Linear Thinking

We all develop different strategies to get us through the day.  We involve ourselves with habits, both good and bad that help create a semblance of consistency and security.   One of these strategies is seeing the world in a linear fashion.  When we think in linear forms, we are thinking and behaving as if life existed in a straight line.  A to B to C.  Moreover, this way of thinking and behaving implies a cause and effect relationship.  If we do this, then that will automatically follow.   What this does, is create the illusion of security.  We feel as if, by believing in a cause and effect relationship, things will go as planned, and life will continue as normal.

However, what we often discover, is that there is no apparent cause and effect relationship to many things.  How are we to explain great, unexpected joys, or tragedies that we encounter on a frequent basis?  Life has a way of interfering with plans and straight line paths. -- Meeting a new best friend, or a future partner with whom you may have a child -- or on the other side of the coin, 9-11, natural disasters, and the reality of mortality.  

When we confine ourselves to this linear existence, we doom ourselves to a life without wonder.  We think of each moment as predictable, with the great possiblitly of boredom entering our lives.  More than that,  though, we miss out on the present moment.  If we are determined to get to that point along the line, we miss the journey.  How many times have we had an appointment at a given time, and focus solely on just getting there?  The rush to reach that end, takes us away from experiencing that moment.   

Experiencing the moment is one of the most important thing that an actor must do.   To be there.   To exist in that space, in all of its glory and specificity.  If we are able to practice being in the moment in life, then we are preparing ourselves to be able to do the same in our craft.  

Unfortunately, society has a stake in keeping things linear, copacetic, and orderly.   Without order, society could not exist.  But, this is where the actor and artist diverge from that structure.  As actors, we need to pay attention to the periphery, the world outside the straight line.  Undoubtedly, it is safer to live a linear existence.  It is simpler to continue on auto-pilot, so that inherent dangers of our lives are apparently pushed far into the background.  In doing so, though, we are also losing out on great joy, and the joy of truly creating.

Impulses that we receive, impulses that give rise to great work, come from all places.   They are all around,  all the time.   Unlike the rest of society, we don't have a choice in opening up to heightened awareness of the periphery.  It is our obligation to do so.  Without opening up to the impulses out there, we are destined to remain on that linear path, where we not only doom ourselves to convention, but also to a lack of originality in our work, and we lose out on the intensity, wonder, and passion in our lives.

Slow the world down.   See what is around you.  If you live in a city, as most actors do, take a look above the 5th floor.  You will find a world that you never knew existed.   It is a start to letting the world in, and allowing the stuff of the world and of life to fill you.  

You will find that you will have so much more to give back.


With the coming of fall, the summer's dearth of auditions will turn into a wealth of opportunities.   Auditions abound!  Plays, film projects (both independent and film school), television, web series, play festivals, will all be gearing up for production.   If you haven't already, now is the time to begin to ready yourself to score a job.

Go to EVERY film school and find out where to send your material, so that you can be entered into their data base.

Successful auditioning is very much a part of where your work is overall.   For example, there is a huge difference between going into an audition with the confidence of just having finished a project, or a great scene in class (or working on one), than having been dormant for weeks or months.  There are many "auditioning workshops" that will be willing to charge you hundreds of dollars to give you an "experience" of the auditioning process.  Ultimately, though, if you don't have the confidence in your work,  those workshops are useless.  In fact, for the most part, I would suggest saving your money, and investing it in a way that would be more meaningful to your career.

That being said, here are some tips that I have found enormously useful in my 40 years auditioning as an actor, and witnessing the audition process as a director.


It is important to be able to study the material, in order to give the best possible impression. Unfortunately, there are still a few directors who would rather, for some misguided reason, have you read cold.  This makes absolutely no sense, as the audition should not be a test of one's ability to read off the page.  Directors who do this, are usually inexperienced, and should not be taken seriously.  Some people are better cold readers than others. That does not make them better actors.   Fortunately, most directors want to see actors do their best work.  They want their decision to be easy.   They want someone to come in and "take the part".  In order to do that, you need to get the sides with as much time as possible, in order to show them what you've got.


There is nothing worse than sitting in an overcrowded room with a bunch of nervous actors.  Most will be judging each other (but pretending not to), going over their sides audibly, with line readings that make little or no sense, trying to find ways to psych each other out (usually by talking about their most recent credits or auditions -- real or imaginary), and some will even resort to doing supposedly Method based relaxation exercises, gyrating themselves into rather extraordinary positions, making very unusual sounds, and generally appearing demonically possessed.  

Getting to the site within ten minutes of your scheduled time will help you avoid all of that.  You should give yourself enough time to take off your coat, look over your sides, and wait for your name to be called. 


When you are studying the text, it is important to note that even in the smallest of scenes, you have to know what you want -- your objective.  Understanding your objective will give form to your choices, and help insure the kind of specificity that will hone your reading.   I have seen so many  actors at auditions work in a way that lacked specificity, and instead relied on emotional displays, that are usually not that impressive, and don't warrant a callback.


Most, if not all scenes have conflict.  Sometimes, the conflict is obvious, sometimes it isn't.  Your challenge is to determine what the conflict is.  The simplest way of defining a conflict is: ONE PERSON WANTS SOMETHING, AND THE OTHER DOESN'T WANT TO GIVE IT TO THEM.  This is true in acting, in life, in geopolitics, you name it.  Understanding the conflict and playing the conflict with a STRONG CHOICE is imperative in being noticed.  You would be surprised at how often actors fail to do this.  As I mentioned above, (and it bears repeating) oftentimes, actors will come to a reading with a feeling, or an attitude and expect it to fly.  It doesn't.  

Most of the time, believe it or not, directors will not be skilled enough to be able to say to an actor, "make it stronger".  Most will just smile, say "thank you", or "that was great", and you will never hear from them again.   On the other hand, if you come in with a strong choice, one that is imbued with energy, courage, and passion, it is much easier for a director to say, "can you take it down a notch?".   If you hear those words, you can pretty much know that you have made an impression and will be getting a callback.


Doing so reminds the powers that be that no matter how good the audition is, it is still an audition and not a performance.  Keeping the script with you gives you the added benefit of being able to go to the text, if need be.


It is your time to shine.  Take your time.  Create the space the way you would like.  If you need a chair, use one.  If you feel more comfortable sitting, sit.  If you need something from the reader, ask them. Remember, they want to see your best work.  Create the environment that will allow you to do your best work.


There may be times where you might have questions regarding something specific in the text that may affect your choice.  It could be something involving  the backstory, or something as simple as the correct pronunciation of a name or even a word.  Asking in advance, is a way of assuring that you are on the right track, and will allow you to go full steam ahead with the choices that you want to make.  There is no "penalty" for questions that are relevant.  However, if you brazenly go into a reading, and then immediately mispronounce a name, a city, a mythical country, or a word, the quality of your reading will drastically decrease.  

Notice, I said "RELEVANT QUESTIONS".   This does not mean that you want to get chatty with the casting director or director in order to get more face time.  Everyone is on a schedule, and those that are, like nothing less than an actor who is unnecessarily taking up their time


As you read, make sure that you are connecting with the reader and not constantly looking at the script.  Assumedly, you will have had enough time to study the text and become familiar with it.  Trust that, and when you do find yourself needing a line, get back to the eye of the reader asap.  Remember.  some readers are good, some are horrible.  It doesn't matter.  The camera, or the eyes, will be focused entirely on you.  There will be times when you will get a callback or a job based upon your active listening, as much as your speaking.  


When you finish your reading, it can be an awkward situation, especially if you are standing around waiting for reinforcement that may never come.  Regardless of what is said or not said after you read, it had no bearing on whether or not you get the callback or job.  The powers that be are very skilled in getting actors out of the room, for fear that to not do so, may lead to an emotional scene. If they want to talk to you, they will.  But, don’t be deceived.  It may lead to nothing, or it may be an indication of something spectacular.  There is no way to tell.   Either way, it is important to leave the room with as much confidence as you had when you entered it. 

Once you leave, though you may be tempted to do so, find a better way to spend your time, rather than replaying every line in your head, and chastising yourself for not delivering a particular line in the same fashion as you had in your living room.  Obviously, this a pointless exercise.   Instead, go to the gym!  Listen to some music!  Take a walk!  Phone a friend!  Or, take a breath, and be thankful just to be in the race -- and to be alive! 

And if all else fails, well, that is what drugs and alcohol are for…


Seriously, though, auditioning should be looked at as a learning experience.  With each audition, you are building that muscle, and getting stronger for the next one -- and there will be a next one!

Above all, remember that it is a privilege to be able to practice your art, and to have the opportunity to share your work with others, even at an audition.