When actors call me to ask for help on an audition, I ask what they’ve done with the piece so far. Many times the answer goes something like this: “I looked at it really quickly on my iPhone in the car then called my agent to get more information. Then I read it again and sent a couple of texts to people who know the casting director. Then I called you.” This type of response makes me cringe.
If you allow yourself to read the material for the first time with a scattered and unfocused mind then you have chosen to put that frantic mind in charge of making your creative and technical decisions. Your whole audition can be made or broken by what happens during the first few minutes you spend with the sides. You only get one shot at reading a piece for the first time, and if your mind is agitated you have wasted a golden opportunity—the opportunity to be emotionally open and mentally calm.
So, what is a healthier thing to do before you read your sides for the first time? Find a quiet place to be and sit. Don’t look at the material. Don’t read the breakdown. Don’t call anybody. Just sit. It’s time to get mindful.
One of the primary benefits of mindfulness mediation is increased focus. This is achieved by putting your attention on one object and keeping it there. The breath is a common object of attention in meditation, as it’s always with you and it’s portable.
Sit on the floor—preferably on a cushion or pillow with your legs crossed if front of you and your knees lower than your hips. Sit straight, but not rigid with hands in your lap or resting on your thighs. You can also meditate sitting in a chair keeping both feet firmly planted on the floor.
Now, close your eyes and take three deep breaths to get you started. Let your body settle and let your mind relax, breathe normally, and focus on just the in breath and the out breath. (You can label the breaths as “in” and “out” if that helps.) See if you can feel the breath going in and out at the tip of the nostrils and put all of your focus on that spot and on the sensation of the breathe traveling in and out of the tip of your nose. When your mind wanders—and it will—just come back to the breath, labeling in and out and focusing on the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose. If you are new to meditation, start with five minutes. That will seem like an eternity so don’t worry and don’t try to overachieve. Meditation is not a contest.
Right before the time is up, take three more deep breaths, again noting the in breath and the out breath and the sensation at the tip of the nostrils. Open your eyes and sit for a moment to reorient yourself. Get up slowly, stretch, take one more deep breath—and only then should you pick up the sides and do your first read-though.
You will find that your mind is relaxed, focused, and open. It’s not chattering and offering a million opinions. It’s quiet and receptive. Your heart will also be more open, and you can more easily establish an emotional connection to the material.
By making the choice to sit still and focus—instead of running in circles—you have put yourself in control of your mind and heart, thereby making yourself open to all possibilities and on your way to a beautiful audition experience.
Given that mediation is an experiential practice, it’s a bit difficult to write about the mechanics of it, but give these instructions a try and let me know if you have any questions. In the next couple of weeks I will talk more about the subtleties and nuances of mindfulness mediation practice.
This is part two of a four-part series. Follow along with the rest of the Meditation for Actors practice below: