This article originally appeared in Backstage magazine’s May 3, 2007 issue.
How to Love Auditioning
BY KAREN KOHLHAAS
Anyone who watches auditions regularly will tell you: 10 percent or less—some even say one percent—of the actors they see look like they’re having a good time. Surprised? They’ll also say that the actors who seem to truly enjoy auditioning are more likely to be considered and cast. So, let’s recognize what an audition really is: a job interview. If you were interviewing applicants for a position of great responsibility, would you be inclined to hire those who looked unhappy? Would you hire the applicants who looked most desperate to get the job? Or would you be drawn to those who seemed the most happy with themselves and enthusiastic about possibly being hired? I think actors often look unhappy (this includes looking serious, somber, grim, and totally miserable) because they’re treating auditions as ordeals they must endure in the hope of getting hired to do some real creative work. I believe the only way to change this is to treat the audition process itself as a creative project, with skills and habits you can learn and get better at.
Define what’s in your control and what isn’t, and forget about what isn’t.
Show business is insane and unfair—always has been, always will be. Here’s an exercise: make a two-column list, with one side labeled “Can Control” and one labeled “Can’t Control.” Write down everything you can think of that has to do with auditioning on each column. Then circle everything on the “Control” side you regularly do, and circle everything on the “Can’t Control” side that you regularly worry about or otherwise lose energy to. Any surprises? Your goal is to recycle the energy you spend on the “Can’t Control” side onto the “Control” side. Doing this exercise from time to time, and taking constructive action based on your results, can positively transform your audition experiences.
Have a solid, measurable craft.
This may seem obvious, but do you have an acting technique that works for you? Do you have a concrete way to tackle a script? Is your voice in shape? Is your body trained and at your service? Do you know what roles you want to be going out for? Do you have an idea of how others, such as casting directors, see you? Do you have an ever-evolving list of your most favorite plays, films, directors, and companies? Do you practice regularly? Do you practice auditioning? The more you work on the various skills of your craft, the more you will enjoy exercising those skills. You’ll be more likely to see auditions as opportunities to share your creativity and to perform, and as a result you’ll have a better time in the audition room.
Be a gracious host at your audition.
It may be their audition room, but it’s your audition. Are you welcoming people to your performance? Or are you gritting your teeth and bracing yourself? Are you treating casting directors as valued colleagues, or more like the firing squad? Are you hurling yourself through the door or are you walking in and pleasantly taking stage? Are you smiling or are you grimacing? Are you warmly thanking them or are you running out of the room? I teach a whole class on this skill, but here’s the bottom line: If you habitually host your auditions positively and graciously, you are more likely to have a better time yourself.
Never make one audition mean everything.
I once told a friend of mine, who was up for the role of her dreams, that I wanted her to be in a production I was directing if she didn’t get the part. Later she told me that knowing that made her relax in the final callback—then she did, in fact, get the role of her dreams. Obviously you can’t guarantee that there’s another role waiting for you whenever you audition, but you can plan your life so that you are excited about what you have going on while you’re auditioning. That can mean classes you’re taking, trips or events you’re planning, or creating your own projects. The most attractive thing in the audition room is an actor who looks like he or she has somewhere interesting to go next. That kind of actor gives off an air of “you’d better grab me while you can,” not “please give me this part—it’s the only thing in my life.”
De-romanticize show business.
Michael Mastro, currently performing on Broadway in Mamma Mia!, is also a wonderful audition coach and speaker. When he tells the story of landing his first job in a Broadway play (as an understudy in Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!), he very eloquently describes how part of him grieved for the loss of the romantic longing he’d had since childhood to be on Broadway—because it was finally happening! And it happened because he worked his butt off in the audition process to get the job. When he got it, he had to redefine himself as no longer being “the person who romantically longs,” but a person who is a working actor and a businessman. He advises actors that giving up some of the romance of show business can make you happier when you’re auditioning because you’ll be treating auditioning and acting more like real and important things you are responsible for, instead of a not-quite-real, random, “someday” kind of lottery. (P.S. He is however, still head over heels in love with acting.)
Learn and enjoy the steps of the dance.
A first audition is like a first coffee date: “Hello, how are you? Here’s how this part hits me—a taste of what I could be like in this role.” The problem is too many actors show up for this first date with an engagement ring—they put way too much pressure on themselves (and on their auditors) for the first audition to go “perfectly” instead of recognizing each step of the audition dance. Instead of trying to deliver a perfect performance, let your first audition be a sample of the sensibility you would bring to the role, and possibly the kind receptivity you would have to direction and feedback. Then, if they happen, let each subsequent callback build on your first audition by digging a little deeper into your work, and getting a bit more detailed. As nerve-wracking as it can be, you will give better auditions and have more fun if you focus specifically on each stage of the audition process rather than fret over the whole or the outcome.
Get fascinated with the details.
Are you more focused in the morning? What should you do to be your best at a 3 p.m. audition? What colors look best on you? Do you have clothes and shoes you look and feel great in? Do you need to eat protein before an audition? Should you avoid sugar? How can you be hydrated but not have to run to the bathroom right before you go in the room? Systematically identifying and practicing details that make you your best is in your control. It’ll pay off in increased energy, concentration, and enjoyment.
Talk to yourself productively.
You have three possible ways to talk to yourself after an audition: positively, neutrally, or negatively. I actually recommend talking to yourself neutrally. If you feel terrible after an audition, it will be harder to force yourself to be positive, but you’ll be more likely to manage a neutral assessment that can actually give you some valuable information. Write down what happened as objectively as you can. What worked? What could have worked better? What do you want to focus on for next time? Take what you learned and move on. Then you’ll have clear goals to act on for the next time. Once you make this a habit, it will be much easier to muster a positive attitude at the audition and afterward, because you’ll be working on your own side.
The wonderful actor Peter Maloney recently spoke to the students at the Atlantic Acting School. He said, “If they don’t cast me, I want it to be their fault, not mine.” As a teacher, I love hearing when former students get jobs, but perhaps the kind of email or call I love even more is when an actor says: “I just had a great audition. I was fully prepared. I took care of everything. I was at ease coming in the room. I read or did my monologue and had fun working in the moment. And I made a point of giving them a sincere thank you and making confident exit. I had so much fun, and I’m glad I went regardless of whether I am called back or cast.” That is someone I know who has fallen in love with the auditioning process, and who is enjoying their success right now.
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Karen Kohlhaas is a New York based theater director and filmmaker, a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, and a senior teacher at the Atlantic Acting School. She teaches private monologue, directing, and “Fearless Cold Reading & Audition Technique” classes in New York and other cities. She is the author of How to Choose a Monologue for Any Audition, The Monologue Audition: A Practical Guide for Actors, and The Monologue Audition Teacher's Manual, and is the director/writer/producer of The Monologue Audition Video (DVD), a 120-minute instructional DVD for actors, or anyone who wants to improve at public speaking and giving presentations, available at www.monologueaudition.com.
Copyright 2009 by Karen Kohlhaas
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