don't have a negative affect your morning audition!

3) KEEP YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL UP:  For those times in the crowded waiting room when your blood sugar starts to dip, come prepared. Healthy foods don’t help you if they are in your car down the street when you’re starting to go into a low-blood-sugar coma right before they call your name.  Not only does that glycemic dive cause my body to weaken, but it usually makes me cranky as well. Not the best mood in which to enter the audition room! Pilot season is more hectic than usual, with the possibility of multiple auditions daily, so plan to keep food with you at all times like a protein bar, string cheese, carrots, tamari almonds, crackers, rice cakes… I’m personally a huge fan of Laughing Cow Light. Anything that fuels your energy and keeps you in a great mood for the audition ahead.

4) TIME MANAGEMENT: Have your agent call ahead if you’re going to be late so you don’t get any speeding tickets or hit any pedestrians on the way.  The goal is to be truly present in the scene, so arriving early or on time, giving you time to decompress from the insanity of Los Angeles traffic patterns, will only help you achieve that goal. i suppose if you were auditioning for one of my recent films, DRIVE ANGRY, then experiences of road rage just before an audition might've helped, but generally they are not so useful. So once you arrive on time, in a calm, centered state, then of course you may have to wait, so that’s where the snacks come in handy!

5) MEDITATION AND MASSAGE: Okay, the knots in your stomach match the knots in your shoulders. You have to find ways to relax and de-stress.  Deep breathing and freeing your mind of that need to be approved of, accepted and embraced is essential. You strive for each role, of course, but the people auditioning you may range from supportive and nurturing to aloof and distracted. The atmosphere might be rushed and tension-filled. So it is up to you to nurture yourself more than ever. In between auditions it is vital to learn ways to relax and replenish your being. You may or may not get the role.  Odds are, in most careers, there are many rejections on the road to success. Meditation and massage help you to let go of any disappointment and stay energized and excited for the next opportunity.  They are truly gifts of revitalization.