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The Essentials

Top tips to help actors approach auditions and self-tapes with confidence

I’ve done a lot of auditions. I’ve been acting professionally for 30 years, performed on stage and screen in the UK, Ireland and Australia, and ran a theatre company in Melbourne for six years. I’ve worked across multiple genres: drama, comedy, musical theatre, Shakespeare, sitcom, feature film, short film, TV, movie, soap opera – and I’ve had to audition for virtually all of those roles. Thanks to all this, I have some valuable experience when it comes to auditioning. Here are my top tools and tips for how you can approach auditions with confidence:

Change your mindset for auditions

The power dynamic in an audition room can feel like casting directors and producers are on a different level to actors, which is why I encourage you to start changing your mindset to think of it as a peer-to-peer relationship. Remember: they need you. From the casting team’s point of view, it’s a search for a solution to their casting problem, and that solution might be you.

It’s important to trust casting directors. They’ll be working closely with a director to fulfil a vision they have. They’ll be looking to serve the needs of the material, the production company and the director. If we’re objective, we’ll see that most roles have been cast well, and the actor embodies the character in a way that no one else could. Not always, but often. So, if they’re asking you to audition, they see something in you that aligns with their vision of the character. Allow that to fuel your confidence.

Auditions are opportunities to perform

Auditions are probably the most high-pressure situation that an actor faces. Of course, there are other times when our stress levels are high, such as opening nights or our first day on set, but in order to get to that, we have to audition. The stakes are high because getting the job is so important to us, so the nerves kick in and the stress levels tend to go up.

We get nervous because we’re vulnerable when auditioning. It can feel deeply personal for us actors. I often felt as if my entire value and self-worth were up for evaluation, but I’ve realised that’s problematic as it creates a win-lose paradigm. The idea that I must be the winner is a function of the ego, so it’s natural that we bring that because we want the role. A lot of the pressure we feel is about having to be the ‘winner’.

In reality, you’re not going to get most of the auditions you do, which is why it’s really important to start shifting your thinking and viewing auditions as opportunities to perform. Commit to being really well prepared and having fun. You love acting, right? You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t, so think of every audition as a chance to do what you love.

Make it hard for casting directors to ignore you

The good news is that you don’t need a lot of credits to be considered professional. Performing under pressure is what makes you a professional, and every actor who’s gotten their first role has demonstrated a level of professionalism to get it.

Casting directors, writers, producers and directors want to work with the highest level of professional talent available. A lot of actors make casting directors’ jobs easy by not doing the preparation and allowing the nerves to overwhelm them as a result. You’re aiming to make it hard for the casting director to ignore you, and easy for them to put you on their shortlist.

What’s been most frustrating for me personally was not necessarily the roles I didn’t get (although that’s disappointing for sure), but the auditions I didn’t work hard enough at preparing for. Because I wasn’t prepared, my work was affected, and I put myself out of the running. I promised myself that I’d never let a lack of preparation lose me a role again. While I don’t get the role most of the time, at least I know I’ve done my best.

Do your preparation so you can approach auditions with confidence. Remember the five P’s: Professional Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!

Read more about doing the preparation work to create compelling characters.

What is confidence?

Confidence is the main currency in our industry. It means feeling sure of yourself and your abilities, but not feeling superior to others. It’s a quiet, inner knowledge that you’re capable.

This is such a precarious industry (with a fair amount of rejection as standard), so there are lots of opportunities for negativity to creep in. It’s important to know what that looks like so we can take measures to combat it.

Some of the negative feelings that can come up for us around auditions are insecurity, fear, uncertainty, and nervousness. Your inner critic and saboteur may also make an appearance. Learn how to deal with imposter syndrome when it raises its head.

Now let’s look at the positives. A confident person:

  • Does what they believe is right, even if it’s unpopular.
  • Is willing to take risks and commits to their choices.
  • Admits their mistakes, learns from them and takes direction.
  • Accepts a compliment.
  • Is optimistic and believes in themself.

Confidence is the willingness to try things and fail, but know that you’re still okay.

How do you build confidence?

Here are some ways to build your confidence:

  • Complete tasks
    Even if they’re little things, knowing you can complete those successfully will build your confidence when it comes to completing more important tasks like succeeding in an audition.
  • Set small, achievable goals
    Setting these every day, week and month will help build you up to a larger vision. It also helps to keep you active and your craft alive.
  • Practice
    Practice self-tapes, train and take classes. Work on your craft.
  • Prepare
    Invest time in preparing for auditions when they come along.
  • Move out of your comfort zone
    Make choices about creating your own work. Get a group of your actor friends together and read a play. Film something. When I wasn’t getting any auditions, I started making my own work. It has been so important for me to create a belief in myself as an artist and build my confidence. It has allowed me to walk into audition rooms as a fellow practitioner, and so I would encourage you, in whatever little way you can, to move out of your comfort zone.

Read more about how to reclaim confidence as an actor.

Feeling powerful in your performance

In your audition, you want to make brave, considered choices about your character’s life, and it’s not always possible to do that if you’re only focused on getting the role. You’ve got to stay out of the outcomes mentally, as you’re powerless over them. However, you are not powerless over your performance.

We are powerless over:

  • How you fit with the rest of the cast – there might be a family cast that has a dynamic you don’t fit with.
  • What little time you have with the material.
  • The mood of the casting director, producer, etc. – they’re human and may not relate to you.
  • How you look relative to the rest of the cast – similar to fitting in with the cast, you just might not be right for the part.
  • The type of audition – many things might only be on Zoom or through self-tape now as that is the way the industry is going.

Things within our power are:

  • Our skill at auditioning.
  • Our professional attitude.
  • The detailed analysis of the script: what are the stage directions telling you? What is the punctuation telling you? What physicality is there? What emotional clues are there?
  • Going after your objective with focus and intention.
  • Your eyeline – getting used to being on camera, particularly in self-tapes, creating the world and the relationship to the other characters.
  • Relationship and stakes – you can create the relationship and personalise it for yourself, giving it history and meaning. That can create the stakes in the scene.

How to conduct yourself in the audition room

If you’re getting called in to see the director, you ought to be confident that they see something in you that’s right for the role, and they’ve liked your offer. Here are some things to think about for the audition room, whether it’s online or in person:

  • Research
    Firstly, do your research on the people you’re meeting and the show you’re auditioning for. Even if you don’t use the research, having it to hand will make you more confident.
  • Presentation
    You are your business, so how you present yourself is important. Remember that everything you do is an offer, and the quality of your acting offer is judged by everything else you offer – the way you move, the way you talk to them, the way you talk about yourself and your professionalism.
  • Impression
    How do you want them to feel about you? What impression do you want to make with your attitude, your posture, your demeanour, your greeting, your exit?
  • Mindset
    Don’t treat them as an authority figure. Remember: peer-to-peer. We are all professionals.
  • Yourself
    One question that can sometimes come up is, “What have you been up to?”

My personal view is that unless they have specifically asked, I would encourage you not to list your acting credits at this point. Talk about something from your life that is positive and exciting; an aspect of your life that you’re enthusiastic about. Something that you care about that excites you, so it changes your personality and demeanour. They can then see who you are as a person and if you’re somebody that they want to have around.

Consider these audition room don’ts:

  • Don’t try to show them how good you are. Remove any obligation to impress them in your work. Focus on what your character wants and go after that. If it’s not serving the scene, it’s not required. Keep it as a conversation. You have a need in the conversation, and you’re trying to get that need met from the other person.
  • Don’t be needy as an actor or grovel.
  • Don’t be late, hungover, high or distracted.

Consider these audition room do’s:

  • Learn the lines.
  • Show up and be yourself – this sometimes takes practice, but just have a sense of what you’re going to talk about. This will make you feel more relaxed.
  • Listen and take direction.
  • Ask questions if you need clarity, especially around eyeline.
  • Ensure that your technical setup is working if you’re online – let them know if you’re having issues. Try not to panic. Technical problems happen but let them know.
  • Connect with the material and the reader – focus on the other character; they are always more important.
  • Have fun! When we fully immerse ourselves in play, we’re focused, we’re uninhibited and we’re natural and authentic. I believe that’s the quality we ought to bring to our work. We’re present and we’re committed to the world of ‘make-believe’.

This article was written from notes taken at Des Fleming’s ‘Confidence in Auditions’ session at Spotlight’s Open House. If you’re a Spotlight member and would like to sign up for future events like this one, check your membership email settings to ensure you’ve opted into receiving our newsletters.

Des Fleming has been acting professionally for 30 years on stage and screen in the UK, Ireland and Australia. He also teaches Acting for Camera at Mountview to undergrad and post-grad students. Des runs online workshops and a weekly in-person scene study class in London. You can follow Des Fleming on InstagramFacebook and YouTube. If you’d like to find more about Des Fleming, his classes and workshops, visit the website – Desflemingacting.com

Photo credit: Ivan Pantic / iStock