The Power of Fully Listening

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Most everyone agrees that great acting is about listening more than speaking. And yet, one of the main complaints casting directors have is that actors aren’t listening in a way that reveals much about themselves or their feelings in their auditions. The root of many actors’ problems around listening is that they don’t do it very often or very well in real life. And if your body isn’t familiar with the feeling of deep and connected listening, it won’t suddenly appear in the audition room. Let’s take a look at how you can bring the power of deep listening into the audition.

Listening in your life. Good listening is the key to knowledge, both emotionally and mentally. We know a lot of facts about things and so little about people because we’re in such a rush to tell everyone what we know instead of listening to what they know and how they feel. In this way, words are used to cover our emotions and push people away.

Listening makes us vulnerable to the thoughts and feelings of others and deepens our empathy. When we sit with someone and take in what they’re saying and feeling, it reminds us that we’re all connected. In fact, we’re basically all the same. The usual feeling of separation is replaced by a feeling of inclusion; everyone opens up and you get to know people in a way that few others do.

Through committed listening you gain intimate and specific knowledge about the human condition and your feelings toward it. Your emotional intelligence increases and your compassion deepens. And when you get an audition, you have a wealth of emotional information to draw from. What could be more essential to the actor?

Listening in the work and the room. Being a great listener in your day-to-day life grounds your energy and shifts your focus outward—two essential components of a winning audition.

Deep listening also goes a long way toward establishing you as a strong presence in the audition. I’ve seen it again and again: The listener has the power to change the way the speaker feels just by listening sincerely. The actor who doesn’t nervously chatter away as if they’d disappear if they stopped speaking, appears as if they belong in the room. Just as in life, the sense of separation dissolves and this actor becomes an integral part of the room, not pushing others away with their endless chatter, but drawing them in with their listening.

Listening is also key in the work, but, again, if your body isn’t familiar with the feeling of centeredness that comes from deep listening, it will be hard for you to live in the silences.

The reason why these moments of listening and reaction are often the job-getting ones is that they are entirely yours. Everyone has the same words to say, and sometimes, no matter how original your choices are, you can end up sounding similar to the other actors auditioning—especially if the role has a limited set of possibilities. But how you take in what the other person is saying, the flashes of recognition that pass over your face and light up your eyes—that’s yours and yours alone. These moments, (and with the pace of a lot of shows being very fast, it will be at times just a flash), become the ones that most definitively stamp the role as yours.

Emotions live in the body and heart, not the brain. So listening, a physical and emotional act, provides the purest expression of your emotional world.

Under pressure, the body goes to what it knows, so it’s essential to have a way of preparing that puts listening front and center. How you say the words gets our attention. What you do with the silences shows us you know what TV/film acting is all about—it gets you the job.

You’ll find that if you listen to anyone with perfect clarity for just 10 minutes, they’ll break your heart. Allow the people in your life to get your attention and to crack your heart open. You’ll increase your listening strength and deepen your vulnerability, making you the expert actor and beautiful artist we have to hire.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Craig Wallace
Craig Wallace is the creator and award-winning teacher of the Wallace Audition Technique, an audition preparation system that he developed based on his years of experience as a studio executive, talent agent, and casting consultant.
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