There was "The Secret"—a hot subject for a while—and we all sort of figured out what that was: the law of attraction. What we put out is what we attract. Makes sense.
And then there's the secret lurking behind the door of the audition room. What goes on in there? What do they want? What's the key to success in that baffling place and time? Well, like that other "secret," it's pretty simple.
I suspect you've heard and read a lot about the audition process. We all have our opinions. Let's distill it: You come in (you've been invited), join in (we're all trying to figure this out together), bring your version to the table (that's what we're missing), get to it (we need to find it as soon as possible), absolutely go for it (that's what you're there to do), and we'll go anywhere you take us. Okay, maybe it's not easy, but it's not complicated.
First off, I don't like the word "audition." It's toxic. It puts one in the mindset of being judged. Of course there's evaluation and decision making, but if you can embrace an audition as an opportunity to work and those people in the room as your collaborators, you can reframe the whole experience. You're as much a part of this process as anybody else. Nobody's asking you to give up your power. It truly is your time, your space, your chance to work.
We're hoping for and needing you to show up completely in control, self-possessed, fully who you are, ready, and eager to work. We want to see you. We want to know who you are in this role. If you bring your most authentic self to the character, if you can go on a journey for a few minutes and take us along, we're hooked.
Of course you want the job. But don't come in to get the job. You already have a job: For those few minutes, the role is yours. Do it for yourself.
Be aware that you bring all of who you are with you. As soon as you enter the building, everything about you comes with you. It's palpable. Your energy—what you're feeling and thinking—makes a vital impression. Your preparation has to engender belief in yourself and in the work and letting go of expectation and self-judgment. Everyone has a different process for preparing (and that's a longer conversation). But how much more fun is it to do your work when you've given yourself the luxury of digging down into the material? That's your job. It's part of your daily work as an actor. This is a chance to act; seize it.
Leave your prep at the door. Trust that you've done the work, and now it's time to find it all anew, just as it would be on set or on stage. If you bring your most open, available self and your joy of acting into the room, if you believe that you're welcome there, and if you have the courage to do your work for its own sake, we'll be responsive.
Listen. Know what you're saying and to whom and why. What's at stake for your character? What is it he or she wants? All those basics are often forgotten when your focus isn't on the work but on the job or the jury box. Don't give up all the things you know as an actor. Listen, engage. Treat it as a heightened rehearsal or work session. That will also remind us that we're all there to work. Together.
Keep it simple. You can't show us your entire career in a few minutes. Or the entire script or the character's full life journey. You can do what's in front of you, what's on the page, as fully as possible. Connect with the other character. That will engage us deeply. That will reveal everything.
How are you able to command any room you enter? You've done it a number of times. Some actors do it with their energy—they can "take the room." Others find it inside the role. Whatever it is, all we want is for you to grab our attention. To do that, you have to communicate: "This is me loving my work and showing up for it." Trust in that, and we're putty in your hands.
The audition is a gift. It's a chance to act. To do what you love. It's something you do for you. And it's a gift you give us—one we're really excited to receive.
So trust yourself. This is a crazy process, and the only way to make sense of it is to simply do your work. That's all we want. It's everything. That is the secret. You put that out and it will come back to you. I promise.
I love what Meryl Streep said recently on "60 Minutes": "I mean, I'm not insane. I do know that I'm acting. But you forget about it. Yeah. You kind of—you know when you're doing it right. There's a thrilling suspension of the day-to-day and you're in someone else's head."
If you can do a little of that in the room, you're gold.
Risa Bramon Garcia has worked for the past 30 years as a director, producer, casting director, writer, and teacher. She has directed for film, TV, and the stage and has cast more than 65 feature films. She is currently teaching her master class across the country and Canada and coaches actors individually. Her website is at www.risabg.com.