Act Smart!: Shining more brightly in the room

To give a better audition, create a better buffer zone around it.

You’ve soaked up all the common wisdom and uncommonly good tips on how to give the greatest performance possible at your audition (and I’ll include other “auditions” like producer or agent meetings in here, as well). Be yourself, not the self you think they want you to be! Make strong choices! Be able to take direction! Be professional!

Those first three items take considerable time, energy and even expense to master, which is as it should be: as an actor, you are both the instrument and the artist coaxing music from it, which is psychologically and physiologically more complex than other art forms you might have chosen. (Sorry, you picked it! Or rather, it picked you!)

But the last, being a professional, is fairly simple to learn, and quickly. While part of professionalism is constantly improving craft, and thereby your ability to deliver the right performance on the spot, another part of it is just about the kind of logistics and mechanics that any good production person learns early on, namely:

  • Getting a good idea of the scope of a project
  • Removing obstacles
  • Planning for contingencies

The ultimate goal of doing all this is to make room to let the magic happen in the room: to create a buffer zone around you so that your delicate, crazy genius feels free to let loose, which is something it will definitely not feel like if you are worrying about any one of a number of mundane but still important details. Relieve as much of the pressure around the audition, and you free up capacity to deal with the pressure of producing art on the spot.

Creating your own buffer zone

If you’ve ever worked on a good location set, you’ve already seen a lot of this kind of planning in action. Much of it has already happened behind the scenes, from the moment a production team gets a job, the task of figuring out what’s needed, where it needs to be and when has already been figured out. It shows up on your radar as stuff like size cards, prepped wardrobe, call sheets, signage marking the gig as you get close, etc. (A great way to start picking up process tips is to watch how things are done on good and not-so-good jobs.)

Here are a few key areas to address right away, if you haven’t already:

1. Removing confusion around location. Smart phones and GPS have helped a lot here; if you’re old enough to remember the perilous days of Thomas Guides and sudden road closures, you know what I mean. I am still a fan of mapping out routes in advance, and even printing out dead-tree copies to take in the car. For really serious things, a very early morning call in an unfamiliar location, or a very important meeting with an agent, I have been known to do a dry run a day or two before. If that’s not possible, consider having a buddy or two you can call from the road with a high-speed connection and a nice, big desktop or laptop to pull up fresh data. (Obviously, you’ll need to coordinate this in advance, too!)

2. Removing angst around wardrobe. One friend of mine used to do an annual, pre-pilot-season review of her (extensive!) wardrobe, and assemble several outfits which then became her interview “uniforms”; you could amend this to just make sure you have something decent to wear, and fill in any gaps. (Please, ladies, do not forget to have non-grodie foundation wear!) At the very least, plan what you’re wearing the day before by trying it on, and lay everything out. If you have to bring stuff to set, assemble that and put it in your car trunk, or in your bag by the front door.

3. Removing stress around “showtime.” Please, please, even with ubiquitous credit-card parking meters, do yourself a favor and hit the bank once or twice monthly and keep quarters in the car, or make sure you have whatever you need to take public transit without freaking out at the last minute. If you are in the habit of losing your Metro card (or keys, or sunglasses, or whatever) institute a policy of keeping it only in one or two places at the most. Other things you can do include keeping checklists, having an “emergency” kit stocked (water, breath mints, aspirin, etc.) and learning to plan backwards from “showtime”, think of how you (hopefully) plan to catch a flight on-time, working backward from flight departure to TSA pat-down to check-in, etc.

The most pressing needs will vary, depending on your personality. The trick to getting better at this is to think of what you can in the beginning, then assess at the end of each interview, objectively, not to self-flagellate, what went well (i.e., what you should keep in place) and what can go better next time (i.e., how you need to tweak your system).

If you’ve learned anything great that’s improved your own buffer zone, please let me know, the more we share, the better each of us does!

* * *

Further reading on creating a buffer zone:

  • The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp is a terrific overall look at creating excellent containers for letting your creative self flourish. And the lady has the tremendous body of work to prove it!
  • Work the System, by Sam Carpenter is my favorite book on systems thinking. It’s deceptively simple, repetitive, even, in places (by the author’s own admission), but if you can grasp the concepts behind it, you will achieve by leaps and bounds compared to where you’re at now.
  • Finding Your Focus, by Judith Greenbaum and Geraldine Markel is written for people with Attention Deficit Disorder, but it has a lot of useful tips on planning and staying focused that will help anyone with a lot on their plate.

Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Every month I send out a free missive about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you. Check it out, then sign up.

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