Conquer Your Audition Jitters

by Mark Brandon

Very nervous man

Confidence is the key to conquering audition nervousness.


After twenty-five years of working on both sides of the camera, I've come to a sobering conclusion about acting:

It's really 90% anxiety management and only 10% technique.

I've set this statement apart for emphasis. Most actors unknowingly have this equation reversed. They spend 90% of their precious training dollars and time on the 10% part. Throughout all the months and even years of training, the issue of nerve control is sadly glossed over or insufficiently addressed. I know. I've been a casting director and watched people walk into my office, wearing their uneasiness like Joseph's Technicolor Dream Coat.

I'm not trying to be facetious, here. It genuinely saddens me that otherwise talented performers come in thoroughly prepared, only to lose out to crippling fear.

Kevin Costner once admitted he figured it out early on. He said he realized the industry was looking more for confidence than talent. I can personally underscore that notion by sharing some thoughts from a director with whom I'd recently had lunch. I asked him what was the single most important quality he looked for in actors who audition for him. "Confidence," was the one-word answer he immediately shot back. He said, "For instance, there was this one guy who came in, and was so confident, I swear the temperature in the room changed. I knew the job was his before he even opened his mouth."

The opposite of confidence is nervousness or being self-conscious. By trying to appear perfect in an imperfect, uncontrolled environment (auditioning in front of complete strangers) performers subject themselves to a type of tension that is capable of completely obliterating any shred of confidence. Every actor alive should know that the real culprit is an ancient survival mechanism in the brain and hormone system. It's called the Fight or Flight Response.

Despite our advanced technological era, we're all still wired like our Neanderthal ancestors. Whenever these distant relatives of ours faced a threat like an enemy or ferocious animal, their brains and glands instantly created chemical compounds that caused shallow breathing, increased pulse rate and tense muscles. This condition perfectly prepared them for either engaging the threat or running swiftly from it. This very same survival mechanism plagues us today in the more familiar form we call stress.

As actors in an audition, we bring about the Fight or Flight Response by fearing to appear flawed in any way. Out of that situation, the body senses threat. We also invite further symptoms of stress by entertaining self doubts while performing. Sadly, both mechanisms--perceived threat and perceived self-deficiency--guarantee a one-two knockout punch to your confidence, ruling out any hope of doing a good job. That's because Mother Nature is goading your body into fighting with rage, not auditioning with poise.

In the past couple of years, I've been experimenting with numerous mental and physical techniques that address the Fight or Flight Response. I've finally refined these exercises and distilled them down into a simple 7-step process I call, "The Formula. I've tested it repeatedly with great success on both myself and the students of my workshops. It's an easy-to-follow procedure that amazingly counters all sense of threat, stress and perceived personal deficiencies. And it only takes minutes for its astonishing effects to kick in and work. Some actors have told me it has changed their lives.

What makes The Formula work is the lock you create for each of the Fight or Flight Response's two primary triggers. One trigger exists in the mind. The other, is in the body. Learn to consistently lock up these two triggers and you can overcome audition jitters. Permanently.

The first trigger is what I call the mental loop. It's like a tape we allow to play in our heads over and over, entertaining doubts, or fears of looking foolish. Some of us are so used to it, we don't even "hear" it. This is because we are always comparing or judging ourselves and others.

Our always-comparing mind is another ancient throwback to our caveman ways. We've survived as a species because of our constant judging--discriminating between what is good, better or best. Or even harmful.

In simplified terms, we live out our lives constantly choosing between fear or love. As a result, you can create a lock for this mental trigger of fear by consciously choosing thoughts of love around your audition. I'm not talking about romantic love; I'm merely recommending that actors replace vague fears of inadequacies and failure with previously prepared images of self-assurance.

Incidentally, if you think you don't have this kind of power or choice in the matter, find a photo of people on a roller coaster ride. Compare the number of smiles and laughter to terrified grimaces. Everyone on the ride is undergoing the same physical experience. Everyone is also choosing how to experience it.

The second trigger is in the body. It's the mechanism that provokes the endocrine system into continually shooting stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream, creating the building sense of physical tension.

Fortunately, it too, can be countered, or locked up. It is accomplished through a very deliberate and controlled breathing pattern. Extremely deep, rhythmic breathing signals the body that the threat has passed. Consequently, the mechanism shuts down, the hormones recede and the heart regains its usual pulse rate. As a result, the shoulders drop, the muscles loosen up and a greater sense of relaxation occurs.

I'd love for as many actors as possible to understand and use The Formula so they can, once and for all, play fully and audition fearlessly. I'd love to see far more actors operating only from the fullest possible reaches of their potential. And I want them to walk into their auditions with such utter confidence and self-assurance, they "change the temperature of the room."

If that's the way you'd like to audition, and if that's the kind of impression you'd like to leave producers and directors, it might interest you to know I've just finished my second book and it's all about this subject. I've named it, "THE FORMULA: How to Conquer Audition Fears Forever." In this work, I go into far more detail on how to effectively deal with performance nerves. My publisher tells me it will be available in early Spring.

Until then, breathe deep and choose love.

And break a leg!
Mark Brandon is a native Californian who now makes his home in Vancouver, BC. He has appeared in over 100 commercials, films and TV series. For more audition strategies and career building advice, visit: www.WinningAuditions.com

The preceding was an excerpt from the best selling acting book, "Winning Auditions - 101 Strategies for Actors" (Limelight Editions, NY) written by Mark Brandon.

Copyright © Mark Brandon. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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