Years ago there was an actor here in Chicago who used to book a lot of commercials, parts on TV and films and voiceovers. He always had a positive outlook and he was one of only a handful of actors in town making a living at acting.
When I’d see him in the waiting room for an audition I would automatically give up and think, “Why did they even call me in?” Because I knew he’d get the part.
One time after an audition, I asked him “What is your secret of getting so much work?”
He said simply: “I look at an audition is my opportunity to perform. It’s my time during the day where I get to come in and perform, showing them what I can do.” As he spoke, you could see the joy coming from his face. I did not look at auditions that way. In fact, I resented auditioning and did not even know it.
That actor gave me that advice at least 10 to 15 years ago, but I’m a slow learner and did not fully understand it until last week.
Lately, I haven’t been auditioning much, and I’ve been improvising even less, and I need that outlet, not only for professional reasons but for psychological ones. So when my agent called and said he had an audition for me for an independent short film, I jumped at the chance. Sure, I liked the script and loved the character, but I wanted to perform.
Typically, when I get an audition I am filled with anxiety because I put so much pressure on myself for getting the part, which is really more about me validating my existence than getting the part. But this time was different. I felt excited and happy to go in and perform and show them what I could do with the part. The thought that “I have to get this part or I am a piece of shit” was gone.
So I hired an on-camera coach, Catherine Head, and even that was different. Instead of thinking, “God, Catherine, help me get this part. I need it for my low self-esteem,” it was replaced by the excitement of getting to learn from her. This was not me. Catherine gave me lots of tips I had heard before, but this time, I heard them differently, and in about an hour, she had me in good shape for the part.
The next day, I went to the audition with my new mantra: “I want to perform. I want to perform.” As I sat in the waiting room with the other actors, I could hear laughter coming from the closed casting room door like there was a party inside and I wasn’t invited.
Sometimes I can use that to psych myself out, but I’ve been around long enough to know that just because you have the room dying in laughter does not mean you going to get the part. I have been on both sides of that equation before. Finally, the door opened from the casting room and out shot three actors. One of them was Brian Bolland, who had been on the Mainstage at Second City and was someone I like and respect. I forced a theater hug on him and he said, “You are perfect for this part.” He knew my work and I felt he meant it, and I really appreciated.
Then I went into the room. I got to audition with the two other actors, which is always better than just reading the lines with the casting person’s assistant or the intern. Then I did what I always do: my nerves and my neuroses kicked in and I rushed through the scene forgetting my new mantra. Then the director gave the three of us notes, and he told me to slow down, which was a note Catherine had given me, and told me that my character was a know-it-all. The second time through, I took his direction and something amazing happened — I discovered the character. It was the most fun I had performing in a while, and I felt proud of what I did.
On the ride home, for the first time in years, I didn’t second-guess myself and my choices or beat myself up, because I knew I had given it my best. That night, I checked my e-mail, and my agent contacted me saying congratulations, the filmmakers wanted to check my availability to do the film.
I hope I end up getting to do this part, because I want to keep performing.
Thanks for continuing to be such a big fan of my blog! I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching only one more Fundamentals of Art of Slow Comedy Class this summer starting on June 21st. I limit this class to 12 people so you get the reps you deserve and the plenty of personal attention. So whether if you are a seasoned improviser looking for a new approach or relatively newbie to improv, I would love to work with you. Have a great summer. — Jimmy