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      Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part One

      Self-tapes are here to stay, and for those new to recording their own auditions it can be a confusing and sometimes frustrating territory to navigate. I've compiled a list of a few of the questions I've received followed by my answers, and will be answering more in later blog posts. If you have a self-tape question you'd like answered, reach out on social media @shoptheatrik, or email hello@shoptheatrik.com

       

      Do I have to have a reader or can I pre-record the other characters’ lines and play them from my phone?

      A reader who is there with you in person is always your best option. It gives you someone to play off of in the scene. However, there might be times when having a reader there with you is not possible. You could pre-record the other characters’ lines but then you’re likely stuck constantly hitting pause and play during your take. It’s hard to concentrate on acting when your focus is on cueing up the other lines, unless you time your recording just right that you can play it straight through and still get your lines in. An alternative is to reach out on social media - there are Facebook groups specifically for actors looking for readers. Additionally, there are a number of apps designed for this very purpose. A quick internet search should lead you to a healthy list. You can also check out this Backstage article “13 Apps Every Actor Should Use.”

       

      For musical auditions, should I sing a cappella or try to find an accompanist?

      Unless your audition instructions specify otherwise, you’ll likely want to have accompaniment. You could certainly hire someone to play the music for you live, or you could record them playing it and make your self-tape without them present. However, finding an accompanist is not always possible. Playing the music from your phone is totally acceptable and pretty standard for a self-tape. If the music isn’t provided by the casting office, you can likely find it on the internet.

       

      Is light from a window sufficient?

      Natural sunlight is great and usually looks good on camera. However, you shouldn’t rely on a window as your sole lighting component. What if the sun moves or is covered by clouds in the middle of your recording? The lighting will change on camera and might not be consistent throughout your audition. What if the sun is so bright you have to squint to get through your audition? Or what if you have to record at night and don’t have the benefit of natural sunlight? You’ll want to invest in a good lighting kit to ensure you can be clearly seen on camera.

       

      How do I prevent shadows from showing up on my backdrop?

      Shadows appear when you are standing too close to your backdrop. Moving closer to camera and further away from the backdrop will reduce shadows. You can also adjust your lighting device to a different position to help prevent shadows.

       

      Are “ring light eyes” really a big deal?

      Yes. If you are using a ring light, depending on how it’s positioned the ring of light can completely cover the irises, so the actor’s eyes appear to be “glowing.” If this happens it becomes difficult for a director to focus on the performance because, as you can imagine, glowing eyes can be rather distracting (not to mention creepy). If you use a ring light, try turning it around and bouncing the light off a white wall or reflector screen, or adjusting the height of the light so it’s not directly centered on your face.

       

      Do I need a backdrop or can I use a plain wall?

      A wall works just fine if you can paint it a light color that flatters your skin tone. White or beige walls usually don’t look great on camera and are often unflattering for the actor.

       

      What color backdrop is best to use?

      You should use a color that is flattering for your skin tone. Light blue tends to look good on all skin tones, but light gray and light pink are also great options for some. Avoid yellows and greens - these colors tend to make your skin look yellow or green on camera. Many actors use a dark blue backdrop, as it is widely available on such sites as Amazon, but the color isn’t flattering for everyone. You should also avoid colors that are too bright - you don’t want your backdrop to distract from your performance. Muted, light colors work best to ensure the focus remains on the actor’s performance and not what is happening in the background.

       

      Is an external microphone necessary or will the mic from my phone suffice?

      While it’s fine to use your phone’s microphone to record your sound, an external mic will enhance the overall quality of your audition. Lavalier microphones are great because they are small and can clip onto an actor’s clothing. The sound is clearer than a phone’s mic and it is easier to cut out the background noise.

       

      Keep those questions coming! Confused about how to edit your takes and send the file? Unsure what to do when the scene includes a kiss? I'll be answering more of your self-tape questions in future blog posts.

      3 Tricks to Ease Audition Anxiety

       Casting sign

      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 hello@shoptheatrik.com or reach out via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @shoptheatrik.  --Kate McCoy