If you were on a sinking ship, would you be resigned to your “fate” or would you fight tooth-and-nail to get off that ship? I think that most of us can agree that we would do everything in our power to preserve our life.
As I was leaving a less than successful audition today, I was struck by the realization that choosing to fight to stay engaged in an audition that isn’t going famously versus being resigned and giving up, isn’t actually all that different.
While I can’t truly know how my audition was received, I felt like I didn’t do my best work. I wouldn’t say I bombed, but it truly felt mediocre to me.
So then the question came … what makes a mediocre or good vs. great audition? And if an audition starts in a mediocre way, is it actually possible to turn the tables and end that same audition in a satisfying way?
If you are a performer, like myself, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of the beginning of the audition. In fact, most teachers tell you that the auditors know in the first 5-10 seconds whether they will call you back. While that seems unfair, the truth of the matter is that if you start your audition and you are fully dropped into your character and have prepared well, your job becomes rather easy. You move from point A, to point B, to point C, without thought or help from your conscious brain. The actor’s awareness goes away and the character’s awareness takes over.
This is pretty similar to being fully present in our daily lives. When you are living in the moment, things flow. If you are stuck thinking about the past or worrying about the future, things feel difficult, even unnatural.
As my audition today started, I was in a totally unfamiliar environment. Easily 98% of the auditions I go to are in rehearsal studios, but this one was at a small Off-Off Broadway house. As I entered the space, I had to walk around the seats, maybe 50, before I found myself face-to-face with the casting director. He was seated behind a table (not all that uncommon), but behind him were all these rows of empty seats. That and the fact that the theatre was a bit darker than I’m used to was enough to throw me.
As I started my monologue, I immediately felt that my energy was “off”. The first thing I told myself was “It doesn’t matter. Every performance is different. “ So true and yet, I felt like I was being false. I felt all the machinations of the analysis I had done when I had initially worked and prepped the material. Almost as if I was a robot trying to recreate a prior performance in spite of my better judgement. I began to feel as if I was observing myself and completely out of control. As I went on, it felt like it got worse. Then, I finished. I was left with a feeling of deadness in the air. Was my monologue too short or was it that underwhelming? I left with a complete lack of satisfaction.
As actors we always have the ability to create in the moment. To respond to what we are getting or not getting. To reconnect with our objective. To reconnect with our scene partner, even if they are imaginary (as it is when auditioning with monologues and songs). We have so many tools at our disposal and yet for some reason today … I caught myself “going through the motions”. And I didn’t use any of those tools. So frustrating!
I had the opportunity to make a different choice at any point during that monologue and for whatever reason, I didn’t make that choice. Instead of fighting to get out, I went down with the sinking ship. (Ok, maybe it didn’t sink and just ended up marooned on a desert island.)
While I don’t wish any other similar auditions on myself (or anyone else for that matter), I’m happy to have the awareness of how I handled this experience. I know that I’m not perfect and may not always be fully dropped in for every audition (or performance even). But I do have the choice to fight to stay in it, to go on our characters’ journey rather than staying in judgement of my own work.
One of my acting teacher’s says if you mess up in an audition, and particularly if you forget a line, the best way to handle it, is to think, “Oh good. An opportunity!” Because you have something new to respond to, and that is what makes us human. And that humanity is why people attend plays.
Next time I’m in an audition that doesn’t start perfectly, I will be making the choice to fight because I have no desire to drown.
What do you do when you start an audition or performance and feel like you aren’t in it? What are your strategies for getting back in it? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments below.