It’s not just you. Acting can be friggin’ hard.
Okay, this happens to my students and it definitely used to happen to me too.
A big audition finally comes through and you do all the work: You get off-book and do your prep, you break it down and understand the objectives and obstacles and actions, you build relationships to the PPOE, you find the rhythm and stakes, etc. You even read it with your actor friend and get it on its feet. But after all this, for some reason you still ain’t buying yourself in the role. (And you can tell — your friend isn’t buying it either.)
How can this be happening after all your training and hard work?
Panic. Code red! You go over your lines 8 million more times (even though you know them). You rethink your choices. Change your outfit. You call your friend and cry.
And let’s face it…the audition probably didn’t go how you wanted it to. (again?)
The problem here is that you think the answer is more effort. Unfortunately, the more you muscle your way through the scene (whether you realize it or not) the more you hold on to your work. And as you probably know, holding on is death for an actor. Plus, after a few of these auditions, the fear of repeating the last few horrible experiences kicks in and makes it ten times harder to drop in. You start to question everything. You blame yourself…you blame the coast you live on…perhaps you even condemn your agent for “roles that aren’t even right for you”.
What is going on and how can you make it stop?!
You haven’t learned how to stop holding on so tight to your work so you can live the scene instead of act it.
I was working with an actor in class (let’s call him Paul) who was struggling with a scene from a one hour cop drama. He had done his homework (which I do believe you must do!) and understood the scene very well. I threw a few adjustments at him to try to see if he could start to play a little more. The more I gave Paul to try, the more shut down he became. I realized he needed to find a quick way out of his head and fear but he was so in there, he had no idea how much pushing he was doing. His eyebrows were going up and down and he was using odd emphases on words that made no sense in the context of the scene…
Once we began a series of exercises to free Paul up and get him off himself and listening again, something kinda magical happened and he began to simply allow his work to be there (vs delivering with effort) and he started living the scene. The class was riveted. They couldn’t believe the shift Paul made in his scene using a few simple (and dare I say, insanely easy!) tools to get there.
**Now for the important caveat: You don’t really “forget your work”. This is a misconception–or just gets explained poorly. Your work simply fades into the background and you become no longer aware of it. It becomes your silent partner.**
While actors always have room to grow when it comes to technique, there are plenty of exercises to help you stop relying on more effort so you can get present in your auditions. Finding your inquisitiveness will help you listen like your life depends on it and allow the all wonderful prep you have done to finally have your back.
Summary? Ditch the effort. Work softly. Use tools that get you listening. Your auditions (and all your future work!) will thank you.