Advice and Tips for Actors Helpful thoughts on acting from someone who wasn't the least successful actor of all time.

May 8, 2010

Reading the Room

Today I had an audition (yes, on Saturday) where I could have stopped halfway through and said, “Thanks guys.  I’m going to go.”  It wasn’t a bad audition;  I got the material, I connected to it and I basically did what I wanted to do with it.  A couple lines into it I just felt that I wasn’t connecting with the producer and I wasn’t going to get the part (if the people I auditioned for today are reading this: you can still cast me in this and prove me wrong).  What happened?

Everyone who’s ever done theater or spoken in public knows how the audience reacted to their performance.  Actors backstage of a play love to determine if an audience is “good” or “bad” on a given night.  If you’re doing a comedy you generally rank this by how many laughs you get but when you’re doing a drama or simply speaking in public, how can you tell when the audience is with you? It’s something innate, some feeling you get when you stand in front of them.

Auditions are weird in that you might be doing a comic scene but you can’t expect a laugh.  The people doing the auditions may have seen the joke two hundred times already, it’s simply not funny to them.

Let’s take today for an example.  The scene I  was reading wasn’t knock down funny and it wasn’t meant to be.  So when I didn’t get laughs at the slightly funny jokes I wasn’t surprised.  But what let me know I wasn’t going to get this part was that I wasn’t getting any reaction, the people in the room weren’t coming along with me on the ride.  Maybe it takes years to get the feel and maybe some people are just born with it, but I know when I’m in a room if they like me or not.  It’s some combination of body language, reactions to my lines (verbal or physical) and how they talk to me when I enter and when I leave.  It’s rarely something tangible I can put my finger on (unless it’s really bad or really good).  If they’re into it and they’re hanging on my every word I can feel it, and I know I have a shot at the part.

Well intentioned people love to say, “sometimes you think you were amazing and you don’t get it and sometimes you think you stink and you really get it.”  The first half is true.  I often think I’m amazing and don’t get it, but I know I was in the running for it.  But when I don’t feel that connection, I have never even gotten close to the part.

The weirdest thing is that this all happens without me breaking character or with any ill effect on my performance.  I simply feel something in the air.  When it’s going well I feed on it and it makes my performance better.  I’d love to say when I don’t feel a connection I redouble my efforts and make sure I knock their socks off but it doesn’t work that way.  When the connection is not there, there’s nothing I can do to force it.  Sure, ont he way out I can crack a few jokes but I’m only making myself feel better.

One day I’ll write a book on how to have the room sync in with your performance.  Well, I’ll get incredibly rich and famous as an actor first and then I’ll sell the book.  Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to force it.  Just feel it, enjoy the slight sense of closure you get when you know you don’t have to wait by the phone for that part and move on to the next audition.

February 22, 2010

You Don’t Want Feedback on Your Audition

Actors love to get feedback on their auditions.  They want to know why they didn’t get cast so they can “improve in the future.”  Let me tell you why this is one of the dumbest things actors do.

First a short lesson for people who don’t know what I’m talking about.  Actors go in for auditions and then leave.  Most of the time no one calls to say they didn’t get the job and so actors sit at home and wait for the phone to ring.  Now we have cell phones so we can sit at Starbucks and wait for the phone to ring, yippy.  Actors sometimes wonder, “why didn’t I get the job” when days turn into weeks and it’s obvious they’re not getting hired.  So actors seek out ways to get “feedback” on their auditions hoping they can improve in the future.

This probably stems from normal job interviews where candidates call back a week later and hope to get feedback on their interviews.  Typically in job interviews the same types of questions are asked all the time so it’s legitimate that someone could improve their interview for the next time.  Also this is an excuse to call back a recruiter who might say, “you were great but we had to hire someone’s cousin, luckily there’s a better job opening up next week I’d love to talk to you about.”  Really that’s a pipe dream and the real goal is to improve for the next time.

Actors lie to themselves when they say they want feedback.  Problem is, they’re never going to audition for that part again.  Actors aren’t asked, “what is your biggest weakness,” they’re given a part to read.  The part they’re given next week will be completely different.  Notes like, “you should have been angrier when you told him you were leaving” are useless.

Truth is actors want this to be their feedback, “you were amazing but we had to hire someone else’s cousin, we’ll bring you back in next week for this amazing guest star role.”  That’s an ego stroke, nothing else.  Actors just want their egos massaged since they didn’t get the role (shocking).  If they honestly loved you they would have brought you back in next week anyway, even if you didn’t convince your agent to call the casting office.  Yes, it’s another excuse to “stay in their mind” but you also come off as a little needy.

No matter what they say there are only two pieces of feedback you will ever get, “this role no longer exists/it’s now a role for a fire-breathing midget” and “someone else was a better fit.”  Any other way the feedback is sugar-coated is simply someone trying to be creative or nice.  You could have been perfect for the role and someone decide to cut the role out or someone else was simply better for the role (sound familiar?).  Yes, being a cousin of the producer counts as “better for the role.”  Why?  Because to the producer this was more important than giving the best audition.  Sucks, but he’s the producer and you’re not.  It hurts to think you didn’t give the “best audition” or have the right look for a part but that’s the reality of Hollywood.

When you’re asking for feedback you’re really asking for validation of your skills as an actor since you didn’t get the ego petting of getting the role.

Here’s all the feedback I need: did I get the role?  No, then I should probably work harder in the future.  Even if the role was cut or went to a teenage Asian girl (really happened once) I can still improve, everyone always can.

October 22, 2009

What To Do After an Audition

In the past month I’ve had piles of auditions and it made me think of what an actor should do after an audition.  There are a few steps I go through after each audition and I’d like to share with you my post-audition ritual:

Throw Out the Sides:  If you don’t know what audition sides are, they’re selections from a script chosen for an audition.  When I walk out of an audition I throw out my sides.  Well, that’s my second choice.  The first choice is to leave them outside the casting room so another actor can use them.  If I left my copy in my car or at home I throw them out the first chance I get.  If I get a callback I just look them up again.

Archive Any E-Mails About the Project This includes any casting notices, copies of the script or love letters from the casting director.  I get it all out of my inbox.  If I have anything to look up in the future about the project I can search for the e-mails.

Try to Forget Anything Anyone Ever Told Me About the Project: I ignore posted “callback” or “shoot” dates which are often wrong anyway.  I try to forget any compliment or slight the director gave me and I stop myself from analyzing them (What did he mean by “nice job?”).  I try my hardest to not calculate how much I’d get paid on that national commercial.

Take Five Minutes to Analyze the Audition: After forgetting all the nitty gritty and putting business stuff out of my mind I take five minutes to think about what I did in the room and what I could have done better.  This step doesn’t take an hour or a week, five minutes is more than enough.  This is a great activity to do in your car.  It’s famously known that the best audition you ever do is to your rear view mirror on the way home from the actual audition.  I take whatever lessons I can from each audition and then move on to the final step:

Forget The Rest of the Audition:  Forget those lines you flubbed or the flat line reading and go on to something else.  Go hit the driving range, read a book or just watch some TV.  Obsessing over a past audition isn’t going to help you land the role or improve as an actor.

This was all prompted by my audition about an hour ago.  It was flatter and less inspired than I thought it should have been.  By the time I got home I had pretty much forgotten all about it.  When I thought back about the audition I said, “I was flat, didn’t do enough with it.  Next time I’ll reach a little more with it and let them dial me back.”  Those were my only thoughts.  I wasn’t thinking about shoot dates or anything, simply that one thought.   It took me years to get to that point but it’s probably my most useful skill as an actor (besides acting).

Obsessing over audition and waiting for the phone to ring can make the whole acting experience miserable.

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