Everyone gets nervous, whether it's before an audition, a speech, a performance, or stepping on set. Nerves can range from mild- heart racing, to crippling, debilitating fear, and they get in the way of us giving our best performance. If only we could all be calm at ALL times, be focused and relaxed when we are performing, and completely be ourselves, then we would book a ton of work and be really famous, right? Good luck with that!
As actors, we have to get past this AWFUL thing called auditioning, where we walk into a room of strangers, stand in front of a blank wall, while acting like a monkey and being judged, and try to ACT like we aren't nervous at all. Try doing that when you know that this job will pay your rent for three months and keep your parents off your back for another four. Let's just get it out in the open that auditioning totally freaks us out, but we have to find a way to curb those nerves for two minutes in the room so that casting directors can TRUST us, and put us on stage, on set, etc. without worrying about us breaking down in tears in a fetal position.
I used to battle nerves when I was an actor. Big time. No matter how much work I booked, or how many auditions I went on, or how much training I had, it still crept up on me. I was just good at hiding it. So here are a few ways that worked for me, and my students. Find one that works for you every time, and give yourself a tried and true system to calm yourself before stepping into the room, on stage, or on set.
1. The 4-4-4 System. Chill out. Deep breaths. Yeah, yeah, yeah everyone says it. But do this: In the waiting room, close your eyes. Inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four. Do it four times. Every time you do it, think of inhaling "confidence", and exhaling "fear". Do it again. Inhale confidence, exhale fear. And again. When you get to the last time, think of inhaling your character, and exhaling "you." Your heart will stop racing, your mind will slowly quiet down, and by the time they call your name you head will be clear and you will walk into that room ready to play ball.
2. Learn your damn lines. Wanna freak yourself out? Walk into an audition totally unprepared. Of all the things that are out of your control (height, hair color, age, ethnicity), the one thing you CAN control is being prepared with the scene. I don't mean "sort of memorized," I mean know it so well that you can listen and carry on a conversation, ACTING like you've never said these words before, even though you have worked on it 1,000,000 times. Hold the paper in your hand, but only look at it if you need to. It should feel like second nature. But for the love of god, stop shooting yourself in the foot by not being prepared. When you are prepared and know the scene, and they throw your a curveball (as they always do), you will be ready and available, and half your nerves will disappear. At the same time, you can't be so overly memorized that you are NERVOUS about looking down. Look down if you need to! Who cares? Allow yourself to. It's not a memorization contest, it's an acting contest. Be okay with mistakes, because THEY WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN!
3. Picture it. I mean, close your eyes and picture the audition going well from start to finish. I swear this has done wonders for me. Close your eyes, and imagine stepping into the room, flashing that charming smile, looking at the reader, really listening to them, and knocking the audition out of the park from the first word to the end of the scene. When you finish, imagine getting high fives all around. Then at least if it sucks you had a nice daydream, right? Visualization is a very powerful tool. You can actually trick your mind into believing it's real. So try it. And try it again. Try it until it works for you.
4. Confidence. Fake it till you make it. Seriously. Stop showing that you don't know what you are doing and pretend you are a skilled expert and they would be lucky to hire you. You are an actor, right? Can't you just ACT like someone who is confident, not nervous, and knows EXACTLY what he is doing? No, cause it's hard. But there are huge tell tale signs that someone is freaking out when they walk into the room (hands trembling, sides shaking, avoiding eye contact, mumbling, shoulders hunched, panic in your eyes). If you don't believe that you are the most talented actor for the part, then nobody else will. But if that requires years of therapy, and you want a simple fix in the meantime, do this: Take a few deep breaths and walk into that room with your head high, shoulders back, and act like you already have the job. I mean, look people in the eye and think to yourself "watch this" as you are about to show them something amazing. Do it and commit to it, the way you would fully commit to playing a role. It puts the casting director and the audience at ease because they feel like "you got this." It puts them in the mindset of watching a performance, and makes it a WHOLE LOT EASIER to hire you and put you on set. Cause if you can be in control in the audition, then you can be in control on a huge set with 150 crew members staring at you. Don't let them see you sweat, take the power back, stop being desperate, know your lines, make strong choices, kill the scene, and DON'T APOLOGIZE. EVER. Learn how to ooze with confidence, and the rest will fall in line.
5. Technique. None of this matters if your technique sucks. Your technique is what you have to fall back on when everything else is going to shit. It grounds you, it's your safety net. It lets you take redirection and adjust your choices on the fly. If you have it, it will gently guide you through the scene and save you from disaster. What is "technique" in an audition? Well you can be the best actor in the world but suck in auditioning, and vice versa. Learn to do this. You have an empty room, and nothing real around you to react to--just a reader (who often times isn't giving you much). Technique is what helps you make everything REAL and SPECIFIC, and gives you UNSHAKEABLE CONFIDENCE in your work. The more specific you see everything around you, the more you are IMMERSED in the character and the scene, and the LESS NERVOUS you will be as a result. I find that actors are most nervous when they are vague in their choices, and aren't really SEEING and REACTING to the imaginary world in front of them, because they've never taken the time to really SEE it. Perhaps it's a deep visualization on the world of the scene (the colors, the details, the smells, the feelings around it). Or perhaps it's just really LISTENING to the reader, and having a STRONG POINT OF VIEW about what they are saying. Regardless, the idea is to walk into the audition, and for two minutes or so in front of the camera, LIVE THE LIFE of this character, SEE THE WORLD the way he/she sees it, and respond accordingly, in the most TRUTHFUL WAY possible. The more you fill your mind with these incredible, vivid details, the less room for that external voice to come in and say "you suck!". If you are vague with your choices, not really memorized enough, and aren't confident, nobody will hire you. Ever.
There's so much competition out there. If you are lucky enough to be selected for an in person audition (or self tape, which this applies to as well) from thousands of submissions, then you really want to have your nerves in check. This is what you signed up for, right? Auditions don't have to fill you with anxiety, they can be fun and a chance to play with the script. But you really have to believe that for it to work. You have to be okay with making mistakes, and not spend all your time beating yourself up if it doesn't go the way you planned.
Practice these and find the one that works for you. And at the end of the day, it's really about learning not to give a fuck, right? Just do the work and let it go.