When I was a boy, I was a pretty good tennis player, but like many others my nerves would sometimes get in the way before a big match. I had coaches who would tell me to pretend it was just another day and not to make a big deal out of it. They would say, “Ignore the people in the stands and the noise, just imagine it’s practice.” It never worked. Finally, I had a coach who got it. He told me, “Don’t ignore anything, hear all the noise, experience the silence before the first point. Take it all in; be a part of this!” That worked. I wasn’t nervous anymore because I wasn’t trying to shut my surroundings out. I finally felt a part of my experience.
For actors, the moments “before the match” take place in the waiting room and the “pretend it’s just another day” remark is just one in a long list of questionable pieces of advice on how to deal with anticipatory nerves. For instance, auditioning actors are often told to separate themselves from the waiting room, to recite affirmations, close their eyes, and visualize they’re on a beautiful island, to watch an uplifting TED Talk on their iPhones, etc. All of these activities feed into the fearful idea that the only way to deal with your surroundings is to hide from them—that there is something wrong with where you are to the point at which you need to close down and escape. When you try to disappear in any way from your immediate situation, it sends a signal to your brain that you are in danger and your anxiety will increase.
Granted, there are some waiting rooms that are highly toxic and where an iPod or an affirmation may not be a bad idea. But in the main, you only increase the nerves when you try to deny your immediate experience. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard actors say that when they’re in the waiting room, all of their relaxation strategies wound up stressing them out.
I have had students who have had amazing results by doing just the opposite. Instead of backing away from what’s in front of them they lean into it. I encourage them to open all of their senses and become a part of everything that’s happening around them, to look and see everything clearly and sharply—all the colors, textures and details of the room—to listen with a keen ear and hear the tone of people’s voices, to feel their feet on the floor or their butt on the seat totally grounded and present for all that is happening.
When they’re present in this way they realize that nothing they’re seeing, hearing, or feeling is personal. It’s just the sights, sounds, and emotions of an audition and they’re a part of it. These actors are well prepared and don’t worry about their work; they know they’ll deliver when the time comes. They also know that whatever is happening around them won’t pull them from their center, but will actually send them into the room with exactly the right amount of immediacy—connected to themselves, their surroundings, and the energy of the session.
They don’t have to fight for presence in the room. They’re already present—they just need to walk in.
Some actors have said that they feel if they lean into the waiting room, they will become distracted and their read might suffer. Well, if you feel your work will only be good if you build a wall around yourself and block everyone out, you’re in trouble. At this point in the process, your work should be done and you should be confident that it will be available to you when you need it. If you feel you need to protect yourself it means that you and your work are probably in too fragile a state to be effective.
Working actors treat every part of the process with the same attention, and the reason they work is that this inclusive attitude produces wonderful auditions. From the very first moment they read the sides, to preparing the material, getting dressed and ready, traveling to the appointment, signing in, sitting in the waiting room, going into the audition room, reading, adjusting, and finally leaving, they are totally there, grounded and strong. They don’t try to separate themselves from the parts of the process that might make them feel uncomfortable. They lean into every part, trusting their preparation and themselves. With feet planted firmly on the ground, they are rooted amidst the challenges, the surprises, and the joys of the entire process.
So, instead of trying to come up with more and more ways to hide, why don’t you decide once and for all to show up, to be seen, to revel in being in the eye of the storm instead of cowering under a little grey cloud on the periphery. The jobs go the to the actor who is ready for anything, the one who embraces uncertainty—the one who shows up and thrives in the midst of the crazy rhythms of the entire audition process.
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.