Q:I have just begun going out on auditions. So far no callbacks, and I just haven't felt very good while doing them. I prepare, but there is something about the audition situation that feels very unnatural, awkward, scattered. My experience has been small experimental films and plays that my friends have been making. I haven't had to audition. I'm so much better when I am performing rather than auditioning. When I know I have the role, I can just focus on doing the role. I'm not stressing about what I need to do to get the role and all the various factors involved. I can just get into a flow and I'm good. At auditions, just navigating the waiting room is hard for me. It's so distracting having all the other people around who also want the part. There's so much tension in the room. But also lots of people seem to already know each other, and they are waving and saying "Hi!" and hugging when I don't know anybody. There are people who like to chat. There are people who try to psych you out. There's too much going on. I just get frazzled. By the time I get in the audition room I'm so fried I can barely hear what the director or casting person is saying to me. It's miserable. But I know that if I want to start working with people who don't already know me, I'll have to learn to audition well. How can I stop feeling so overwhelmed so that I can show them I really can act?
A: You are new to auditioning. Getting comfortable with it takes time. As you have discovered, auditioning is a separate skill from performing. Some people are great at auditioning but not at performing. Lots of good actors are not very good at auditioning. There can be a variety of reasons for this.
The way you describe your experience it makes me think of a book that was very helpful to me called The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive in a World That Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron. It is possible that you, like myself and 15 to 20 percent of the population, are highly sensitive. What does that mean? A highly sensitive person (HSP) takes in more information in his or her environment than most people and therefore can become more easily overstimulated. As Aron puts it, "What is moderately arousing for most people is highly arousing for HSPs." Much of what you are noticing in the waiting room most people are automatically screening out. Therefore, it's not affecting them. But for you, a crowded, noisy, unfamiliar waiting room can be a tough place to be right before an audition. I have a few suggestions that may help, in addition to being as prepared as possible for the audition.
1. Travel to the audition in a way that is least stressful to you, and aim for being early. Traffic jams, crazy people on the bus, circling around half an hour looking for parking can jangle your nerves before you've even walked in the door.
2. Don't arrive hungry. Low blood sugar just makes everything worse. Bring water and a snack in case the audition runs long.
3. Get the lay of the land, check in and then, if possible, go back outside if the waiting room is really packed and tension filled. You don't have to be totally antisocial, but don't allow yourself to get sucked into conversations that are distracting or unnerving for you.
4. Try wearing earplugs. If much of what is distracting you is auditory, earplugs can help tone down the white noise while still allowing you to hear when they call your name.
5. Reframe the audition experience. Think of the audition as a performance. Even if your audition slot is only one minute, fine. You are giving a beautifully crafted one-minute performance. It is not your business to determine whether or not you are right for the part or to entertain all those other distracting thoughts. In that one minute, you have the part. Play the heck out of it.
6. Keep an audition journal. Note for yourself how you feel when you bring a book, listen to music, walk around the block, find a place to sit quietly. See what is most helpful to keep you calm and focused on the performance you are about to give. By tracking these things over time you'll see patterns. From the patterns you'll come to develop a routine that prepares the way for your optimum performance.
As you gain more experience, you will get to know people and find an audition process that works for you, and soon your audition abilities will be able to accurately reflect your acting abilities.
All great suggestions! May I add two more? 1) I suggest reading "AUDITION", by Michael Shurtleff. The definitive book on auditioning. You'll have so many things to be thinking about, there won't be any time to focus on what's happening in the waiting room.
2) Take a class on auditioning. Many of the training programs in the Bay Area offer them. Not only can you work on your audition pieces and get constructive feedback (part of your preparation), but you should be able to ask questions about how to handle your heightened sensitivity in any audition situation. If you're not comfortable in a class environment, try an audition coach, for a more private type of instruction. Good luck and break a leg!