First off, I wanted to say how thrilled I am to be writing for Backstage.com. Going back to my days as an actor, Backstage was always a source of valuable information for actors and it is great that they are now inviting industry professionals to share their knowledge with the acting community. My background as an actor, teacher, casting director, studio executive, writer, producer, and finally talent manager has given me the unique opportunity to wear many hats in this industry and to understand how things fit together and really work. I hope you all profit from the advice and thoughts I will be sharing with you.
What happens in the waiting room is an aspect of auditioning that is often ignored, but that plays a critically important role in allowing an actor to be ready psychologically as well as creatively for each audition. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Time. You must leave enough time so that you do not arrive at your audition as if you were blown in by a tornado. Remember that it will always take you longer to get somewhere than you expect and you don’t want your inner thoughts to be fixated on the fact that you are late. That puts pressure on you that you cannot afford.
2. The schedule. Although it is important that you arrive at your scheduled time, I am afraid that casting directors often don’t adhere to their own schedule. I know you have all arrived, on time, to an appointment only to find yourself sitting in the waiting room for a very long time. This is not something you can control, so you have to make the best of it and not allow your energy either to get hyper or dissipate during the wait. Ask the assistant where you are on the list and then tell her that you are going down the hall for a few minutes. Don’t wander too far away and check back in from time to time, but get yourself out of the tension that is building up in the waiting room.
By the same token, if you arrive early and the casting director has a hole in the schedule, don’t allow yourself to be rushed in before you have had a chance to settle into the environment. If the assistant comes into the room, sees you and there is no one else there, and declares, “OK, you’re next”, simply say, “ If you don’t mind I have got to run to the bathroom,” and then go to the bathroom and compose yourself.
3. The mood. I wish I could say that all actors treat one another with kindness and respect, but unfortunately, they don’t always do that. Too often I have heard groups of actors talking amongst themselves about all the auditions they have had recently and go on and on about how well they are doing. If you pay too much attention to this, it will get to you. Do not engage in idle chitchat about careers with any actor in the room. This is not a social gathering and the other actors are your competitors, not your pals. Also your career has nothing to do with anyone else’s career so don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. If you find that the banter is getting to you, again, excuse yourself and get away. What the other actors are doing is a form of psychological warfare and you don’t have to be its casualty.
4. The casting director’s mistake. Because you are sitting in the waiting room while the assistant gives out appointments, you will be privy to information that is only going to distract you if you pay attention to it. Likewise, with walls being as thin as they are, you might hear the casting director talking to a producer or the network and giving them an update on where they are in the process. Sometimes you will overhear them talking about offers that are out for the very same role for which you are about to audition. Again, tune it out! Bring earphones and listen to music or go down the hall but don’t sit there and allow what you are hearing to get to you.
5. Respecting your character. Very often, I see actors poring over their sides before they are called in. Don’t do that. Going over and over the same material is akin to cramming for a test. There is nothing you will learn in those last few minutes that will do you any good, and you will be sucking the air out of your reading. Remember, your character did not prepare for what he or she is about to say. For your character, the first and only time that he or she says the words will be in the context of the actual audition. This is part of the “hear, think, speak” process that is so essential to all acting. This is not about memorizing material like it is the Gettysburg Address and then spitting it out, word for word. You have to keep the freshness in the words and the only way you can do that is by allowing your character to take over the control and to think.
Trust me, very little of the material with which you will be auditioning will require as much digging as I see actors do in their preparation. Use the time in the waiting room to do a crossword puzzle or knit—both things that require you to focus on something outside of yourself and the pending audition. If you find yourself getting anxious, take a deep breath and look at your fingernail or a button—anything that will allow you to get back into the present.
In general, auditions are often won or lost by the state of mind with which the actor enters the room. Follow these guidelines and you will walk into that room with confidence, relaxed in the fact that you can hand the controls over to your character and just “be”. You don’t want to act out of fear or desperation. Nor should you be reflective of what you have heard in the outer office chatter. Keep yourself calm and in the moment, and don’t bring any junk with you into the room. Imagine that there is a large trashcan outside the door to the inner office. Now, imagine yourself dumping all of your anxiety, fear, and personal concerns into the trashcan. Now you can walk into the audition unencumbered, ready to have the casting director see who you are.
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