If you come into audition for me, and you’re so nervous that you can’t get through your audition – that’s not okay. I’m sorry to say it this harshly – but I will hold it against you.
If your nerves are so bad, if your jitters are so bad, that you can’t get through a scene – that means you weren’t prepared. Yes – I count being that nervous, as not being prepared. If you’re so incredibly nervous that you can’t do your audition – that’s something you need to address before you walk in my door.
Let’s break down a few of those situations, and how to deal with them. This by no means covers all reasons for nerves – if you’ve got another reason not addressed here, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.
- You’re just the type of person who gets bad nerves.
Maybe this is something you’ve dealt with your whole life – maybe it’s something that’s only come into effect recently. Maybe it’s case-sensitive – it only happens in auditions, or grocery stores, or when you’re in bars specifically designed to look like a spaceship. Or maybe it’s a generalized social anxiety disorder, and it happens to you anywhere, and anytime, there are people near you. The nerves hit you, and maybe you shake, maybe you cringe, maybe your throat closes, maybe you develop tunnel vision. But in all those situations – the words you want to say are unable to choke out, and your body betrays you. You might be totally prepared for your audition, but you just can’t get the words out.
If this is something you’re aware of – it’s something you need to deal with. Auditioning is a difficult, but necessary, process for actors, especially when starting out. Work with a therapist (and yes, I said therapist, not just a coach) in order to address these issues in a healthy manner. Figure out your triggers, and how to navigate them before you come into an audition. If you break down in my audition room – my first thought, and I’m sorry, is going to be that you’re not ready to be an actor. Because if you haven’t figured out how to deal with your nerves for an audition, I can’t trust that you’ve figured out how to deal with them on set, with my whole team waiting and the camera rolling.
If you absolutely know you can do the role, but you just can’t get through an audition – request the opportunity to do a self tape. See if the casting assistant will come get you if you step outside the office while you’re waiting, so that you don’t have to be around any people. Ask the casting director for a moment while you take a sip of water and breathe. Maybe come up with a quick habit that calms you down, and ask for a moment to do that before you start. Yes, these practices have been hilariously mocked in web sketches, but who cares? You want the best performance possible. I once had an actor who would turn and face the wall, and make the weirdest sounds while punching himself… keep in mind his process took five, maybe ten seconds, but when he turned around, he did a fantastic job and got the role. It becomes an awesome story when it works out. And that’s the point, right?
- This particular one means more.
I get it. This one’s special. Maybe it’s the project, maybe it’s the casting director, maybe it’s the writer, or maybe, it’s the character. Whatever it is – this one’s the dream. This is it, the whole reason you got into this industry in the first place. The kahuna. Your big break. No matter how prepared you are – just walking into that room, knowing that it’s here, and now, will make those jitters pop up and destroy you.
But guess what? It’s not that special.
I know, I know, this is the coolest opportunity you’ve ever had. But here’s the key thing – it won’t be your last. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but there will be another one. Another huge director, another famous studio, another fantastic script that comes your way. Trust in your own future, if only to get through today. Take a beat in the waiting room to calm down, and remind yourself that this is just one of the amazing opportunities you’ll have in your life. Also? This is their one opportunity to see you. Because you’re going to go on to be amazing. Stupendous – legendary! And this is their one shot to get to know the real you! So be yourself. Because you’re worth this opportunity, just as you are. While you’re waiting, remind yourself – you’re the catch. Not them.
- You’re not prepared.
This one’s simple. I’m not talking about being off-book – I’m talking about not working through the scene. You didn’t prepare, you haven’t thought about any of your choices or broken down a single beat – maybe you thought you’d wing it, or maybe you thought your natural raw talent would shine through. But now you’ve got a couple extra heartbeats, the adrenaline coursing through your veins, your mind’s in overdrive, and the fumbles are taking over.
Here’s how to avoid this – don’t be an asshat. Prepare for your audition.
(Scared of cold read? Lightening-prep guide coming.)
- Something just happened in the waiting room.
Maybe it was good, maybe it was bad. Maybe you ran into a bunch of friends from your acting class, and got to talking! Or maybe the casting assistant up front is actually a cool person and you were enjoying yourself! (Yes – it’s fun talking to you, if there’s time.) And when your name was called, you weren’t in a place where you could play a PTSD veteran coming home to find his brother sleeping with his wife (yes, that’s the plot of BROTHERS).
Here’s the thing – your actor friends, the casting assistant – they know why you’re here. If you say, “I’d love to catch up! But can we do it after my audition? I just gotta get in the right head space…” they may laugh, but they’re here for the same goal. They’ll let you do your thing. And hey, if chatting helps you get into character, because it’s a charming, talkative character – more power to you! Just make sure you do what you need to do to be in the right place, before walking into the audition room.
Along the same lines – if something bad happened in the waiting room, address it. Maybe there was a car accident outside. Maybe you got a phone call with bad news. Or maybe it’s something like the auditions are running an hour behind, or a new note was just thrown at you. However you need to process that information – do it. Don’t shove it aside, unless you know that works for you. Talk about it, call a friend, down a cup of coffee – and don’t afraid to ask for a minute. Casting may not be able to give you 20 minutes, but I’ve never heard of a casting office that couldn’t give you another two minutes.
- Last but definitely not least – it’s just a few jitters.
Some nerves, are to be expected. In all honesty – I think nerves come when you care. And I appreciate that you care!
Just close your eyes, and take a couple deep breaths. Don’t let those nerves take you over. Acknowledge that they’re there, and remind yourself it’s okay that they’re there. Take a breath before you start.
Identify how those jitters show themselves, then do what you can to get yourself back in a comfort zone. A few common ones:
- Wavering voice – say something on the way into the room, to get in the groove of speaking. A ‘hello! Hope it’s going well today!” never hurt anyone. And on the rare occasion the character calls for a wavery voice – you’re in luck!
- Shaking hands – figure out a way to tuck them away. Your pockets, folded arms, or giving yourself a small amount of business, can hide shaking hands.
- Hunched shoulders – before you start, squeeze your shoulders up to your ears while breathing in, and as you exhale, let them relax down. Clasp your hands behind your back, or find another pose that feels natural, but forces those shoulders down.
- Dry throat – bring a bottle of water. Or ask for one. I feel like this one’s obvious.
- Blushing – I’ve seen people get flushed and red, appearing on the throat and upper chest – if you know it happens, to a point that it’s distracting, or it makes you self-conscious and that distracts you – invest in some high-necked shirts.
- Sweating – same thing. There are a lot of undershirts with that “wick-away” technology.
It’s okay to be nervous. It’s not okay to be unprepared for nerves. But it’s within your power to control them, and not let them hinder your life. Don’t let them win!