Presence in an audition isn’t something you can force or create. It’s a physical and emotional state that occurs only when the actor is living entirely in the present moment. Under pressure, the nervous system defaults to the state it’s most familiar with—and most people actually spend very little time in the present and a lot of time either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future.
So, if your nervous system has limited experience of what it’s like to live in the present moment, how can you expect it to stay steady in the audition room? Below are two simple strategies for cultivating present-moment awareness—and improving your audition technique.
1. Incorporate meditation into your daily routine. There are hundreds of different ways to meditate, but for our purposes, a basic insight meditation practice is a great way to train in coming back to the present moment—even if you only have a few minutes a day to practice. Remember, meditation isn’t about not thinking, it’s about observing your thoughts as they arise without getting caught up in them. And if you do start getting distracted, return to the present moment by focusing on an object (most popularly, the breath).
Sitting quietly with eyes closed, simply focus on the breath going in and the breath going out. In, out, in, out. When a thought hooks you or an emotion demands to be felt, recognize it by lightly saying the word “thinking,” then come back to the feeling of the breath going in and going out.
Even if you only do this for five minutes a day, the mind starts to become less jumpy, less apt to get carried away by thoughts of the past and future. Even when it does, it will be more easily led back to the present.
2. Train your mind to stay in the present. The brain, in its endless quest to keep you safe, is usually considering the past or future for signs of danger. The thought of you simply standing still and absorbing whatever comes your way can cause extreme agitation in the mind. To provide the feeling of safety your brain needs to live in the present moment, use this deceptively simple and very powerful exercise.
The next time you feel your mind jumping to the future or drifting to the past simply say to yourself, “Come back.” Take three deep breaths and feel your body firmly in the present, noting the feeling of the breath in your chest, your feet on the floor, or your butt in the seat. Feel the mind settle and focus as the stories, plans, and fantasies drop away, and you come back to the present moment.
The ability to come back to the present moment is essential because you audition in the same rhythm in which you live your life. If you live with an agitated mind that is seldom in the present—and in a body that never settles down—you may find that you spend the audition self-policing your work, doubting, wishing the room was friendlier, wondering if they’re going to like you. This is a much-weakened state, but if your mind and body know nothing else, this is what is likely to happen.
To be at your best in an audition, you need a way of working that removes all doubt in your work and gives you the confidence to feel that you truly belong in that room. You also need the strength to accept the room just as it is, knowing you’ll be great no matter what.
But the icing on the cake, the thing that really tells them you belong, is when you deliver that work and stand in that room with the powerful focus and intensity that comes from being present in each and every moment. Do that and you’ll be the compelling, charismatic actor that they have to hire.
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