By Bruce Glover
The auditioning actor lurches in, cheeks frozen into a ghastly smile that looks like a scream for help. Arms fluttering compulsively out of sync, with legs that seem newly-switched on! The whole demeanor – that of a Frankenstein creature, newly put together from ill-matched parts. The voice straining through gaps in lips that seem stapled together, sounding first a blare, then a whisper, shifting unexpectedly back and forth from Peter Lorre to Piper Laurie. The body – a Kafkaesque battle shell, suddenly in metamorphosis to protect that tender, inner core at the impending doom – THE AUDITION!
An exaggeration? Perhaps not, but think back… maybe it was even worse. It’s possible that all this distortion took place beneath the surface. Not wanting to or being able to deal with it “just now,” it was being pushed way down and then candied over with a carefully-crafted guise of relaxation and confidence. A pity! The obvious monster would have to deal with the problem… right now. The other thinks… at last… CONTROL. The fear covered by rehearsed expression, poise and line readings as easy and natural as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but (to the astute eye) the effect is like the mask covering the destroyed face of “The Phantom of the Opera.” The eye sees the actor reacting to the audition like poor old Lon Chaney to a full moon. At least he knew it was going to happen. Some actors don’t have a clue as to their condition. They have gotten so used to pushing it down and hiding it, they don’t know they’ve sprouted fuzzy ears and hair… beyond the help of all depilatories.
The actor’s fear cuts the brain off from the natural senses, creating a true monstrosity – a kind of body-less brain. In a normal state the senses feed a constant stream of information to the brain, but when panic sets in, so does distortion. In nature, an animal threatened with danger is flooded with an adrenal surge abetting fight or flight. If severely injured, nature has prepared a “kindly” way out called “shock,” allowing the about-to-be-eaten animal to slip away into painless death. An out-of-touch actor can lean toward either of these extremes in adrenal surge. The danger is in doing too much… to the point where injury to self or others is possible. A lean toward the clammy-shock state may result in INABILITY TO DO ANYTHING. In humans, an overly fearful imagination, limited experience with pain or the sight of blood, can result (even when there is no serious injury) in death – from shock. It’s doubtful that many actors have died from Audition Panic, but certainly careers have.
Symptoms are not always obvious but are evident to the trained observer. There is a lessening of the free body and facial and vocal expression available when we are in a comfortable rapport with our environment. As this “paralysis” sets in, the cut-off brain starts replacing natural expression (with puppeted, robot-like facsimiles). It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The replacement looks like us, but somehow never is.
To break the pattern, the actor must take logical steps. Perfectionist impatience expects a complete solution to appear in one magic flash. The truth is there. It isn’t any kind of magic, and that scares us. Our fear is what frightens us the most, so we quickly try to push it away. Don’t! IF YOU CAN LEARN NOT TO BE AFRAID OF YOUR FEAR OR YOUR ADMISSION OF ITS EXISTENCE, you can start to use it as a tool. The crucial moment is the one in which you first become aware. Don’t try to push it away, or cover it up. Let it be! Examine it without trying to correct it. Experience it for what it is. It’s there for a reason. Give yourself the courage to find out “WHY?”
Acting auditioning, in particular, is a scary business, so it’s understandable that a person would like some kind of guarantee. The first step is usually making a lot of decisions on line readings that are quickly locked like armor. The good – or great actor, however, is never quite sure what’s going to happen. He incorporates this aspect into the materials of his art form. I like to think of it as a series of potentials – each moment behind a small door, waiting (whether good or bad) to be experienced. The minute you decide ahead of time that you’ve made it “safe for yourself,” you’ve also blown the moment. You will never know what might have been.
Bruce Glover offers acting classes and private coaching, from beginner to advanced levels. Please contact him for more information at: 310.398.2539 or email@example.com