Scenario: You just received a notice from your agent for an audition. The sides are four pages for a new Netflix show and the audition is in two days. Normally, four pages wouldn’t be such a big deal. You’d spend the next 48 hours trying to get off book, break down the beats of the scene, and then forget about the audition an hour after you left the casting office.
But this is different. Because the show was created by her, your idol, your “OMG if I ever get to work for her then I’ve definitely made it” idol. And the role is perfect for you. It’s like she created the part with you in mind, despite having never met you before. So you begin to freak out. You start to hype this audition up like it can make or break your career.
Walking into an audition room is always going to be a bit nerve-racking, no matter how experienced you are. Being as prepared as possible - familiarizing yourself with the script, doing your scene work, developing strong character choices - will naturally ease some anxiety. But there are tricks you can play on your brain to help calm your nerves during those few minutes of an audition. That’s really all it is - just a few minutes out of your day. You only need a few minutes of confidence out of the entire day and then you don’t have to think about it anymore.
These might not work for everyone, but here are three specific tricks I used repeatedly as an actor when I had an audition:
1. Pretend the role has already been cast with another actor.
There is a common phrase actors hear often from casting directors: “We’re rooting for you. We want you to be good!” It’s meant to ease an actor’s nerves, to let them know the casting director is on their side, but too often it ends up having the opposite effect. Hearing a casting director say “we want you to be good” puts unnecessary pressure on you, the actor, as though you don’t already have enough to worry about. However, if you pretend the role has already been cast, what do you have to lose? I don’t mean you should tell yourself, “Oh, they’re probably going to go with so-and-so,” I mean actually tell yourself, “They’ve already cast so-and-so in this part.” Telling your brain there is no way you can get the part in turn tells your brain there is no way you can fail.
2. Make yourself unavailable for the project.
I don’t mean actually make yourself unavailable - what would be the point in that? You just want to trick your brain into thinking you are unavailable for the project. Case in point: I was planning to visit my family who lived out of state, but I hadn’t yet picked which dates I would travel. An audition came up for a lead in a play that I really wanted. It was a cool script and I’d get to work with fun people, plus it was the lead, you know? So I chose to book my trip for the opening week. I was telling my brain this audition didn’t matter because I wasn’t available for the project anyway. I didn’t list the trip as a conflict (obviously) knowing I could reschedule my plans should I land the role. However, telling my brain I wasn’t available freed me from placing too much emphasis on this one audition. It also allowed me to walk into the audition room with an aren’t-you-sad-you-can’t-work-with-me attitude - not in a cocky way, but with an air of confidence. I booked the role.
3. Act as though you’ve already been cast in the role.
Instead of following the first trick I list where you pretend the role has been cast with another actor, you can try the opposite. Regardless of whether it’s an initial audition or a callback, telling your brain you’ve already been cast is yet another way to take the pressure off. When approaching an audition I often hear actors say, “I don’t want to mess this up.” How can you mess up if you’ve already booked it? Believing you’ve already landed the role can provide a much-needed boost of confidence.
Most audition rooms are closed for the time being due to the pandemic, forcing casting sessions to be held online. These same tricks still apply, only now you get to use them from the comfort of your own home. And when it comes to self-tapes you can REALLY have some fun. Think about it: you get to try the audition as many ways as you want. Mess up a line? Just re-record. Want to try something that seems like it could be a little risky? Try it! Watch the playback and see how the take reads. Self-tapes, though they can be annoying and even frustrating at times, are incredibly freeing and an excellent learning tool.
While nothing can substitute for preparedness, using brain tricks that take the pressure off can help you get through what seem to be “make it or break it” auditions, no matter how nervous or anxious you are. Maybe you already use other psychological techniques to calm anxiety during auditions. I’d love to hear about them! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @shoptheatrik. --Kate McCoy