Wednesday, February 1, 2012

thoughts on auditioning

“Such thoughts as ‘I am a fraud, I am no good, I was terrible tonight’ are the opposite of effective self-improvement. They are obeisance to an outside or internalized authority--they are a plea to that authority for pity on your helpless state. But you are not helpless.”
--David Mamet

Well I had an incredible run of auditions over the past month--I got cast in Terry Dodd’s original play ‘Amateur Night at the Big Heart’ at the Aurora Fox this spring. I was cast in Paragon’s ‘The Seafarer’ for next fall, in a much bigger and more juicy role than I was originally called back for. And I got called back for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

And although I didn’t end up getting cast by CSF, in some ways that is the biggest audition of all.

First of all, getting called back for them the first time I went out is huge. Like many less formally-educated actors, I don’t like doing Shakespearean monologue auditions. Don’t get me wrong--I’ve done several Shakespeare plays (as well as ‘The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged’ haha) and I actually love several Shakespearean film adaptations (Ian McKellan’s ‘Richard III’ might be in my top five favorite films of all time). So I do have somewhat of a grip on the language--in fact I love the language. It’s not that I don’t understand it or don’t get scansion or the rhythm of the verse. It’s more a psychological thing, I think, to audition Shakespearean pieces for Shakespearean actors/scholars/directors--in other words, for people who do Shakespeare for a living.

It’s intimidating.

But I was determined to be extra well-prepared this year, and as a result I think I FELT the piece I performed for my monologue more than I ever have when I’ve done Shakes monos in the past. And my readings at the callback were also heartfelt and true and honest and unembellished--which brings me back to Mamet’s ‘True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor.’ Walking out after the CSF callback and during the week-plus afterward while I awaited word, I have never felt so free of anxiety, so unconcerned with how I did at an audition.

Why? Because I was confident I did the work well. I did my homework, went in with confidence, knew what I was saying, and I got where I needed to go emotionally and with honesty. What else could I do? What else can any actor do at any time, on stage or at an audition?

Absolutely nothing. The rest is on the audience if it’s a performance, or on the director and casting director if it’s an audition. Do I have the right look or the right age or the right voice relative to other actors, etc., etc.? All that is none of my concern and there is nothing I can do about it anyway.

As to thoughts like ‘what did they think of me,’ well, these kinds of ideas don’t really even enter into it. Not when I know I’ve done the work the best I can, and know that I’ve done it well. Knowing when I walk out of that room that I had a genuine connection to the words I was saying and feeling is all I can hope for. They’ll pick me or they won’t, but I know with certainty that what I brought was real and genuine and true, and therefore I can’t and don’t really concern myself with what they thought.

It’s incredibly liberating.

One of the best and most useful pieces of advice I ever got about auditioning (and I apologize for not remembering exactly where I picked it up--it may well have been ‘The Practical Handbook for the Actor,’ which was written by Mamet protégés) was that you should find a reason--any reason--going in to every audition, why you DON’T want to be cast. Say to yourself, for instance: it’s a long drive to this theatre, the director is kind of a prick, the script is weak, the show would conflict with another show you might like to do, etc.

It’s a useful kind of psychological jiu-jitsu that releases you from the stark terror of pre-audition jitters, which often revolve around utterly useless and even debilitating thoughts like ‘Will I be Good Enough? Will I Screw Up? Will they LOVE ME?’ These kinds of thoughts are all debasing. They psychologically set you up as a lower life-form, as a thing to be judged Good or Not Good, and they give away any kind of power or psychological edge you might have had.

They make you weak. That is not a good way to feel when you’re about to perform.

Of course, you are being judged when you audition. On the other hand you are not a child. You are not there to show daddy your latest math test in hopes that he pats you on the head and puts it on the fridge. You are not a six-year-old, blinking wide-eyed in hopes that daddy won’t instead be grumpy after a long day and ignore you, thus judging you as A Failure.

Fuck that. You are a grown-up who has a work ethic, a drive, a set of skills and a unique way of looking at the world. You have--no, you ARE a unique set of experiences that could offer any show many things of value.

Did I want to get cast by CSF? Of course I did. But I now have the opportunity to do one or two other shows this summer that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. When I roll in to doing ‘August Osage County’ late this summer it won’t be on a wave of exhaustion, on the tail end of working on CSF shows for the previous three months. I’ll have more time to work with Visionbox on my own plays and other original pieces. Plus I am better-positioned to audition for CSF next year--they’ve seen me now, and they know I can do the work; the first hurdle of apprehension--on THEIR part--has been crossed.

Don’t mistake: this is not the little kid sniffling as he walks home from the baseball game where neither team picked him and muttering, ‘Fine. Screw you guys. I didn’t want to play anyway.’ I promise you my sense of relief is genuine, not some self-amelioration in a sad attempt to mask my pain.

Would CSF this year have been a huge opportunity? Yes, of course. Do I have a shit-ton of other opportunities this summer that I haven’t even begun to examine? Oh Yes.

This all might sound slightly insane, like slightly new-agey psychobabble, a jedi mind trick hiding some deeper pain at being rejected or something. I promise you, for me it is not.

To me what is truly insane is living or dying on the opinions of others. It is a sense of neediness, co-dependence and erasure of the self that we would never tolerate in any other aspect of life. Why should we do it in the context of auditions?
“Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of a myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being. And if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.”
--David Mamet

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