ACTING 102– Auditions: Confidence as Technique
By Conrad Wrobel (Twitter @ConradWrobel)
Regardless of one’s talent as an actor, they will have a very hard time showcasing it if they cannot land auditions. So let’s start there… Auditions are a challenge; they are a forced performance in a contrived scenario in the attempt to invent a character the casting associates do not know they are even looking for until it has been presented! (Good Luck.) You have a handful of minutes to impress people (that are likely not even in the room) who have spent hours (or days) searching for a specific “something”. Going through the process is a nerve-wracking, high pressure, heavily-weighted gamble… and that’s on the best of days.
The burden of this knowledge is likely to adversely affect your performance, and should be pushed out of your mind before you even reach the waiting room to sign in for your appointment. To avoid this stress-laden self-sabotage; I have prepared a simple agenda to mentally prepare without mentally burning out. As difficult as auditions are, you will be more successful if you be yourself, have fun, and own the room.
For example, one of my best auditions to date occurred during a moment of extended physical discomfort. To summarize the situation, I traveled six hours there on three hours of sleep after an insanely long week on set, all while managing the symptoms of a summer-flu. At the point of arrival, I had too much hair and not enough coffee, except for the amount quickly becoming a stain on my new un-ironed shirt. I was brain-dead and frazzled, but as presentable as possible.
I walked into a room full of young beautiful actors deeply entranced by their mobile devises (including the secretary). Following my check-in, I discovered they were running at least 45 minutes behind schedule, which combined with my being 20 minutes early made for a solid hour wait… feeling miserable… in a room that was simultaneously full and empty.
Following the advice of my agent, I avoided falling into my phone and took the opportunity to mentally prepare to the best of my abilities. I found a space to myself, practiced laughing until I could forget about all the bodily distractions and focus on my sides. After polishing my read, I remembered my three objectives and walked into the room to own it. I brought a smile in with me, had a fun and entertaining time, and gave everyone in the room a touch of personal attention. They called me that afternoon to schedule me for the role.
As upset as my body and mind were, I forced them out of the situation until I could woo the casting director with the utmost of charm. I turned the entire situation around with these three rules:
1) Be yourself.
2) Have fun.
3) Own the room.
#1–Be yourself, this is synonymous with ‘be confident’. How do you cause a splash big enough to cause ripples? — Do you spend countless hours scratching a gouge in your mind to find that perfect unheard-of character? Do you revive the performance style of a legend “long-forgotten”? Or can you just be yourself? The key to confidence in an audition is being unabashedly who you are, and throwing all of yourself into the presentation.
Casting Directors are looking for personality; the audition is your time to showcase your character as much as the type of character you can play. Take into consideration why Christopher Walken is such an obvious choice for impressions? It’s because Walken is such a recognizable personality, not just an incredible actor. I never see impressions of characters he plays, but always of him as himself. If you want to inspire people to hire you, the first step is to make an impression! Besides, you never know if your audition for one project will lead to a role in another.
#2: Have fun– Bring laughter into the room with you. It has been reported that in the search to cast the perfect “Harry Potter”, Director Chris Columbus went through 7000 auditions to find the boy that lived. Can you imagine how lengthy and tiresome that process had to be? I imagine Daniel Radcliffe made quite the impression to stick out in a crowd that big. The first step to doing this is by warming the cockles of the casters’ frozen heart, and by lightening up what could be “just another day”.
To do this, I always practice laughing before each audition; yes, actually practice laughing to myself. It is awkward, forced, and disturbing. However, it is a brilliantly simple exercise for building energy, opening up, and putting yourself into a good frame of mind before an equally awkward, forced, and disturbing experience– the audition. Plus, after the laughter reaches a natural state you walk into your audition in a great mood, and smiles can be contagious.
But most importantly, have fun! Honestly, the fun comes from enjoying the experience itself. Remember, you only have so many opportunities to perform, so really enjoy the chances that present themselves, even the auditions. We perform because we love it; learn to love the audition and it will be far less intimidating.
#3: Own the room– German Dramatist/Director Bertolt Brecht’s technique was to alienate the audience. As the actor delivered lines, they would target the message towards the audience rather than towards the other actors. Basically, if there is an insult or joke to be made, the audience would be the butt of the joke. Brecht found the best way to get the audience to emotionally identify with the characters was through consciously bringing them into the context of the material, instead of subconsciously. With this in mind, target the audition material towards the casting associates with the full of your attention, never just speak to the room. If you can get a rise out of them, you have won their attention.
Remember, an actor’s job is to connect with the audience; the best way to do this is by stirring an emotion deep within them (preferably not one of disgust). Start by gripping them with a good disposition (walking in laughing), then slap them in the face with whatever emotional content you are required to convey. If you can accomplish this bipolar emotional switcharoo, the immediate changeover will strongly showcase your capabilities. Either as yourself or in character, capture the rooms’ attention and own it.
Every opportunity to act is a chance to do your best work; every audition should be treated as such. Remember my previous article (LINK HERE), rehearsal is still the key element of being a successful actor; preparing for an audition is just as important as for any performance. However, this preparation often lacks the firm direction, blocking, and lines that your typical presentation relies on– which means a different form of rehearsal, one of mental groundwork to garner the best first impression every time! If that does not work for you, take the stress out of the experience by looking at each audition as rehearsal.
Regardless of how you prepare, the best way to win over an audition or interview is with confidence. The easiest way to showcase this is by mastering the three simple steps of being yourself, having fun doing it, and owning the room in the process.