It's fascinating to me that millions of people pay money every year for the privilege of being scared witless by riding on a roller coaster. Why is that so acceptable, while feeling fear in an audition is not? If you were to measure our heart rates during an audition, they would look the same as on the roller coaster, so why is fright so frightening for actors trying to get a job?
To me, the answer is that you're allowed to scream on a roller coaster but not in an audition. (I wonder who made up that rule?) On a roller coaster you are not only allowed to yell and scream but encouraged to do so.
When pressure and tension take over in an audition, it's exactly like a car going into a skid -- and everyone knows (or should) that the only way to get control over a skid is to first turn into it. You've got to accept it, not deny its presence. Don't repress what's going on inside; manage it artistically. Channel what's happening to you into choices for the character. If you're suddenly feeling uptight, so could the character; it may simply come out differently. If your character is very religious and you feel stymied, cross yourself. If the character is loudmouthed and you feel your heart pounding, talk louder. Laugh if the character tries to be funny. Don't expect to feel the right feelings for your character, feel whatever you do feel -- openly -- then transfer those feelings into appropriate behavior.
Remember, we do that all the time in our own lives. You visit a desperately ill loved one in the hospital, and you don't spill your fear. You transfer it into smiles of encouragement and support. When you're at the bank, worried about an overdraft or the balance in your account, you're perfectly able to transform those worries into nice social chitchat about the weather. If you can do that in life, you can do that in an audition.
Allan Miller, currently directing "I Am a Tree" at Theatre at St. Clement's in NYC, has acted in more than 200 TV shows and films. His book, "A Passion for Acting," and DVD, "Auditioning," are available at www.allanmiller.org.