Surviving the Audition
by Jami Harris
Let’s face it – no matter how long you’ve been doing this, auditions can be nerve-wracking. If anyone tells you they love the actual audition experience, chances are they’re lying, they’ve never experienced failure, or they have sadomasochistic tendencies. That, or they’ve been auditioning for Mr. Rogers (or the producers of Skid, who are really awesome and know how to make an audition fun).
That said, something I’ve learned over the years is to stop letting my fear of auditioning control my life and dictate my success (or lack thereof) in this industry. I’m a perfectionist. I was the kid who cried if I got a 98 on the test instead of a 100. I expect a lot of myself, and when I feel like I’ve failed, I’m my worst critic. So the biggest step for me was learning to see auditions I didn’t book not as failures, but as opportunities.
There are a million reasons you didn’t book the role. Maybe you were too tall or too short, or you had the wrong hair eye color, or you were too thin or too tall, or they wanted someone younger, or they wanted someone older, or they wanted someone with blue hair. Maybe you were exactly what they thought they were looking for until that other actor came into the room and gave them an unexpected interpretation of the character that they fell in love with. I’d bet most of the auditions you didn’t book had nothing to do with your acting ability and everything to do with a factor beyond your control or knowledge. But for my first few years acting, I assumed every role I didn’t book was because I wasn’t good enough or blew my audition.
There have been several times I’ve auditioned for a role, not booked it, and beat myself up for not doing a better job until months or even a year or two later, the director of that project asked me to play a role in another project based on that supposedly “failed” audition. I learned at that time the director had loved my audition but I hadn’t been the right fit for that particular role. Then it finally hit me – I had been beating myself up for months for something that wasn’t a failure and had actually led to another opportunity.
There have also been some auditions where I genuinely messed up, and I’ve learned to be okay with that too. Obviously I always strive to be prepared and give the best audition possible, but there are occasions where you walk out of that audition room thinking, “How on earth did I mess up that line?” or “Did I really do that with a Scarlet O’Hara accent?” (Okay, that happens a lot more often when you’re me and hail from South Carolina. Sometimes the accent just comes out.) I’ve discovered that one of the secrets to not making the same mistakes at my next audition is to give myself permission to mess up. Once I’ve given myself permission to not be perfect, I de-stress and actually do a better job at my audition because I can focus on the scene instead of on some ridiculous standard of perfection I’ve set for myself.
I used to be extremely nervous before an audition. Okay, nervous is an understatement. I was thrilled to find out it was okay to memorize my lines and not carry the sides (audition script) into the audition room with me because I used to be so terrified the sides would be shaking in my hands as I read. I still get nervous before auditions, especially if it’s a project I’m really passionate about. But now I use that nervous energy to motivate me to do my best at preparing for my audition, and when I get into the audition room, I let it all go, do my best, and make a decision to be content with either outcome. And I’ve changed the way I pray before an audition. Instead of begging God to give me the role I want, instead I pray that He’ll help me do my best and that I’ll book whatever role I’m supposed to have. There’s something beautiful about being able to surrender a desire for a role and trust that life will go on regardless of the results of an audition.
There are roles I’ve booked that I thought I had no chance at booking. There are times I’ve auditioned against much more seasoned actresses and been shocked to find out I was cast as the lead. And there have been roles I thought I had in a box and auditions I thought I nailed where I wasn’t cast at all. Instead of trying to figure out why, I’ve learned to just go with it, be grateful for the roles I do book, and see the ones I didn’t book not as failures but as opportunities.
So at your next audition, I hope you’ll be able to embrace the opportunity and have fun. And if that doesn’t work, just go with the old standby and imagine the director in their underwear.