Jitters – try tremors!
Since I’ve been out here working for a few years now, my relationship to auditioning/performing has changed somewhat. At some point I crossed over from fearing them to actually really enjoying them. So, my empathy for how terrifying it can be was numbed somewhat.
Until one specific audition.
I had been studying improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) for a year. The school is focused around a long-form improvisational technique called the Harold which was created by the master and chief himself Del Close up in Chicago during the golden age of improv. At the UCB theater in NYC the regular performance schedule on Tuesday nights includes 5 professional Harold teams – all handpicked from the UCB training center at one point or another.
When I started studying imporv I didn’t have any conscious intention of becoming a Harold player. But I caught the bug and became obsessed.
After two of the regular Tuesday night Harold teams were laid to rest and after a large exodus of other players to Los Angeles, the UCB held their annual Harold auditions. So I signed myself up.
Let me be brutally honest here – I was PETRIFIED!
I have not felt that kind of blind terror or fear at an audition in a LONG time. The kind of fear you see in a gazelles eyes as it tries and fails to outrun a cheetah. I was shaking so much I’m pretty sure it was visible to everyone in the next building – let alone in the same room as me!
So, what do you do when you’re in that situation?
Here’s a few little steps to go through that helped me:
1) Well, first simply acknowledge to yourself or even out loud to someone else before you go into the audition, that you are nervous. If you try and pretend it doesn’t exist then you stand to make it worse. Sometimes just by acknowledging the fear it can diffuse it somewhat. But in all honesty, if you’re nervous, you’re going to remain nervous until the audition’s done. And that’s ok. At some point during it you may actually forget about the nerves because you’re too busy focusing on the job at hand.
2) Bring your attention to your breathing. Sounds a little hippy-dippy, I know, but if you can just breath and feel your feet on the floor, your heart rate slows down just a little and gives your brain some room to relax (that’s a scientific fact!) A lot of us try and storm the nerves with a lot of energy – like bouncing and pacing around – and think that will make the shakes go away. I know I do. But I guarantee that that approach is like oxygen to a fire – it’s just going to make it worse. By taking a moment to breath you’re telling your brain that this isn’t a life-or-death situation, quietening those fight-or-flight instincts.
3) Put your attention on the work. As an actor whether you’re cold-reading a script, doing a monologue or improvising with another person, the basics always apply: Listen. Use your imagination – really see where you are as the character. Feel who you are – that helps to trick the brain out of obsessing about the Casting Directors or whomever you’re auditioning for. Put your attention on the other person you’re reading with (even if you’re doing a monologue you’ll usually be talking to a pretend character so put your attention on that make-believe person) – it really helps to bring you into the present moment of the scene.
4) Everyone in the room wants you to succeed! Back in the day I assisted a number of Casting Directors helping them hold auditions and such. One thing that became increasingly apparent is that they WANTED the talent (that’s you!) to succeed. They’re generally not interested in watching you fail. Its a huge waste of time for them. Everyone who steps in the room they want to succeed because it makes their life more enjoyable and their jobs easier. I don’t know where we get the idea that the people holding the auditions are doing it solely so that they can torture us. Its ludicrous. They’re holding the auditions to fill a spot. Plain and simple. If they don’t find someone, they’re buggered!
5) And finally I have a little mantra that I say quickly, in my head, before I step out: “There is nothing to prove and no one to impress. It’s none of my business what anyone thinks of me.” If you’re too busy thinking about what other people are thinking of you as a person, then how can you be doing a good job in the audition?
Overall I’d say that it’s pretty normal to be nervous. And it takes a lot of practice to get over it. There are some people who are brass-balled and they don’t get nervous. But if you’re like me and you DO, then just know, in the back of your mind, that no matter what happens YOU WILL NOT DIE!
Oh! And there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment you get when you “survive” an audition. And when you do, I recommend going out and grabbing yourself a little treat to celebrate. A friend of a friend would always go and have a tea at the Oak Room after a big audition. After putting yourself on the line, it’s good to pat yourself on the back.
Good luck! I promise you that with practice and experience the nerves will lessen and one day you may even begin to enjoy performing/auditioning in front of people. In fact, at some point you should realize that auditioning is just a great excuse to practice your craft! But until then, take it one step at a time.
Please feel free to share your experiences here! This is a very important subject and anyone who has been through this has some input. I welcome any and all feedback. Even if you’ve never been in this situation and would like to ask a question, you’re welcome to do so here. I’ll do my best to answer you quickly and honestly.