When actors describe to me the methods and techniques they use to prepare for a role, there always seems to be so much interesting work going on! These methods address the text and the actor, and they give the actor tools to look deeply into themselves and into the role. Then there is sense memory, emotional recall, and all sorts of exercises and steps to aid the actor in creating the most complete character possible.
Most audition techniques rarely go anywhere near that deep. Many go no further than giving you some help in preparing the words and a few tips on how to appear professional.
I’ve always found this gap perplexing. If you land the role, you’re going to apply all of your acting skills and methods to bring it to life. So, how can you expect to get the role with a technique that deals with little more than vocal manipulation and outward appearances?
It doesn’t make sense, but it does hit the nail on the head as to why so many talented actors don’t book roles—they are using a one-dimensional technique to book the role of a three-dimensional human being.
Their preparation is short changing them. They need a complete technique that is invigorating, creative and puts them fully in charge of their process.
Here are five of the things a complete audition technique can help you be.
1. Well-directed. An effective audition technique has components that cover both the creative and the technical aspects of auditioning. It isn’t a series of short cuts or tricks or band-aids. It’s a process, and like any acting process that’s worth anything, it guides you to the places you need to go to find where your heart and mind intersect with those of the character. Like being led by a good director, the initial steps of your technique
should safely and gently encourage and enable you to dig as deep as you need to uncover your best self for the role.
2. Non-judgmental. An effective technique gives you the tools and the inner strength to take down the walls of your personality and get to what’s true. Before any honest work can be done on a piece, all of the different faces you show the world, all of the behaviors that aren’t really who you are, and all of the things you do to be accepted and to be seen as special have to be exposed and dropped. Like peeling an onion layer by layer, your technique should give you the tools you need to safely and courageously lay bare who you are at your core.
3. Courageous. After you have broken down the walls and re-established contact with the heart of who you truly are, it’s time for your technique to help you explore the depths and edges of your personality so that the choices you add to the piece are the strongest and most connected to you. Here again, your technique directs you to where the gold is inside of you. You can examine the colors and textures of your most elemental qualities and discover what makes them entirely unique to you. This skillfull exploration can provide the job-landing specificity some actors search their whole careers to find.
4. Perceptive. At this stage, you need to apply all of the wonderful qualities you’ve found to the piece. A complete technique gives you the steps to organize your emotional discoveries into choices—choices that bring the material to life in a singularly resonant way. It can also help you explore all of the feelings that live in between the lines.
Finally, your technique should allow you to take all of this fine work and put it into the rhythm of conversation—not a reading or a performance, but a dynamic, two-way, connected conversation. Now you’re at full strength—your technique has united your entire instrument, and you can drive through the piece with passion and commitment.
5. Present. When your choices are firmly rooted in your body and your heart, your mind can relax and get out of your way, leaving you free to release all of the work into the room with total confidence. You can take whatever risks feel right for you in the moment, knowing that the various steps of your technique have woven a net that will always catch you. Most importantly, this feeling of total security allows you to be your
true self in the room, and when all is said and done, you will be seen as the most honest, interesting, and compelling actor auditioning for the role.
Like painting over a crack in the wall, an incomplete audition technique may make you look prettier, but ignores what really needs to be addressed. A complete audition technique takes that same wall down to the studs and builds it back up, step-by-step, creating a strong, sturdy structure that will never fail to support you.
Now that you’ve done the preparation that ensures a great audition, you need to step back and let it go. Time for some generosity!
The guiding principle of generosity is that you have something and you want to share it or give it away. You can’t give the money to charity, or the time to help someone in need unless you have it to give. Pretty simple.
What about your work in an audition? Same thing. If you don’t have a way of preparing that connects you with the piece on a deeply personal level and makes you feel that you have it in your mind, body and heart, as discussed above, you will not be able to fully share it or give it away. You can’t give what you don’t have.
Here are four ways generosity can support you in your preparation and in the audition room:
Generosity gets you out of your head:
When you give something away the focus is on the person receiving what you are offering. You’re able to let go of yourself and momentarily forget about your own comfort and concerns, because you’ve made someone else’s need more important that your own, in this cast the casting director’s and by extension, the audience’s needs. Your mind takes a break from worrying about your narrow self-image because the act of generosity expands you and makes you perfect just the way you are.
When you’re out of your head, you can more easily live in your heart and for an actor, that’s where all the magic lies.
Generosity creates space for appreciation:
Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes, which is why when you give something away, you almost immediately get something back. A space is created by your act of generosity and into that space comes gratitude and appreciation. When you’re in an audition and you have truly given your work to the people in the room, you’ve created a space for their admiration and positive feelings to flow into. After seeing many actors hedge their bets and second-guess themselves for most of the session, it is truly a relief and a revelation to the people in the room to be given the gift of an actor’s full commitment. Your passionate generosity will almost certainly be met with an equally passionate response of appreciation, often in the form of a job!
Generosity strengthens you:
One of the reasons some people aren’t more generous, is that they think that giving will somehow diminish them. They look at generosity as losing the thing they’re giving. That’s stingy and stinginess weakens you. When you hold back in an audition and aren’t prepared to give all of yourself, you’re risking being seen as stingy, weak and scared. Generosity sends a strong message that you have more than enough and can afford to give as much as you want. You see giving as an act of abundance and when you give 100 percent of yourself in an audition you’re seen as an actor who is large, confident and complete within himself.
Generosity reminds you why you’re an actor:
When I ask people why they wanted to become actors in the first place, one of most frequent responses is that they wanted to connect with people and share their gifts. Generosity was at the heart of their decision. As you move on in your career things can get a little self-centered, you have a lot of business to take care of: your pictures, your reel, your resume, your auditions, your lines and on and on.
The tasks of the business can make you insular to the degree that the idea of sharing and giving becomes a distant memory.
Many actors take this to another level by forgetting what they actually loved about acting in the first place. They lose sight of the craft and become entirely caught up in the pursuit of success. This can make them so desperate that when they get an audition they wind up hiding themselves and holding back for fear of being rejected.
Actors who work don’t hold back, they know generosity is the key. They are wise enough to cultivate the skills that give them the confidence to say, “I will not make myself small in order to stay safe, I am here to share, to be bold and I will not let fear trample on generosity.”
A successful audition requires that you have the skills that give you the guts to extend yourself out into the room. After all, you’re not in there to do the work for yourself, you’re in there to share yourself and your work with the people who can hire you. We’re all at our best when we’re about something bigger than ourselves and generosity is a great way to make yourself more open and brave and your work as big as life
Now that your preparation id done and you have the piece in your body to the extent that you can generously release it into the room it’s time to get in there and simply be.
Because, when you are at your best as an actor—whether it be in an audition or performance—what are you actually doing? If you’re doing it well, you’re showing up, listening, and responding. That’s it.
In other words, you’re simply being.
It takes thorough and specific preparation in order to let go and
just be in the room – but as bears repeating from above: The truth of the matter is that you can’t let go of what you don’t have.
Remember, you’re doing all of that wonderful preparation so that you feel strong and connected to yourself as well as connected to the role mentally, emotionally and physically. You now feel as if you “have” the role inside of you. If you’ve done that, you don’t have to do more than show up, let go, and be
Michael Jordan used to say that playing basketball was 99 percent training and one percent being on time for the game. When he played, he was free from thinking and second guessing and could rely on his training to carry him through all of the demands of the actual game.
This is true of all great athletes. It’s true for actors as well.
You’d never think of doing a play without rehearsing, or showing up on a set without being familiar with the script and working out the inner life of your character. So how is it okay to go to an audition without having done the work that allows you to find who you are in the role and gives you the freedom to relax, connect, and be?
Working without a net in an audition is inviting disaster. If you’re just winging it in an effort to be free, you’re actually putting yourself in a prison of uncertainty. You won’t have the guts to take the job getting risks, to jump, because you know there’s no net.
Instead you’ll start “doing” by indicating all in an effort to convince yourself and those in the room that you’re in control. Well, they don’t want to see your effort, they want to see the result of your effort.
Good preparation doesn’t strangle or inhibit you. It does just the opposite. It allows you to be fully present without doubt or fear. You are working from a solid base so you can take risks, and you can jump knowing that your preparation has created a net that will support you and catch you. You have the confidence and the strength to just be and it’s being that will get you the job.
You need to do the work of acting in order to feel the joy of acting. In fact, the joy that you feel when you’re connected and free in your acting is in direct proportion to the work you have put in. This means that you need to put in effort before the audition in order to be effortless in the audition.
Brilliance isn’t a happy accident; it’s the joyful manifestation of a lot of hard work: preparation, generosity and the courage to be.