A Little Bit of This… A Little Bit of That…

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As we head into the holiday season, here's a gift grab bag covering concerns that Back Stage readers have expressed to me either through letters or in person.

Nerves and How to Calm Them

Les Hanson, director of the West Coast Ensemble, suggests, "Actors should be thoroughly prepared, give yourself plenty of time, and find a calming breathing technique. One thing I do is talk to my nerves: 'Hey nerves, thanks for being here trying to protect me, but we got to work on this together, so let's just settle down and get this done.' "

Here's a great breathing technique that works before any interview or audition, or anything else for that matter: Lips closed, breathe in through your nose. Now picture a little shelf in your chest; see the breath sitting on that shelf. Hold the breath there for four or five seconds, then pull in even a little more air through your mouth and exhale through your mouth. If you do this just three or four times, you will feel grounded, clear-headed, and calm.

The Tyranny of Same-Day Auditions

It used to be that if your agent set up an audition for another actor and that actor canceled, you might get a call on the day of the audition to fill in the empty time slot. But for same-day calls today, blame the Internet. Commercial clients and ad agencies know that a casting director can put out character breakdowns via laptop, agents can receive them and submit talent via laptop, and CDs can then schedule the day's auditions via laptop. It used to be that casting and agency offices had to be open, with a human being available to answer a phone. But now a CD can be in bed at midnight, hear the "You've got mail" chime, read an ad agency's character descriptions, and turn around and put out the breakdowns to agents. You can't be an actor today without access to email and texting. We all have to get used to more same-day auditions.

Waiting-Room Marauders

We've all been there when someone, usually coming out of an audition, can't wait to chat you up. You've got wall-to-wall dialogue. What to do? The smart actor kindly but firmly says, "Great to see you! Let's grab coffee when I'm done, but I've got a boatload of work before I go in."

The other common waiting-room annoyance is the Child. The Child is banging his or her heels on the benches, playing a loudly beeping game, or running and screaming in delight. For some reason, the Child's mother's Valium has chosen this moment to kick in. Yes, it's up to you to say gently, yet with a tone that strikes the fear of an appropriate deity into the Child, "People are working here. If you can't keep quiet, you'll have to go wait in your car." You might just get applause from your fellow performers. You'll also get the attention of the Child's parent.

What to Do With a Monster Session Director

This is a tricky one. Remember that most of those who direct commercial sessions are also actors. Maybe they've had to miss their own auditions because no one could cover for them. No matter what the reason for a seemingly unreasonable session director, your only recourse is to do good work. You should have paid attention to the group explanation, but you should also have already directed yourself, giving yourself at least one different way to approach the scene. If you have a session director who is way overdirecting you or is brusque and gruff, all you can do is follow your gut and be the talent that you would want to direct on the set. Hopefully, the actual director will see what you have to offer, as you won't look like a cookie-cutter actor.