Ask Blair: Coping With Audition Anxiety

Ask Blair: Coping With Audition Anxiety Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers advice about handling auditions, some feedback on controlling spitting, and some tips for people moving to NYC.

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers advice about handling auditions, some feedback on controlling spitting, and some tips for people moving to NYC.

I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

On the topic of auditioning . . .
Question
Hi Blair.
First I'd like to say that I love your articles and have learned a lot . . . I'm 13, and I've been to a few musical auditions and at every audition something bad happens. I thought a major problem was my music and so I switched solos and am now singing a song that I'm very comfortable with and know inside and out. Recently, I attended an audition and struck out BIG TIME. Well, before the audition I was probably as calm as I could have been and was practicing my music and singing beautifully. Then I got up on stage and my knees were wobbly (literally) and my voice got quiet and everything as far as emotion and voice work and expression that I had practiced left and I did very poorly. I was wondering if you have any advice or techniques that I could use and practice to gain the confidence to sing and be judged by other people. I love to act and have no problem on stage talking but when it comes to singing its awful. I would appreciate any advice!! Thanks so much!!
Whitney :o)

Dear Whitney,
Thanks for writing with your questions and your kind comments. First of all, you sound very intelligent and mature for a 13-year-old. Before I give you some tools, I want to tell you not to work too hard at the anxiety stuff because I believe that with practice, if you have the courage to keep going to auditions, you will learn the confidence you need to do well. Just by experience and age. So there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

In the meanwhile, I recommend that you become aware of your breathing. Make sure you are taking deep breaths and such before and while you are in the audition. Anxiety does tend to make the singing support system fail, but the breath will help to keep it alive. I also want to point out that you mentioned "being judged by other people" as part of the audition experience. If you go into an audition thinking "These people are judging me", that will create a lot of anxiety. And then, as you have seen, your own inner critic wants to be beat those auditors to the punch, and you end up judging your performance very harshly, which for the most part, is not constructive. You may want to shift your focus to thinking that you are auditioning to benefit you, not them. This is what you love to do, and you need an audience. So let yourself go for it. Once you start worrying about being judged by THEM, you'll lose your power.

Secondly, recognize that anxiety is not your enemy. Your knees can wobble and still some excellent sounds can come out. If you can fully embrace the anxiety by finding a way to include it in your performance, as the character, or just by honoring that it is there, you can transform it into some very powerful performance energy. When you honor that the audition is a different moment and circumstance than your last rehearsal or lesson with your voice teacher, you can allow spontaneity to keep your performance fresh and alive. Rehearsal is important, but if you connect to what you are feeling the moment you begin the audition (which could be terror) and play with that and see what it does and where it leads you (this takes a lot of self-trust), this will free the energy of performance, instead of trying to crush it by just doing what you've rehearsed.

Anyway, singing can sometimes be more scary and vulnerable than acting. So it takes time to get comfortable with that level of exposure. Through practice you will gain confidence, and learn your own coping skills and what works best for you.

Good luck, Whit!

Dear Blair,
I am a 25-year-old woman. In high school I was cast in virtually every play. I had planned on studying theater in college, but due to circumstances, I was unable to attend college at all. Now, I am a very busy mother and business owner and would like to pursue a hobby of acting in community theatre. Although I have been in about three shows since high school, I find that I am very often not cast. I feel I am a very strong actor, but only a mediocre singer. I don't do well in auditions. I am wonderful to work with. I work hard and get to rehearsals on time and am off book well before required by the director. What advice do you have for me??
A Small Fish in a Much Bigger Pond

Dear Small Fish,
You have confidence in your skills, which is important. It sounds like your best bet would be to work with a coach on your audition skills. If you find a good coach who is insightful and honest, they can help you find out what it is that gets in your way in the audition situation, and help you build the tools so you can really fly.

In one of my columns, I tell the story of an acting teacher of mine who once told another actor to "Stop Auditioning!". The actor was horrified, until the teacher clarified that he did not say stop GOING to auditions, he was just pointing out that the actor was obviously approaching auditions in a way that was defeating. He wasn't looking at them as opportunities to work and be seen: he was instead feeling the need to prove himself, to audition as "the best one" for the job. You can see how this would block one's inherent creativity and natural shine, yes?

Don't worry about your voice being mediocre. What is really important is that confidence and the ability to connect to and communicate the meaning of what you are singing.

If you don't have the money or time for a coach, after reading the answer to Whitney's question (above), I recommend a little book called Loving to Audition, by Larry Silverberg. I think it's a great read for actors who struggle with auditioning. You can order it at the Drama Book Shop if they don't sell it near you (212) 944-0595.

Please feel free to contact me again and let me know how it goes.

Question
Dear Blair,
I am a 26-year-old male who will graduate next year from California State University, Fulerton with a BFA in musical theatre performance. I am planning on moving to New York as soon as possible after graduation to get started with workshops, classes, coaching and AUDITIONS!!!!! My question to you is: what advice do you have for me? I'll be moving clear across the country, basically on my own. I plan to go with a day job lined up (which should be no problem with contacts I have out here), take classes and start auditioning for any and all roles I match. What advice do you have for me? Please let me know!! Thanks in advance!
Tune Man

Dear Tune Man,
Congrats on taking the plunge. You are brave! The advice I could offer to you, is to BE PREPARED, and be prepared even to discover you didn't prepare enough.
-Get a map of the city. Come visit for a week or two. Look at neighborhoods you may want to live in, figure out the subways. Become aware of rent prices. Create a budget and work out your finances.
- Make sure you have a phone number and /or service number and print it ASAP on your resumes.
- Be prepared to be lonely and possibly at times, afraid.

- Be prepared to wait on LONG lines for auditions (come with a good book, bills/checkbook, scripts, etc.)
- Be prepared to be rejected and rejected and rejected.
- Be prepared to get cast when you least expect it.
- Be prepared to meet important people when you least expect it.

You will eventually meet great people to have lots of fun with. It's a great theatre town, and there is lots to take advantage of culturally and socially.

Get into a class fast. It's a wonderful way to build skills, confidence, and community. You can always call me to see if one of mine will be running. Back Stage has plenty of ads for good classes as well.

I hope this helps. Have a great last year.

Responses to Last Week's Ask Blair, on spitting:

I am a theatre buff and some years ago, I attended a performance of 42nd Street with one of my favorite performers, Jerry Orbach. As luck would have it, I was in the first or second row. I developed a real appreciation for some of the "hardship" duties of being a performer as I watched Orbach shower his co-star throughout the show. Whew! She was a trouper (I can't remember her name, unfortunately).

Thanks.
Mark Barbash

Dear Blair,
This is in reply to "PS the S"... Years ago, I attended a production of American Buffalo at Long Wharf with Al Pacino in the lead. Mr. Pacino has an excess saliva condition -- the people in the first two rows regularly got sprayed. However, I must point out that this condition has not stopped Mr. Pacino from having the most stellar of careers.

"Agnes"