Warning: potential trigger phrase ahead.
“Whenever you’re ready.”
Those three words may make you itch all over, but I want you to comb the audition files in your brain for what they elicit. Make sure to check the trash bin! That phrase being uttered from “the other side of the table” elicits a guttural response for many of us. Generally, it takes the form of an exhale. Let’s call it: “the actor’s exhale.” You know what I’m talking about? The subconscious puff of air we push out, as if we’re exercising the body of all anxiety and unlocking the artist in our brain. The truth is, it does the opposite.
The time before an audition, ideally, is spent getting you in your most open and peaceful space. Exhaling at the start of your work takes you out of the present moment and back into your mind. It releases all the energy you’ve built up and reminds you that you’re about to start a scene. We want to draw from the present space we’re in.
The Barrow Group, an acclaimed acting institute in NYC, observes this issue as “Actor’s Breathing Syndrome.” That signature exhale is one of the many poor actor habits they’ve pinned down in an effort to help elevate artists. And once you’re made aware of it, that well-intentioned breathe out becomes painfully obvious.
If you’re a culprit of this, ask yourself why. Why am I prefacing my audition with an exhale? Why can’t I simply slip into a scene? Why has this become a habit? Subconsciously, this breath is most likely tied to nerves. Which brings us to one of the most important things you can do before an audition: relax.
Relaxation is an actor’s ally. Find the techniques that work for you in combating audition anxiety. Sometimes it helps to work backwards. Watch old self-tapes and pinpoint any recurring ticks or habits – sometimes it’s an exhale, sometimes it’s fiddling with fingers, sometimes it’s smiling too much. If you’re brave, ask a director or casting friend to help you. Once you observe a tick, figure out why it’s happening. Generally, it’ll be rooted in nerves.
Your first instinct might be to shield up, grab a sword and battle those nerves to the death. Doing that is only battling yourself. The optimal route is admitting you’re nervous and realizing that it’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s normal. You’ve heard it a million times – being nervous is the same as being excited. We’re nervous because we care. So just observe the nerves and find ways to keep them from strangling your ability to perform.
Try on different relaxation methods until you find what works for you. Many actor’s find solace in meditation, while some swear by breathing exercises – it’s truly subjective! When you’re relaxed as an actor, you move out of your own way and can step into someone else’s shoes. “What if my character is anxious in the scene?” you ask. Ideally, you as the actor won’t be. You want to come from a blank slate of peace.
Now, breathe and put together your own pre-audition relaxation routine.