True story: One time, I was auditioning for an indie feature at CAZT on Formosa and I was so nervous, the director stopped me halfway through the audition and asked me to do it without the sides because I was shaking and he couldn’t hear the dialogue over the sound of the paper rustling.
To say I have audition anxiety might be an understatement. I blame my high school drama teacher, a brilliant, but very intimidating, somewhat judge-y, person. Regardless of where these chronic nerves originate, I have spent the better part of my professional acting career trying to combat them. In the last twelve years, I’ve tried just about everything to get rid of these annoyingly abundant performance inhibitors, and today, I’m going to share with you 5 of the tricks I’ve learned!
1. Beta Blockers
This is probably the most controversial ‘trick’ I’ll talk about so let’s start with it. A lot of people don’t like the idea of taking medication for audition anxiety and I completely understand. I’m not a huge fan of the idea myself, but I will say that in my experience, it works. Beta blockers reduce your blood pressure by blocking your adrenaline. They slow down your heart rate and open up your blood vessels to improve blood flow. If you’re someone whose nervous energy is physicalized by shaky hands, a fast heart beat, or wobbly knees, taking a beta blocker will calm those symptoms. It doesn’t mean you’re not nervous, it just means it’s not showing. Like any medication, there are side effects, though not many, but it is always important that you speak to your doctor before taking anything. It’s also crucial to note that this isn’t a lifelong fix for nerves. If you’re auditioning twice a day, every day, for the majority of pilot season, you really shouldn’t take a pill for every audition. Use your best judgment. Here is one option for a great beta blocker: ZEN
I will probably bring up therapy at least once per blog if I can find a way. I. Love. Therapy. I think it’s an incredibly important and necessary tool for actors. Find a therapist that you feel comfortable with and make it a habit to see them, especially if you’re struggling with nerves and audition anxiety. Those symptoms started somewhere within you and if you can find the source, unpack it, and pull it apart with a neutral, professional, judgement-free therapist, not only will your auditions improve, but your day-to-day will feel a lot better, too. The Maple Counseling Center in Beverly Hills is a wonderful and affordable place. It’s a non-profit offering therapy for individuals and families on a sliding scale based on your income and the counselors are divine.
I was guest lecturing at a drama school a couple of weeks ago with a fellow actress, who works all the time and is one of my favorites in the industry. When it came time for the Q&A, every student asked about auditioning. How do you get auditions? How do you prepare for them? Do you get nervous? The other actress took the reigns for most of these questions and I found myself taking notes as she eloquently spoke. She mentioned changing your mindset. She acknowledged that she still gets nervous, but instead of thinking of the butterflies and sweaty palms as ‘nerves,’ she said to do what the Gladiators in Roman times used to do: think of it as readiness. She had read somewhere that when a Gladiator was about to fight in the Colosseum, they would thank the Gods for the nerves they were feeling because that meant they were ready and, because they were ready, they were going to win. If they weren’t nervous, that was a bad sign, and like, they probably died. So, all you Gladiator-Actors, next time you’re in a waiting room and you hear your heart beating in your ears, whisper a quick little “thank you” to whatever you believe in because you are ready!
Right now, wherever you’re sitting, I need you to do something. I need you to breathe in for a count of 4 and breathe out for a count of 8. Do it again. Stop reading for a minute. Time yourself. Breathe in for a count of 4 and out for 8 for the next 60 seconds. Good job! This is the newest trick I’ve learned and just tested the other day in an audition waiting room and it works! The science behind this comes from a non-fiction book called ‘SUPERBETTER‘ (put it on your reading list). Breathing in for 4 and out for 8 changes your heart rate variability, which is a fancy way to say, the length of time between your heartbeats. That length of time has a huge impact on your nervous system, so when you consciously switch your pattern of breathing, your nervous system goes from “fight-or-flight” to “calm-and-connect.” I had to google about a thousand medical terms while researching this method to fully understand it, but really, all you need to do is ask yourself this: In an audition waiting room, do I want my body to be in fight-or-flight mode or calm-and-connect mode? Exactly. So, in for 4 and out for 8, people.
The best way to guarantee yourself a nerve-wracking, hand-shaking, head-spinning bomb of an audition? Don’t prepare! Only you truly know if you’ve put in adequate amount of preparation for your audition. You know that when you’ve done ALL your research on the script, characters, writers, producers, and director, when you’ve read the script multiple times, played with the character, explored all the choices, and then challenged those choices, when you’ve looked up information about and then visualized the world they come from, when you’ve gotten definitions for words you didn’t understand and ran the inner dialogue of the character- when you KNOW you’ve done all you can do, you will feel more secure and confident with yourself. Because when you don’t prepare, that’s when the doubtful thoughts come into your head and you wonder if you’ll do a good job, if you’re on the right track with the character, if you’ll stumble on your words, or if casting will like you. That feeling of unpreparedness is real. It’s also really avoidable. Do the work. That means different things for different people, so find out what it means for you. Always be in a class! Audition technique and scene study classes are a great way to figure out how you need to prepare for every audition.
And here’s the final point I need to make. It’s normal to be nervous for auditions. If you think about it, auditions are super weird. Can you imagine any other job interview where you’d be asked to cry on cue, sing sixteen bars of an up-tempo showtune, or pretend you’ve just been shot on a drug bust? No. I’ll say it again. It’s weird, guys. But, it’s also the coolest part of our job. It’s creative and collaborative and validating and exciting, or at least it should be, and it can be!
There’s not a lot we have control over as actors, but one thing we do control? Giving our absolute best to every audition. That’s your time. That’s your room. Do what you gotta do to make it so. Take a chill pill (literally & under medical supervision), take a breath, get off book, say a prayer, do some waiting room pushups, or wear your lucky underpants. After all, it’s just a super weird job interview, nothing to be nervous about. And if you are nervous? Even. Better.