We want to see you. We crave it. Whether in the studio classroom or in the audition room, seeing you fully, intimately, is the true definition of showing up. For us as your audience, your teachers, your collaborators. We have to see where a scene or a role lives in you. We have to know you personally through the story you’re telling.
When you come into the casting room, when you walk on set or on stage, or when you get up to work in class, the moments of utter surrender, exposure, vulnerability, are the moments that define your talent. You can be the most gifted actor on the planet. But if you hide your heart, if you allow fear or anxiety to determine how you approach the work, you’ll be denying yourself the joy of connection, and certainly deny us the gift of your talent.
That is why we love Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Joaquin Phoenix, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Even when they mask their vulnerability, we see deeply into their hearts.
That is why you do this thing, to affect each other and to affect your audience on an emotional level. That’s what brought you to this amazingly daring exploration. You were moved by a performance that changed your life. Or you were so deeply engaged in an acting experience that you felt something you’d never felt before. And now you must have it. All the time.
An actor from our studio (the BGB Studio) recently had a breakthrough moment. He joined us at a “network test” as a reader. He read on tape with a fairly well-known female actor, and as they went from scene to scene, finding the relationship and every nuance that came from playing together, he realized that they (we) were all just doing the work. The same work we do in class. To be fully engaged with another person, to make bold choices unique to you, to be spontaneous and free to discover the scene, moment to moment…Well that’s it, isn’t it? The actor got the part, and the reader’s work changed forever.
The actor who shows herself, the actor who allows himself to be seen, the actor who is willing to engage fully, is the actor who has the most rewarding experience. He is also the actor who is likely to book the job. Or at least affect a director, writer, or casting director so completely that he’ll be cast in the not-so-distant future.
There are actors who just surrender to it. Who treat this as play, inhabiting their worlds with fervor. There are actors who throw themselves fully into a scene, be it with a scene partner or a reader. There are actors who make the work personal—not the “job,” but the work itself, finding the essence of the writing, the character in themselves. There are actors who live in a scene with all their heart and allow that experience—even if it’s only two and a half minutes in a casting room—to be the enough to get them through the week.
Be that kind of actor. Stop worrying about pleasing anyone, impressing anyone, being chosen. Allow those butterflies in your stomach to drive you forward. To be, as Dame Judo Dench says, your battery. Be happy with the good work you do. Keep doing it. Keep digging deeper, bolder, more vulnerably, with abandon.
We have seen the most glorious work at the BGB Studio and in the audition room when actors allow this to happen. For us, as teachers, directors, casting folks, it’s our fuel, our oxygen. Throw us this creative lifeline. Let us find you, see you, know you. Let us fall in love with you. (And withhold a very small, secret piece for yourself.)
Be willing to be vulnerable. Put your heart out there over and over and over again. It’s likely going to hurt like hell. But the feeling you’ll start feeling when you fully embrace the work itself, when you share yourselves with us in the most intimate way, is euphoric…for you, and for us. And that high, that satisfaction, will become far more important than getting called back or “pinned” or even hired.
This intimate revelation is the work of consummate professionals. This is the work of artists.
So how can you make that happen? Here are some ways…See where this resonates for you.
1. Practice! Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Acting requires a lifetime of practice. You really get good when you’ve been at it for a very long time. Don’t even think about a successful career. Apply yourself to the work as a lifelong student. Work out. In a play. In class. Wherever you can. Create a daily and weekly practice that will keep your actor muscles tuned and your artistry alive.
2. Create! Be an artist every day. As in the Artist’s Way, find where your artistry lives outside of acting. The more you’re creatively thriving, the less any one audition or lack of auditions will define you.
3. Live! Make sure your life is rich and full outside of your career. A fulfilled, happy human being is more at ease, more present, more interesting in any casting room. When your focus is not entirely on your career, the narcissism that comes from such a strong self-focus is replaced by generosity and joy.
4. Breathe, meditate, move! Make sure you have a physical and spiritual practice daily. Your body and your soul are your instruments as an actor. You have to be tuned, grounded, connected to something bigger than yourself. Something that gets you through the anxiety, desperation, and panic. Not to mention attends to your general health and wellbeing. Yoga, Pilates, meditation, Alexander Technique, Qi Gong, hiking, biking, spinning… Whatever you can commit do on a regular basis. Not only does the waiting room become more manageable; you can also tap into a deep inner life when your practice is but a breath away.
5. Prepare! Don’t procrastinate, leaving your preparation for 10:30 p.m. the night before an audition. Find a way to open that email, read those sides, and dig in with enthusiasm. This isn’t 11th grade chemistry. Working on material should be exciting. We just read a group of seriously talented working actors for a couple of roles on “Masters of Sex” and were awestruck by the deep, specific, personal work they’d done before walking into the room. Like it or not, right now auditioning is part of your job. You have to find a way to make peace with it. You have to embrace it.
At BGB we address preparation in a way that makes it less perplexing and overwhelming. If you can find ways to personalize the material—even a four-line role on a procedural show—you’ll start to dig in with a huge appetite. This takes shifting your focus from the need for the job to the need in the scene. What you want from another person in any scene has to be more important than getting the casting director to like you.
6. Trust! Trust that once you walk into the room (or onto a stage or set), the work is done. It’s alive in you. Now your focus goes off of you and onto the reader. Now you must surrender to the moment and allow the scene to happen to you right there. This is where the good stuff happens, but you’ve got to trust that you’re ready, and let go of control.
7. Play! Bring a childlike willingness to create, to explore, to make believe. Throw yourself with abandon into the world of the play. How exciting it is to take that leap. Like a dancer, athlete, child at the beach, your ability to spin in the air comes from letting your imagination and your open heart guide you.
8. Get Over Yourself! You sit in your bubble and second-guess your audition. Well stop that. You need to understand what goes into the casting process (which we explain in our article “15 Reasons Why We Cast You!”). Realize that you are one component in an exceedingly complicated scenario. Work in a casting or producer’s office. Find out how decisions are made. Even if you do a killer audition, you might not get the role. And that has nothing to do with you.
9. Believe! You are more important than any audition. Your unique voice is more important than what happens in any casting room. Your specific point of view, set of experiences, is unique in the universe, and universal simultaneously. Your artistry and your career will live on long after any one three-minute audition. And the more you believe this, the more you’ll be able to bring your unique voice onto any stage, set, or into the most indifferent room in this business.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!