I’ve been through many periods in my acting career where I have had a negative feeling towards an upcoming audition. Sometimes it’s just nerves, a great opportunity is dangling before your eyes, or you’re auditioning for a casting director you haven’t seen in years and you know the stakes. Or perhaps it’s frustration auditioning for an upcoming Hollywood film that you think is out of reach, and learning seven pages of dialogue, and giving up a days work seems like a waste of time. Whatever it may be, there are many things that can make having an audition actually feel like a negative experience.
In the times that I have felt this way I have questioned whether acting is for me. Why am I doing what makes me unhappy? Everyone around me seems to be thrilled when they have an opportunity to audition and here I am dreading it.
It was only when I started to take my songwriting career more seriously that I realised this feeling of dread wasn’t exclusive to acting. I started getting gigs, something I loved as a musician, and I was dreading them. For me, the worry of how I would be perceived or the high expectations I put on myself to perform, made me anxious. Once again I was dreading something I should have enjoyed. Yet every gig I played, like most auditions, I enjoyed, even though in the days beforehand I felt like it was a burden.
So the conclusion is that it’s a mental attitude. And if that’s the case, it can be changed. After all, the lifestyle of an actor will always involve auditioning, so I need to come to terms with it or it’s going to be a very hard road ahead.
So here are some thoughts on how to stop dreading auditions…
1. Lower your expectations
The only reason you are worried about an audition is because of misguided expectations. Either you think the project is a waste of time, or you are so overwhelmingly excited about the prospect of getting the role, that you feel stressed or anxious in the lead-up. So lower your expectations of what an audition is. Try and think of an audition as an opportunity to act. That’s all. Think of each audition as being equal. Give it your best whether it is one line in an commercial casting or a Shakespeare monologue for a major theatre company. Even the most successful actors will miss out on a lot of roles, so don’t expect to get the role.
2. Stop trying to impress.
What I learnt from having this feeling of dread in other areas of my life is that a lot of this pre-audition anxiety comes from a desire to impress. A desire that is heightened in most performers. The fundamental truth is that you will do better work when you are relaxed and not outcome focused. Just focus on preparing for your audition as best you can, and when you are auditioning just listen and be in moment.
3. Opportunity costs
Another big stress is reshuffling your life around auditions. This is especially frustrating when the project is either not exciting or it feels too out of reach (like a major hollywood film or TV show). In either of these cases, this is what you’ve signed up for. You need to organise your life to be able to easily cater to chaos. For more on this check out the actor’s tool box, an article on getting your life organised to suit the lifestyle of an actor. Remember as well you have a say in your career. If your agent puts you up for a job that you don’t want to audition for, stand up for yourself and have that discussion with them.
4. Stop the self talk
Fundamentally all this pre-audition stress is due to self talk, most of which we have discussed here. But whatever form that self talk takes it boils down to you turning on yourself. When you feel those negative thoughts arising try and not buy into them. The “I’m never going to get it” talk or the “what if I mess up this opportunity” talk are almost never useful conversations to have with yourself. Focus on what you can focus on. The work.
5. It’s an opportunity to act
I briefly covered this in point 1, but I reiterate it here because it’s just great advice. Every audition is an opportunity to act. The thing you want to do. So don’t add all that other superfluous worry to every audition. Listen to the incredible Bryan Cranston on this subject:
6. Have a self test plan
Self tests are more and more common and this can be an added stress to actors if they don’t have a system in place to self test. Basically you have two options: a. work out a our own self test space at home (covered more here) or b. find a friend or a company who can rely on to help you with tests and just always use them. This may cost you some money but to avoid the stress it will be worth it.
7. Accept that there will be nerves
Even if you take on all this advice, along with a daily meditation practice and yoga every morning, you will still have occasional nerves and anxiety. It’s a sign that you care; that you want the role. This article is about managing the extremes and getting organised so that you can be happy in the lifestyle of an actor, not about eliminating feelings all together.
Nerves provide me with energy… It’s when I don’t have them, when I feel completely at ease, that’s when I get worried.
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