Family and non-theatre friends (“Civilians” as my friend Jay calls them) are essential supporters in our lives. We’re in a high sacrifice, low payout career. Having normal human beings around can be the key to maintaining sanity and perspective. Still, we occasionally have to translate our odd experiences to those, the fully functional, who have not chosen to be systematically rejected as a way of life. Bless them.
Off we trot to audition after audition. They shout, “Just be confident! Be yourself!” We try not say, “That’s not helpful! It doesn’t mean anything. But thank you for your support!”
It isn’t meaningless.
In fact, it’s flawless. It’s perfect. They are so right on. It is ever so more helpful than my usual, “Tits up!” (Although at the very least, it can’t hurt, right?)
Let me translate.
You’re on the phone with your Mom. You say, “Welp, guess I better go get ready for this audition.” And she says, “Well, you know what you do? You just get in there and be yourself. Break a leg!” (My Mom has stopped saying this due to the audible sighing on my end of the line. I don’t blame her. BUT she USED to. My Dad still does. Turns out they are geniuses. Read on.)
You think, How can I possibly be myself when I’m either terrified or have surrended to hopelessness or am feeling so competitive I don’t even recognize the person inhabiting my body (depending on the audition) and am speaking/singing someone else’s words under someone’s else’s circumstances. I am nothing if not NOT myself. Myself shows up belching in the car afterward, changing into flip flops and cracking something with caffeine I had denied myself until the audition was over, texting Will saying “I’m done. You want Chipotle?” THAT is me. Eager Beave in the audition room is somebody else. They say, “Can you do an Armenian accent?” And this person, whoever she is, says, “YES! Of course! I also clean bathrooms for free.”
You feel me. I know you do.
I once had an audition, I swear to God, that went like this.
DIRECTOR: Are you funny? You seem funny.
ME: (Completely not funny.) Yes. I’m funny.
DIRECTOR: Are you nervous?
ME: I’m always nervous.
DIRECTOR: That’s funny.
DIRECTOR: Don’t be nervous.
Don’t think of purple dinosaurs, lady.
Actually, that ended up being a fairly successful audition. But my true self was sitting at the back of the house eating popcorn and saying, “OH just wait until I tell the other personalities about THIS one.”
So how do we access the humorous, joyous, intelligent and charming individuals we all are when we are also under positive stress. Here’s how:
1. Your material. This is a running theme with me. What you pick, what you are attracted to, the language of the pieces you use are all ways of showing who you are. What are those roles that just scream YOU to you? Do a piece from those shows!
Sidebar: Why not just write something for myself then? Well. I mean this with love. You probably aren’t a very good playwright. Most people aren’t. It’s cool. I’m not. This is very thin ice to tread. BUT if you think you are a good writer, and you think you can write a piece that will blow folks out of the water, then do it. Take a good risk. Make sure it’s active and not a story. I would also suggest saying the piece was written by “Anonymous” because if you say you wrote it, you will have just made a steep hill an even steeper one to climb. BUT, I’m all about authenticity and if you have genitals made of steel, more power to you. Preach!
2. Quit trying to imagine what the director or casting director is looking for. You will never know. Pick material you think is appropriate for the piece. Prepare it well. Audition. Go home and get Chipotle.
In a callback situation, read the play (READ THE PLAY), make strong choices. Let them direct you. Accept that they won’t always direct you. The important thing is how these words come out of YOUR mouth. What YOUR presence is in the role. Yes, YOU. Certainly we would all like to try our hand at playing an age 40 years different from ours cross-gendered with an Italian accent because we are ACTORS! We can play any role! But you know…that’s really more of an academic exercise OR sketch comedy. Being “right” for a role doesn’t mean it’s easy.
But don’t attempt to read minds. Trying to suss out what the director is looking for weakens your choices. They may not even know what they are looking for. OR you might change their mind.
3. Dress nicely but dress in your style. Wear shoes that feel good and make you feel like you look good. Don’t worry to much about “dressing for the part.” Just the other day I heard a director say, “Ugh I HATE that,” followed by a music director saying, “Mmmph I LOVE that.” See? You can’t win. Wear something awesome that feels good. Imagine if there was a movie about you, how would the costume designer costume the actor playing you? In something that made your body rock, that was a more cleaned and ironed version of your normal clothes. It’s like you popped up a notch so the back of the house can see. But then, I’ve been confused for a drag queen. So grain of salt. Grain of salt.
4. Your material. I’m saying it again. Find pieces you LOVE. YOU. LOVE. They are fun. They seem to be tailor made for your skillz. And they exist. For everybody. Find them. Love them. Prepare them well.
What does that even mean!? I actually thought that. For years. I’m not crying in the corner! That’s the best I can do, people. I showed up, didn’t I? Be confident. Hmph. Be electric. Be incandescent. Be stripey.
It reminds me of a song by Steve Martin:
“Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day.
Be warm and human and grateful
and have a good thing to say.
Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike
Be witty and happy and wise
Be honest and love all your neighbors
Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.
Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
Be dull and boring and omnipresent
Criticize things you don’t know about
Be oblong and have your knees removed.
Be tasteless rude and offensive
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional
Put a live chicken in your underwear
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.”
Even the most stoic among us is going to get nervous for certain auditions that hold a degree of importance to us. You don’t get nervous? Pin a rose on your nose, dude. Good for you. A director of mine just told me that she heard Uta Hagen say, “If you don’t nervous. Get out of the business because you don’t care.”
I kind of agree. But that’s neither here nor there because nervousness is not the opposite of confidence. Insecurity is. Confidence is knowing your path. Confidence is not comparing yourself to others. Confidence is standing in your own shoes and presenting who you are without judgement. That’s why confidence is attractive. If you don’t know if you are right for it, (say like RuPaul) how the hell they gonna know you are right for it? Confidence is knowing that whether they call you or not, you are going to go on L-I-V-I-N’ and enjoying the trail you are blazing. And that’s key. You have to blaze your own trail. You know why a lot of directors don’t want you to dress for the part? Because they don’t want a room full of the same person.
You can be nervous and confident at the same time.
“Be new, George. They tell you ’til they’re blue, George. You’re new or else you’re through, George. And even if it’s true, George. You do what you can do….” Sunday in the Park with George
Guess what. You’re new! You might not be young, but you’re new BECAUSE you’re you. Don’t blend in, for the love of god. This is Chicago. We don’t have to play by the rules.
Your material is new because you’ve prepared it with YOUR take on it. This is why I’m begging you to look at your material and ask yourself, “Do I like this piece?” If the answer is “no” or “meh”. Get rid of it. Find something you love. Picking a piece you are itching to share with people is a way to invigorate your auditions. Stand tall. Feel your nerves. Feel the weight of the audition. But know that you are showing them something they’ve never seen before because it’s you performing it from your perspective. THAT is confidence. That’s how you leave them wanting more. Don’t just try to get through. Live in it for that two minutes. That two minutes is a show and you are the lead.
So in conclusion, my Mom and Dad, and your Mom and Dad and your friends are GENIUSES. Be confident! Be yourself! with the addition of Be prepared, you’ve got a battle plan and a no-fail one at that. You’re not going to get every show. You just. Aren’t. You will get the shows that are right for you, the experiences that belong on your path, if you stand tall in who you really are. Being able to show up, do your thang, and walk away towards the next opportunity AS yourself IS confidence.