Over the last few years, I’ve stepped outside my usual role as an actor and instead have dedicated a lot of time to directing and producing plays. As a result, I’ve spent a ton of time in the audition room behind the table watching actors audition. The experience of seeing hundreds of back-to-back auditions has made it very clear to me that most actors think about casting in a way that works against them, fills them with anxiety and prevents them from doing their best work in the casting room. They walk in with a single thought that sabotages them, when a simple shift in thinking could make all the difference between getting that “thanks-but-no-thanks” email and booking the job.
Here is the insidious thought I’m talking about: “What do they want to see?”
Does that sound familiar? Have you asked yourself or your acting buddy that question after reading a casting breakdown? Have you lain awake the night before an audition trying to solve the casting puzzle, second-guessing your monologue choice or interpretation of the audition sides? If so, you are not alone. It is a perfectly reasonable thought to have when you want something (the role) that someone (the casting director/director) has to give you. It is also perfectly destructive.
When you worry about what the auditors want to see, you give away all your power. You turn the people you’re auditioning for into judges with yellow pads and Pellegrinos, eager to mock you for your failure rather than what they actually are: people who genuinely want you to succeed. You may not believe me, but every casting director and director I’ve ever spoken with about holding auditions has said the same thing. On the other side of the table, we are hoping beyond hope that you will walk in the room and solve our problem, which is that we don’t yet have the right actor for the part.
When actors come in with confidence and rock the audition, we breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there’s someone for the job. When you come in nervous or desperate we still hope that your work will surprise us. Directors and casting directors NEED actors! We NEED you! We get bummed when you cancel your audition or come in less than prepared because you have the power to turn our directorial vision into reality. Let me say it again: Actors have power! Directors can’t do their job without actors.
There have been times (and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this) when I’ve been in that casting room and been completely clueless as to what exactly I was looking for, where I couldn’t even answer the question “What do I want to see.” There have also been times when the idea I had in the morning about I wanted was completely upended by an amazing, confident, artistically exciting performance by an actor who showed me something I could never have come up with on my own. As a director, I love those moments. I love having actors who come in with a point of view that fuels my own creativity. It gets me excited to have that actor in the room, excited to have them inspire me again and make my work better. Again, that is the power you have as an actor.
So, with all this in mind, I offer an adjustment to the question. Instead of asking “What do they want to see?” ask “What art do I want to make with time I’m given?” Instead of worrying about pleasing everyone on the other side of the table, which, by the way, no one in the history of acting has ever been able to do 100 percent of the time, treat the audition as an opportunity to act the way you’ve always wanted to act. Do your work, make your choices, but do it for you! That’s what the actors who find success have in common: They are unapologetically confident in their own artistry. You’re the only one who has your point of view and your particular artistic vision. You are not right for every role, every project or to work with every director. You will find the ones you are right for you by owning the idea that your audition is your time to create something uniquely your own. By shifting your thinking, you will begin to audition with integrity, confidence and, most importantly, joy!