Alexander Pope, an English poet once said: "A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than he was yesterday."
A note to the reader- The following blog post was written as a reminder to me and should be read with that in mind. I can be hard on myself at times. Should you find resonance with my experience, I hope the following lends a helpful thought on your journey. This article was written around this time last year, yet I believe the message still applies.
Often, an actor's breakthrough comes after many months of the actor not knowing a breakthrough was even necessary. My breakthrough came the other day after a casting director gave me a very straightforward note. After my first read of the scene, he stopped me and said,
"That although your audition was good, You are at an 8, and there are actors coming in delivering 10's."
Ooof... What a blow... Immediately of course, I scoffed at the comment. I couldn't believe that other actors were coming into the room doing a better job than I was. I was trained, I was a series-regular... But right as I was taking my next breath my thoughts changed. I had to take my head out of my own ass and really listen, to realize that the note he gave me was a nugget of gold...gold plated gold! He introduced himself by saying:
"Do you know who I am?" I stupidly replied "No."
Of course a casting director with an ego this big would break all the conventional rules of casting. And I love him for it!
This casting director was giving me the best gift I could ask for. He was critiquing my technique which I've harped on personally for years, and who better to give an audition critique than a casting director?? I was hearing the info straight from the horse's mouth.
So often, casting directors don't give so much as an arbitrary adjustment—he gave me such a practical note. That quick honest statement opened my eyes to this pattern I had fallen into after I came back from doing my show.
Related: 3 Ways To Stand Out In Your Audition
He also reinvigorated my hunger. It made me realize that I was starving! I had tricked myself into feeling full, but I was running on E.
I took his adjustment and gave the scene all I had and received a callback in the room! If only I had been gifted with this candid advice at the beginning of pilot season, I would have been golden.
But there's no time like the present.
The following is my explanation of what the casting director meant by his note, and some other audition breakthroughs I got from this casting experience. Hopefully this helps you avoid or recognize if you are making these same mistakes!
An Actor Who: Acts With Low Energy May Be Affecting Your Callback Rate
An actor's low-energy can be felt the moment he or she walks into the room. And low energy sucks! It's like getting ready to take a photo on your phone and having to delete a hundred photos first to make room. I was definitely that phone with no storage for a long time. Yet, I had no idea.
Actors can be prone to playing it safe which is an attempt at acting "natural" when it comes to auditioning. This can manifest itself into low-energy. The need to act natural comes from being insecure about taking chances and making bold choices. Many times I was confusing film performance energy with audition performance energy—afraid of being too big for the casting director or the room. The two energies are wildly different, and I was groomed into thinking that my low vocal fry acting was gonna cut in the audition room like it had on set or like I had been taught to do in class. In fact it made me sound underwhelmed and disengaged.
The quintessential reason why low-energy must cease to exist in an audition room is to save the casting director, which therefore saves you. The reality of the situation is that a casting director will see hundreds of actors for your particular role, and the majority of us will perform the audition the exact same way. Can you imagine how boring this would be for the casting director?
Try This Instead
My low-energy remedy starts with leaving my "actor" stuff outside of the room for the duration of my audition. If you want to have a successful audition, encompass your mind with the thoughts of the character only.
Forget everything else.
Tony Barr author of the book Acting For The Camera defines energy as, "The direct result about how much you care about what is happening." Barr goes on to explain, that the actor will be listening and responding with the right amount of energy, if they treat what is happening in the—context of the scene— with substantial importance. This theory is applicable to your audition technique as well.
I remind myself that film energy is quieter, more controlled, and not as big, because of the ability the camera has to bring the audience closer to the actor. Audition energy must lie higher on the energy spectrum, because the audience is the people in the room.
Don't confuse "naturalness" with the reality that the casting director has seen the same performance over and over again and while part of your job in an audition is to act and feel things, it's also to keep the attention of those watching.
Do yourself a favor and care more...Because when you care, the audience will care.
An Actor Who: Lets Booking A Big Role Get In The Way Of Their Auditions
We get it, you booked a good job and you want the world to take notice. Well they did and they didn't. Booking a series-regular is great news and can have a serious affect on your auditioning. It can open more doors, get you in more rooms, and put you on casting director's secret lists. However, it can also make you less hungry and lessen your auditioning skill.
When we allow for one role to dictate our desire to strive for more, we essentially limit ourselves prematurely. We actually have no idea how much work it takes to level up—whatever leveling up looks like to us. We think by booking big once we've reached the pinnacle of our career. It's like digging for oil: you have to keep striking till you see substance.
Try This Instead
Knowing your worth and value is very important. But like anything else, keep it in moderation. Between what your own head is telling you and the rest of the world, i.e, agents, managers, friends, and mentors its easy to lose sight of the prize and get comfortable. Do whatever you have to keep your instrument sharp and to keep the hunger alive. My latest callback reminded me that I am not yet where I want to be and I should leave past jobs, where they belong, in the past.
Your roles will definitely be a stepping block for you and you should absolutely be proud of the work you've accomplished, but it shouldn't be a substitute for hard work and energy.
An Actor Who: Doesn't Connect With The Reader And Worries Too Much About The Camera
After five months filming television, I got very accustomed to acting in front of a camera. I was hyper aware of them, like one can be about their b.o after the gym. I was taking this new skill that I was proud to have learned, into the audition room when I got back into town. So not only was I hitting marks, cheating to the camera like a boss, I was also basically whispering my way through every audition during this last pilot season. I had no idea that I was concentrating all my energy, as though this audition was a real television performance. Granted, I thought I was right in giving my auditions that amount of caliber. I was completely off-book and performance ready, "subtle low whisper acting" ready. I was doing myself the biggest disservice.
Try This Instead
Actors are allowed to hold their sides in an audition, so why don't we? Speaking for myself, I wanted to prove to the casting director that I knew the lines perfectly, almost as if I was saying "You should cast me because I already know the lines, therefore, I'll be saving the production so much time."
Anything to prove to them that I was the perfect choice. But there in lies the error of my ways. Trying to be "perfect" in an industry that praises imperfection as much as it does craft services! This town loves an imperfect person who can seem like their uniqueness was a choice they spent hours crafting, thanks to their seemingly perfect acting technique.
Auditions should be looked at like a rehearsal. You should know your lines well, but go in with the mindset to have fun and connect with the casting director. Trying to figure out the scene with the CD is a great way to get rid of your nerves and own the room. Trust me it works! Think of your audition like a jigsaw puzzle you and your friend are trying to solve.
Lastly, forget about the camera. I mean know where it is in the room, know where your boundaries are so you stay within view of the camera the whole time, but then forget about the damn thing. Your audition is about connecting to the reader and filling up the room. Leave all the camera technique like the low whisper, the tiny energy, on set.
The camera in an audition is not doing any of the work so why should we give them so much love in the audition? They aren't there to enhance your performance in any way, other than to capture it for safety reasons and they make for cool youtube videos when you make it famous.
Most casting directors will tell you that they don't cast off watching your tape over and over, they may use it as a reference, but the majority are basing their decision on how YOU CONNECTED WITH THEM in the room. Make a good impression in the room, change a casting directors mood, make the producers laugh and cry... That is the new goal for actors in the audition room.
So most of this dawned on me during my hike and I'm glad it did. Because the following week this casting office would go on to call me back two more times for two different characters. The last time, I went in the producer greeted me with "What are doing back here, I thought I already said I loved you?" This was so gratifying to hear, even more gratifying was getting an offer on the role just a few days later!
I am not kidding! This audition became my experiment and I approached each new appointment for them with the lessons I learned above —especially keeping my energy above an 8, which I bet some of you reading can remind yourself to do! And I booked the job.
Now whether or not I take the offer is a conversation for another day, another blog...but I won a big personal battle and I will continue to use the lessons I learned to keep getting offers like these.
Have you had a recent audition breakthrough? Share it with TMA readers below!