A Hobbit or Gollum: Who do you want to be?
Your heart is racing as you enter the audition room (virtual or live). Maybe you try and occupy space and smile waiting to be told what to do. Maybe you have a pre-thought of something clever to say to break the tension when you enter. Your voice rides high on you accidentally or perhaps you pitch it lower deliberately. Your heart beats fast like a ticking bomb. You try to remember all the cliché’s: “be yourself,” “just have fun,” “they want you to book the job, otherwise they wouldn’t see you,” etc. Perhaps you are channeling Oliver: “Please sir can I have a job.” Maybe you’ve taken a hardcore weekend workshop, so you decide to try and “own the room” with your bold and interesting choices.
TIME OUT!! LET’S STEP BACK FOR A MOMENT.
Michael Shurtleff said one of the most elegant, poignant statements I’ve ever heard as it pertains to an audition: “The purpose of the audition is to make a human connection” I almost wept with joy at its simple beauty.
I have come to see actors starting their careers as lovely little Hobbits. Full of life, radiating hope and optimism. These actors are of good cheer, full of individuality, and the courage of Sméagol before he discovers his “precious.” There is a sad day in the life of the Hobbit when the switch is turned. A vicious, obsessive cycle begins: getting an agent, then a better agent, auditions then bigger auditions, etc. This relentless search for validation through the audition system is futile. These actors (if not careful) turn into Gollum. I watch rosy cheeked Hobbits turn into these green spindly creatures. It's sad because you were all such lovely Hobbits.
STEP BY STEP – HOW TO BE (AND STAY) A HOBBIT
Let's take it right back to the beginning: receiving the audition. It usually comes in the form of an email.
- You've got an audition – yay! The first thing you do is get very, very excited! It may have been a while. You open up the sides to realize there are 10 pages to learn, and it's due tomorrow. You panic. This is terrible.
- You've got an audition – yay! The first thing you do is get very, very excited! It may have been a while. You open it up the email and see you only have two lines. Only two lines? Down the rabbit hole you go, possibly having an existential moment: “Do I really want to do this?” and everything in between.
- You've got an audition – yay! The first thing you do is get very, very excited! It may have been a while. You open up the email and see you have 48 hours. Oh, and you have 10 lines – this is great. You start doing the mental math (10 lines multiplied by X amount of time = this amount of stress)
So, you fall into the trap of playing the quantity game. The equation is how many lines against x amount of time. The answer to that equation determines if you feel panicked, relaxed, or cavalier about your audition. This is measuring your audition in quantitative terms. You are an actor not a mathematician.
This measurement, although real, is not a useful way to approach your audition. I’m saying this not to discount the terror of the 10-page audition and how unfair it is to only have 24 hours to turnaround a scene. I would, however, like to offer an alternate way of thinking…
How can we start thinking about auditions to remain as HOBBITS?
When you get an audition, before you even open the email, consider that you’re receiving an exciting GIFT. Prior to opening the email, ask yourself: “what tiny part of the human condition do I get to explore today? What an amazing job opportunity! I get to explore myself in relation to others and the world and I may even end up getting paid for this!”
Then remember that you’re part of a community and this is PLAY. Get on a call with a friend who may have been through a situation similar to what’s happening in the scene you’re auditioning for. Maybe have a cup of tea or coffee and run some lines. It's an opportunity to get together with a friend or acquaintance you’ve been meaning to call and now what a beautiful excuse. By changing the self-talk prior to opening the email and then engaging in meaningful social interaction with your friend, you have more positive chemicals running through your body. You are really connecting back to growing, learning and sharing which reminds you why you got into the business in the first place.
THIS IS STEP ONE. Now that you are in a creative open place it’s time to read the sides. There are obviously many different approaches to how do you memorize lines and how to break down sides. Acting Coaches and Professors have made a good living peddling their wares. They are mostly rooted in late 19th and mid 20th century techniques developed by such pioneers as Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen based on Aristotle’s book “The Poetics.” I will be laying out my contribution to this clutter of techniques in future blogs.
Remember: whatever your approach, you’ll only have your “first time” reading your sides ONCE. It is pure snow, it’s untrampled by unconscious bias that you may be applying to it unwittingly. Often it's not the choices you make that will get you, but the unconscious ones you don't realize you made. So regardless of your approach before reading through your sides for the first time - try sitting in a nice chair, lie down on the couch or read it before you go to bed. Read it like it's a poem, a novel, or a piece of music. Let it enter you associatively like when you watch television or listen to music. When you watch a movie or TV show you willingly suspend your disbelief, and you give yourself over to that particular world where you will be affected by it as it triggers long term memory. You will drift to a place that is almost dreamlike. It's what I call this “dreaming while awake.”
Again, regardless of your personal approach, let empathy and curiosity be your guide. Do not put yourself into high school / crunching for an exam type trauma. This is not an exam. This is an opportunity to share. As you change your consciousness, the stress will start to diminish. No, it's not a magic pill that cures everything. I’m suggesting a series of small individual thoughts, at each stage of the “receiving the audition process” as the way to lead you back to the Hobbit state of mind.