This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
Whether you audition with a reader, a monologue, or with sides at your local community theater, the truth is that auditioning is a skill that is more like a cousin to acting than a brother. To be sure they are similar, but the artifice of the audition room makes them very different as well. So different in fact that just because you can go toe-to-toe with Meryl in a scene study does not necessarily mean that you can nail it at the audition. Conversely, and more importantly, it means that nailing it at the audition doesn’t necessarily mean they think you’ll be Meryl on the stage. “Cie, you’re saying that getting the part doesn’t mean I was the best actor in the room?” (That was your line.) Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying, but I am saying it because if you believe that to be true, then you probably also believe the opposite, that not getting the part means you are not a good actor, and therein lies the danger. So let’s go through what you should believe, and what you should do, with regards to every audition. Stick with me, and I promise that reading this will help you develop such a healthy and sustainable attitude towards the auditioning process that you might even start enjoying them.
#1. (We are starting at the top here, folks – no time for a countdown – so if you only learn one thing, this is what it should be…) Every audition is a matching process at least as much, if not more, than it is a talent contest! Don’t mistake my meaning. I am not saying that you can be utterly lacking in skill but if you look exactly as the casting director thinks the character should look you will get the part. (Okay, I have known that to happen, but let’s not be glib.) I assure you that skill is where it’s at. At every audition you must aspire to show that you possess and can deliver everything the director will want from you. This means that you know how to make choices that are rich and playable; that you commit to those choices completely; that you know how to fully inhabit the world of the play or screenplay even as people around you are placing lunch orders; that you take direction well and make every adjustment that is asked of you; and that you are prepared, reliable, delightful, and punctual. But the fact is that once you do all of those things the playing field becomes practically level. It is tempting to believe that if you show yourself to be the “better” actor or do a “better” audition then you will be rewarded with a role, but that is simply not true. Of course directors want to work with actors who are well trained and professional, but once the actors who do not meet that standard are weeded out, then what determines who gets cast has more to do with how well each actor matches the physical traits of a particular character or the other actors being cast in terms of looks and “chemistry” than it has to do with who did the better audition. I have personally been at many auditions where wonderful actors who did wonderful auditions were never contacted again because they just did not match any of the roles we had to offer.
Which leads us to….
#2 Getting the part is not within your purview and, therefore, cannot be your goal! I cannot stress this point enough, so let me say it a different way: If you attend an audition with the goal of getting cast in a role, you will misplace your efforts and set yourself up for failure. Think about it. If you can do a great audition and still not book a role, then booking a role is not something you have any control over, and if you have no control over it then how can you make that your goal? You can’t. Instead your goal should be to have a successful audition. (We will discuss what constitutes a successful audition in the following point.) Think about how liberating this is. You, alone, have full control over how well you handle auditions. You can show up prepared and display a professional demeanor; you can take classes, study with a coach, and read books to improve your auditioning technique; you can learn how to be relaxed, present, and in control of your nerves. So having a successful audition is within your purview. It is a goal that is achievable, so choose it, and then work towards achieving it. Then regardless whether you book a role, you can be successful, and you will be able to audition over and over again without letting the numbers game, a game in which the odds are always mathematically against you booking a part, defeat you. I bristle when I hear people say – and they say it all the time! – that you need to have a thick skin to handle all the rejection you face as an actor. I want to explain to them that it has nothing to do with rejection. Maybe the casting people loved you, just like I have loved so many actors that I could not cast. But there are only so many roles, and there are many factors that go into making casting decisions that have nothing to do with how well you act or how well you audition. Accept that truism, reject the idea that not getting cast is either failure or rejection, and you will find that your skin is just the right thickness exactly as it is.
#3 Make the audition successful regardless of the outcome! Once you decide not to allow the caprices of the casting process to determine the success, or lack thereof, of an audition, then what will determine that? YOU! Commit to becoming the primary arbiter of your own work; do it with unbridled honesty and fearless criticism, but with absolute fairness as well. Then every audition will become successful because only one of two things can happen: The first possibility is that you are able to recognize all the ways in which you worked effectively at an audition – that is, you did all the things mentioned in point #1 – and that you know how to repeat that effectiveness at the next audition. The second possibility is that some, most, or all of those things got away from you at the audition. It happens… to all of us! In this case you may need to give yourself some time to lick your wounds before you are able to debrief yourself on what went wrong and why, which is okay, but review the audition as soon as you are able to, while it is still clear in your mind. Figure out when things started to go awry, how the distractions or nerves impacted your work, and what you could have done – and will do next time! – so that your training and preparation are not overshadowed by your struggle to remain relaxed, focused, and present. If you can achieve that level of honesty and clarity, and learn from your ineffective auditions, then they become successful too, and they will occur less and less frequently.
Bonus tip: While I am on the topic of staying focused, let me caution you against using the time before the audition to socialize with the other actors there. The acting community, even in NYC, is small, and you will see the same people again and again. Hopefully, you will make friends among your peers, but your goal is to have a successful audition (point #2), and that success begins with private endeavors such as relaxing, focusing on your choices and, bringing yourself into the world of the text.
#4 When the audition is over and the work is done, leave it behind! Of course you want to book the job. And you may. But when the audition is over, your job is to accurately assess your work, reinforce that which was effective, conceive improvements for that which was not, and then look towards the next opportunity. For beginning actors, in particular, it is tempting to keep checking your phone or refreshing your email, but this is just one more way of allowing auditions to swell to such undue importance that it is hard to make friends with them. So be completely prepared before the audition, fully committed while there, totally honest with yourself afterwards, and then let them go when they are done. You may be surprised at how well inclined you begin to feel towards them.
Bonus tip: You became an actor to act, so while I realize that an audition is a very short opportunity to take the stage, it is, indeed, an opportunity to do just that. You aspire to act, so enjoy doing it no matter where, for how long, or for whom.
#5 Audition as often as you can! It is a very simple maxim that the more you do something, the better you are able to do it. And the fact is that as contrived, and perhaps flawed, a process as auditioning is, it is nearly the only casting process used. So audition, audition, audition because it is the surest way to master the task. Actors constantly ask me whether they should audition for this show or that role, given the myriad reasons they should not: They’re not suitable for any of the roles; Word on the street is that the director already knows who s/he wants to cast; The run of the show conflicts with a christening/bar mitzvah/aqiqah. None of those things matter. The first thing I wrote in this article is that auditioning and acting are not exactly the same skill, but the former is the only path to the latter, so if you are allowed to audition, then do. It is that simple.
As always, if you have any questions/comments/concerns you would like to discuss with me, be in touch. For more clarity on the primary foundational acting skill, read Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting. For more auditioning tips, read 5 More Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know!