There is no magic bullet that will put an end to your audition nerves. The very term incorporates a bundle of scenarios cooked up in our heads to make us all a little bit crazier than we need to be. I wasn't sure what advice to give on how to battle them, even though I get asked for it frequently.
Then last weekend I took Michael Kostroff's workshop, Audition Psych 101, which teaches actors how to to get into the right head space for auditions. I enjoyed his simple, honest (and entertaining!) approach so much that I'm passing on just a snippet of his wisdom here, concerning audition nerves. The key isn't in losing them entirely, but in breaking down your feelings, step by step, to determine what you're really feeling and why. If you like what you read here, you really should check out his workshop the next time he's in town! (PS: He'll be in LA May 6th!)
Part One: Are you excited or nervous?
Excitement feels very much like nervousness, except it's rooted in joy and anticipation, while nerves are rooted in fear and apprehension. It's possible you're confusing the two. If you take an honest look at yourself and decide you're actually excited to be, like, going in for Wicked for the first time, enjoy it! It's good to be excited about auditioning.
Part Two: You don't HAVE to be nervous.
Some people feel that they have to be nervous to make sure they're doing their best. If this is you, you're making yourself crazy! There is nothing wrong with feeling calm when you walk into the room. Work your ass off to prepare, then trust the work (and yourself) on the day of your audition. Kostroff also warns against "cramming" upon arrival. Look over your sides or your song one time in the waiting area, then put it away. Nobody makes a breakthrough seconds before they walk in the door. You're as ready as you're going to be. Own it.
Part Three: A General Fear of Sucking
Let's examine this fear for what it is: a bogeyman living in your closet who never actually pokes his head out and says 'boo,' but he might some day!!
Take a second and be very honest with yourself. On a scale of one to ten, how good are you on your best day? I'd put myself at a 9. Now, be very, very honest. How bad are you on your worst day? Even at my MOST TERRIBLE, I'd give myself a 6. So my suck range is from 6 to 9. That's not so bad! The point is we think there's some bottomless pit of suckage into which we could fall, but there's truly not. With my given range, I'm going to aim for a 10 every time. But even if I'm doing something completely out of my comfort zone that scares the hell out of me, I have the technique and the talent to still land on a 6. And here's the kicker: have you ever booked a show when you were certain you blew the audition? If you haven't, YOU WILL. That's because our suckage has a floor. You can suck by your standards and be so perfect for it in other ways that you still get cast. When I went on my first Billy Elliot audition, the tap was so over my head that I actually went up to the casting director and asked him to let me leave. He didn't, and I booked it, eventually. (For my track the tap turned out to be not that important. Who knew?)
Likewise, you can slay and still get passed over. Unfortunately, that happens all the time too. Terrible people work constantly, while some very talented ones are still waiting tables. That's because the biz is crazy. Not you.
Part Four: Forgetting the Lines/Lyrics
This is a crippling fear for many actors, but actually, no one cares. If you don't believe me, watch this video of Aaron Paul going up in the middle of his Breaking Bad audition:
Part Five: Bonafide Reasons to be Nervous
Parts one to four aside, audition nerves can be totally justifiable. You're walking into a space that doesn't always feel safe, artistically. But let's get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly are you afraid will happen? Some legitimate fears include:
--The accompanist will mess up my song.
--I will freeze on camera.
--This is a huge opportunity, and I may never get this close again.
--If I don't book soon, my agent will drop me.
And so on and so forth.
Kostroff recommends facing down these fears by asking, "And then what?"
Take the first example. What if the accompanist butchers your song?
"Then I might have to start over."
And then what?
"Then they'll think I'm not prepared."
(Actually, if the accompanist messes up, it's usually apparent and not on you, but since fears aren't rational, let's say that's true.) And then what?
"The casting director never calls me in again."
And then what?
"I have to audition for other shows."
(You're going to have to audition for other shows anyway, but okay.) And then what?
Keep going down that path. Most of us don't end by saying, "And then I drive off a cliff and die in a sea of flames." (And if you do, you need to get help.) Most of us say, "I am an actor, and this is what I do, and I'm going to continue doing this even if so-and-so never sees me again. I'll show them."
Because we're resourceful, ambitious and talented.
Part Six: Don't allow your nerves to show.
As actors, we have to live close to our emotions, and we often think it's okay to let it all show. When it comes to nerves, though, we don't have that luxury. This is something Muggles deal with all the time. Would you want to go to a nervous dentist? Fly with a nervous pilot? Would you hire a nervous babysitter? Of course not! You want to work with competent people. The same holds true in our business. No one wants to work with a nervous actor. The people behind the table want to work with someone who's calm and in charge, who's GOT THIS. So maybe the best work you do in the room is convincing everybody that you're not nervous at all. Take a deep breath (it works), smile (it really works), and head into that room, guns blazing.