One of the strangest things that can happen at an audition—from the casting director’s point of view—is how 30 different actors can manage to all do the same thing with the material and wind up looking completely alike. You’d think it would be impossible, after all, they’re all very different people, with different backgrounds, different experience, different skills, and different voices. But somehow, in the process of preparing the role, many of these actors actually erase what’s special about them, instead of discovering and cultivating it.
That’s because they’ve put their minds in charge of their process—ignoring the fact that it’s what’s in their heart that will get them the job.
For instance, if the 30 actors all read the same two-page sides, and the role is that of a doctor who delivers bad news after a failed surgery, they’ll all come up with nearly the same conclusions about what the scene is about and what the obvious choices would be. That’s OK…for a start. The problem is when they stop there, and many actors do just that. Without going any deeper, they bring their minds’ opinion of what the role is and how it should be played in the room…and, lo and behold, it’s exactly the same as everyone else’s!
If you want to work, you need to be one of the few actors who doesn’t just give the people in the room what they already know, but one who actually adds dimension to the role and humanizes it in a dynamic and alive way.
Here are a few suggestions to help you break out of the pack of what I call “mind readers.”
1. Calm the brain. The mind likes to be in charge of things. It creates order and finds logic; great in some cases, deadly if you’re trying to be creative and expansive. So, before you go to work on the material, it’s important to take the mind out of first position so that you can access the choices that feel the best for you—the ones that will get you the job, not the ones that your brain is telling you make the most sense. Find the way to relax your mind that works for you, meditation, yoga, listening to music, walking—whatever helps to calm the mind and awaken the spirit. Work that represents who you are and what you have to offer can only happen with a settled mind and an open heart.
2. Question your instincts. It may seem like heresy to suggest that you shouldn’t necessarily trust your instincts, especially when instinctual “hits” can feel so true, but when you realize why your instincts feel good to you, you’ll see it’s worth the time. Instincts exist for only one reason: to keep you safe. They are fixed patterns of behavior that occur in response to certain stimuli and were essential to the survival of the species back when human beings were part of the food chain.
In the creative process as well, your instincts tend to lead you to safety. You’ll find that your choices may ensure that you survive (not make a fool out of yourself in the room), but not necessarily thrive (book the job)—they may not be wrong, but they also may not be bright enough. The choices that get you work tend to be the ones that aren’t safe, but that carry an element of risk; they are the choices that go a bit outside the box and expand the possibilities of the piece. Make sure that all of your decisions, no matter where they come from, are up to that standard.
3. Dig deeper. For actors who book work, the mind is not the go-to organ. They realize that any decision they make from the neck up will probably be shared by almost everyone else auditioning for the role, and won’t enable them to leave a strong and singular impression in the room. These actors know that it’s essential to have a way of working that allows them to dig deeper and make decisions from their heart and their gut.
They are able to find the choices that resonate with them on the felt level, not the thought level. And they don’t stop there. They explore those choices further to find the specific color and tone, so that each line of the piece is alive with their specific voice and energy.
And finally, they know how to incorporate these choices into the piece in a way that make it entirely theirs. They are the creative explores who go the extra distance into their own experience to find the most exciting intersection of their life and the life of the character.
It’s amazing how similar your thoughts, opinions, and judgments on a piece of material can be to everyone else’s. It’s equally amazing how different and nuanced your feelings can be from everyone else’s. And when it comes down to it, the people in the room don’t care about what you think—they care about what you feel and how you can make them, and eventually the audience, feel.
Remember, your job in the audition room is not to interpret, but to illuminate.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
Craig Wallace is the creator and award-winning teacher of The Wallace Audition Technique, an audition preparation system that he developed based on his years of experience as a studio executive, talent agent and casting consultant. In his 14 years of teaching, he has seen the careers of hundreds of his students take off. He is also the author of the best-selling book, “The Best of You – Winning Auditions Your Way.”
Craig is currently teaching his audition technique classes and his Meditation for Actors classes in Santa Monica, CA. For more information visit www.wallaceauditiontechnique.com.