You're up next. You are sitting in the waiting room running your lines over and over. You are completely prepared, but still your palms are sweating and you are freaking out. After all, it's a big guest starring role and would pay you lots of money. What if you mess up? What if they don't think you are good? What if you get bad feedback and your agent drops you? Your mind races in a million different directions, and it's hard to stay focused on the task at hand. I have been there. Everyone's been there.
Here are the best ways to get over nerves at auditions, or at least to keep them at bay. Use one, or use a combination of them. Print this out, keep it with you, put it on your mirror, and try it before every audition. Once you have your "ritual" that works for you, I think you'll find you book more work.
- "Act" like a confident person. You are an actor, right? Walk into that room like you own the place, look people in the eye, trust your preparation, and don't let them see you sweat. You would be amazing at how far you can get with confidence. Even if your knees are shaking, take on the character traits of someone who is good under pressure (head up, shoulders back, eye contact), and let them know they can trust you if they put you on set tomorrow. If you have never worked on a network TV show before, it's important to show them you are good under stress, as you are about to step onto a set with 175 crew members staring at you. The audition is where you show them you can handle anything, where you earn their trust, and where you recover from mistakes like a true pro. Act like you already have the job. Fake it till you make it, right?
- Deep breaths. When you are in the waiting room, practice the 5-5-5 rule of breathing. Inhale for 5, hold for 5, and exhale for five. It instantly slows down your heart rate, which makes you more calm, more present, and more relaxed. Write "Breathe" at the stop of your script, and throughout the scene. You'd be amazing how often we forget to breathe in a scene. It always brings you to a more present place.
- Know your lines. Seems simple, right? The number one way to make yourself more nervous is to not be secure with the lines. Run the lines with another actor beforehand, hear them out loud, write them out, use an app, do whatever you need to do to make those lines second nature. Nobody cares if you look down at the script in the scene here and there, so take the pressure off yourself. Just stay in character and keep the scene moving, and be open to adjustments in the room. If you really know why you are saying these lines, you won't get locked into a speech pattern, you won't obsess about being perfectly memorized, and you can really bring spontaneity to the words.
- Listen, listen, listen. Okay, you know the lines backwards and forwards. Now you have to listen, and have a real conversation. Don't anticipate the lines, just let each line affect you, and react from moment to moment. Make it seem like they have never heard these words before. How do you feel about this person and what they are saying? The more you focus on the reader, on your partner in the scene, the more you think about what they are saying, and being present enough to hear these words (as if for the first time), the more your nerves dissolve, and the more that self-critical voice dissolves away.
- Remind yourself to have fun. You will be auditioning for most of your career, so you have to learn to love it. It's a chance to play, to disappear into another world, to be present and imaginative for two minutes. Nobody is forcing you to be there, and nobody is holding a gun to your head. Treat it like this fun little hobby. If you get the job, cool. If not, that's okay too. You don't have to be Al Pacino or Meryl Streep. Just be you, and be okay with not being the best actor on the planet. All you can control is how prepared and present you are. The rest of it has to do with type (eye color, hair color, height, weight, ethnicity).
- Visualize the audition. When you are in the waiting room, shut your eyes. After you have done the 5-5-5, picture the audition from start to finish. Picture walking into the room calmly, then disappearing into the scene. Let your imagination run wild. Picture everything around you--the furniture, the temperature, the people you are speaking to, and how you feel. The more vivid the details, the more it will create a physical response in your body, and the more calm you will be when you enter the room. You have to learn how to transform a sterile audition room into the world of your character. Fill your head with vivid details, and there won't be room for you to be second guessing yourself.
- Focus on sensations. An old therapist taught me this. When you are about to go into the audition, focus on different parts of your body (i.e. your toes touching the ground, the feel of your breath, your hands, the temperature of the room). How does it feel? Really focus on it. It slows down all of those crazy thoughts and brings you into the here and now. That's where great auditions are born.
- Cue up the meditation podcast. These can be wonderful, and really quiet the find to find that wonderful place of stillness and focus. Find a guided meditation podcast that you can listen to in the subway, in the car, on the train, and in the waiting room. There is nothing better than having someone reminding you to "breathe" and "let go" right before you walk into an audition room.
- Create a Mantra for yourself. "Watch this." or "I release the need to get this job." or "This is gonna be awesome" or "I don't really care if I get this" are all ones I've used. Write it at the top of your script (right next to "Breathe"), and use it every time. It can be empowering, and really give you the jolt to own the scene and deliver a great performance. Find one mantra that works, and use it every time. It will actually start to release chemicals into your body that will calm you down.
- Focus on the Opening Moment. When you are in the waiting room, instead of focusing on how nervous you are, start thinking about what happens right before your scene. These scenes usually start in the middle, and the character is physically and emotionally coming from a certain place. What were you doing right before the scene started? How do you feel? Picture everything, the characters, the clothes, the room, and all the circumstances around it. You will walk into the room already grounded in the scene and ready to be present, without needing to "warm up."
- Allow for mistakes. By allowing for mistakes to happen, and releasing the need to be perfect, you will be much more relaxed in your auditions. It doesn't matter if you make a mistake, it matters how you recover from it. If you forget a line, just stay in character, look down at your script, and find it. Trust me, it doesn't matter. You don't get extra points or a gold star for being perfect. Simply listen and exist in the scene, and sustain your character throughout. Mistakes are good, and force you into the present. The most realistic acting happens when something "unplanned" happens in a scene. Don't be afraid of it.
- Don't worry about what "they" want. If you obsess about "playing the breakdown," or "giving the casting director exactly what they want," you will lose your identity and personality in the scene. It's about you taking the power, putting your unique stamp on it, and not apologizing for it. With that comes confidence, and with that the nerves dissolve away and you are ultimately a better auditioner. Let your personality come through, be yourself, be authentic, and let the camera pick up on that truth. The more you "try", the more "effort", the more your nerves show up on camera. If you trust your work, and trust that you are present in the scene, ultimately it will be a more relaxed, effortlessly confident performance.
Want to learn more about this? Check out the "Dealing with Nerves" chapter of Matt's book "10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: 2nd Edition" on Amazon.