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.