There are two sets of guidelines that follow. The first is a more general approach for anxiety as it lives and breathes in your every day life. The second is a more isolated approach of how to manage it specifically as it applies to acting and auditioning.
I have anxiety. Don’t deny it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t lie. Don’t deflect. All of these forms of running away, “flight”, empower or heighten the anxiety.
You want to look at it from its origins, its birth and the point of inception. This might not be when you first sense it, as you may sense it first once it has been alive and running wild in you for minutes, hours or even days previously to you becoming aware of it. ‘Long after the train has left the station.’
The more curiosity you have about what it is and what you are experiencing the less you will judge yourself. And the earlier you do this the easier it is to direct and control the anxiety.
Carefully bring your attention to your body and scan each sense.
A. What do I see? Colors, shapes, textures etc.
B. What Do I hear? Within me. Near me and at a distance.
C. What do I smell? Sweet, bitter, sharp, subtle.
D. What can I feel (touch)? My clothes, the floor, my chair the air etc.
E. What sense (body sense)? My heart rate, my guts, my breathing.
A stick. Allow you to see the stick. Now stand with feet shoulder with apart. Extend you arms to your sides with palms to the ceiling. Now close your eyes and keep them shut. Feel your feet on the floor. Sense your hands in the air. Recognize your breath. BANG! Take note of those things I just asked you to focus on. What has happened? What are the changes you recognize? How has your sensitivity changed? “I am going to hit you with this stick. Not hard. But it will be firm. As I walk around bring your focus to your senses, your hearing, your smell, your kinesthetic sense (what you feel near, vibration) note your breathing and your thoughts.
Now, open you eyes and move directly to your notebook without making a sound. Write what you experienced before the bang, after the bang and as I walked around.
Everyone please gather on the stage floor in front of me. I want you to take moment to wander amongst each other looking each other in the eye without make a noise. Now face me.
One of you will be asked to get naked, or as close to naked as you will dare.
Now count off 1…2. All the 2s may sit and all the 1s must remain.
Again I want you to look each other in the eye and then again face me.
I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10. Is it more than five or less than five? All of those who guessed ... May sit down. (*Unknowns/uncontrollable)
Of those remaining please remove one article of clothing and again look each other in the eye then face me.
If you are truly an actor and have the courage to expose your vulnerabilities and your inner fears then exposing your body should not be a challenge.
Who is terrified right now? OK this person and this person sit down. (*Random.)
OK you step to the side. Group 2 now get up.
Repeat the steps until there are two actors left on stage.
Remove a piece of clothing from the person in front of you…
Everyone immediately begin to write in your journal what your experience was during this exercise.
- What you felt physically start with guts, breathing etc.
- Where your mind went, thoughts, images etc.
- What your feelings were fear, anger etc.
- What it was like to look in each other’s eyes?
- What it was to sit down and then get back up.
- What it was to remove a piece of clothing?
These exercises are designed to heighten your awareness of how you develop and experience anxiety. First in a physical sense and second in a psychological sense. The creation of a situation/circumstance containing unknowns/uncontrollable is labeled as danger and therefor we go into fight or flight mode. The physical exercise was slightly more fear based than anxiety because there was a real danger or threat, but it is a great way to recreate the condition the body enters into with anxiety. The physical and psychological manifestations of anxiety are not mutually exclusive but more often than not it is the psychological that initiates the condition. Recognizing how you experience anxiety and what is process of development within you is holds the key to disengaging and eventually taking control.
You have begun to recognize and acknowledge the conditions physically and psychologically of your anxiety now you want to begin the next step allowing. There are several ways to approach this step and finding the best perspective for you personally is important.
In a state of anxiety we become hyper self-critical and convincingly go to thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, incapable, hopeless, a victim, isolated, weak, flawed, damaged and stuck.
No Self-Judgment. Do not criticize yourself for having it. Do not demean yourself for having it. And do not isolate yourself. Everyone in the room has it some degree or another, even the casting director.
- Accept it.
- Surrender to it.
- Be OK with it.
- Give in to it.
- Admire it. (Advanced level of self-appreciation. Jesus, can I create a high level of anxiety. Which is a direct expression of your current state of vulnerability that you do WANT for the audition. It is also a mechanism of intuitiveness that you also WANT for your work in the room.)
Let it be and try to just be interested or curious. The reactions/behaviors we want to avoid are resistance and escaping, AKA Fight or Flight. We will just empower and make the state of our anxiety worse.
Allow that uncomfortable feeling and know it will go as it came.
Another way of looking at it, my discomfort is like riding coach on plane taking you to an awaiting beach paradise. It’s just a flight and I will be getting off.
3) Request and Invite“The Secret”
This step when understood, absorbed and believed will free you of anxiety’s seemingly unconquerable grip.
You requested anxiety.
You invited anxiety.
You chose anxiety.
You hit the on switch for anxiety.
AND the same way you turned it on, you have the control to turn if off.
There was a signal in the unconscious part of you but often in the conscious part of you that sensed, right or wrong, a danger and you hit the panic button.
Physical: a twinge in your side, a pain behind your eye, a tightness in your breath, a loud sound, a man with a knife, an on-coming car, a stage with lights shining on you, a camera pointed in your direction, a person sitting in a chair about to read a scene with you, tripping over a curb, lightening. There is an endless list of physical circumstances and events that cue you to hit the anxiety button.
Psychological: did I mail the rent check, did I send in my court summons, what if I’m too old, what time is my audition, why didn’t my agent respond to my email, what if I never find the right person, why is everybody else succeeding, what if I lose my job. This list is as infinite as the human imagination.
Why did these things make me hit the panic button that brought on my anxiety? Because, in a state of fight or flight, you take on some super human qualities. You release adrenaline, epinephrine along with many other stimulants, which increase your abilities and heighten your senses. If you were in the jungle and a tiger appeared you would need a burst of strength, agility, awareness and quick wittedness. However, your primal instinctive-self refuses to distinguish between a tiger in the jungle and a casting agent in a room, or a cop asking for your license or a stage in front of any audience, or a camera with 10people behind it watching you.
Make a conscious effort to acknowledge that you chose this to cope with imminent danger (real or not). This condition may be helpful in certain circumstances so its great to know it’s working, but most importantly remember YOU REQUESTED THIS. Your impulse was to create anxiety to cope but now there is no imminent danger and its time to tame, calm and regain control.
Know you requested it. Now make it a full-fledged INVITATION?
Anxiety, come in.
Why not let it know whose house it’s entering and invite it and all its friends. I feel a dry mouth, a racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, dizzy, nervous, worried, tight, claustrophobic, falling etc. etc. and I want more. What else do you have? Give me your best shot because you wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me. I want to see you in your fully glory before I make you sit and obey.
Yes, it may sound counter intuitive given how you are feeling. It’s reverse psychology at the basic level. If resistance strengthens the anxiety then acceptance will weaken it. Even if you do not fully believe yourself, begin to ask for more, that primal mind does not know you have read this or talked to me. It just begins to fight less. It loosens that which it has been pushing against – your sense of control.
Exercise: Anxiety creates a sense of inertia, stuck, trapped, overwhelmed.
Put your shoulder against a wall and begin to apply pressure. The harder you push the more energy, tension and eventually pain you will feel. Now try walking or bending over. There is no ease, grace or enjoyment.
Now do this away from the wall. You have to move. You can also begin to control it allowing it to guide you into almost any position or action you can imagine.
4) Breathe (calming the physical)
Bring your entire attention and focus to your breath. This is the first breath of the new you. As if you have new senses that will let you feel and understand your breath like you never have before.
- What does my breath feel like?
- Close your eyes and follow the path of the breath as it enters your nose or mouth. Is it warm or cool? How does it smell or taste?
- Where does it travel to; my neck, my upper chest, my collarbones?
- Put you finger tips on your neck and upper chest to follow the breath. A good way to sense this is to hum as you exhale and feel the vibration.
- Very, very, very gently (barely perceptible) slow the pace and increase the depth of your breath. The key here is imagine you’re trying to sneak by someone. You want to move like a lion in the grass toward the gazelle.
- Each breath a little slower and a little deeper. You want your exhale uncontrolled but easy. This might take you ten minutes before you reach a full slow, deep breath. You will know when you have arrived.
5) Be Present (Calming the mind)
Here we want to quiet the “what if’s”, the “whys” and erratic, compulsive noise of the mind. The quickest and surest way to do this is to direct the attention and focus to the physical. This is one of the essential tools of the craft of acting – sensory awareness.
- Where am I?
(I’m sitting, on a plastic chair, on a tiled floor, against a brick wall, next to a window, in an oblong room, on the third floor on the Universal lot, off of Lankershim, in Burbank etc. etc. etc.)
- What can I feel with each sense?
Touch: I can feel my socks or shoes on my feet. I can feel my t-shirt or jeans against my skin. I can feel the AC on my hair and cheeks. I can feel the ground below my feet. I can feel my fingertips and palms resting on my thighs. I can feel the heat emanating from chest. I can feel the cool air slide down the back of my nostrils. I can feel my bladder tingling.
Sight: I can see the red, fussy wool of the cardigan across from me. I can see the yellow square tiles of the floor. I can see the stains on coffee spilled on the yellow tiles. I can see the discoloration of the man’s left fingertips from cigarettes.
Smell: I can smell the almonds on my breath. I can smell the dampness on hair next to me. I can smell residue of floor wax. I can smell Calvin Klien one.
Hear: I can hear the actor auditioning in the next room. I can hear the cell phone ringing in the pocket next to me. I can hear traffic on the street. I can hear a dog barking. I can hear the rustle of my jacket as I move me arm. I can hear my breath travel down the back of my throat. I can hear my heart beat in my ears.
Taste: I can taste my coffee. I can taste lip-gloss. I can taste the faint toothpaste on my lip. I can taste the pollen from the flowers next to me.
Be patient. Be specific. Try to focus on one sense at a time and work from loudest or brightest to smallest or most subtle. But be fucking specific. The more focus on the specific you are the less unknowns and therefore less danger there is.
This is the 5-step method and there are two extra steps that are to support the 5-steps.
6) Stick With It
You are not completely in the clear and may still be experiencing anxiety to some degree. There will be varying degrees of stubbornness with your anxiety.
“This isn’t working.” Will be the first and strongest thought. It is a desperate act of the anxiety to hold on. It is an old friend that doesn’t want to leave.
Repeat steps 4 and 5.
When you repeat the steps try to improve your level of focus and the ease with which you do each. The more you practice these steps the more habitual and therefore effective they will become. At some point, they will be ritualized and you will appreciate and look forward to the practice.
Try to shift perspective and re-label discomfort as serving a purpose. Literally as an actor it is inviting you to become present.
7) Let Go
This last step is a series of considerations that may just be the nudge or the quiet support you need, to feel the shift. Because once the shift happens, whether gradually over time or in an epiphany, you will experience a resounding confidence through out you.
The anxiety you are experiencing is in every single human being and has been there since we became animals with a central nervous system to the moment we are conceived.
Your own anxiety has been with you for a long time and it has been like an untrained puppy. No rules. No guidance. Scared and unpredictable. You are now giving it rules, boundaries and purpose. It will become calm and obey.
Your anxiety will be a ride, it will ebb and flow, heighten and shrink, as you practice these techniques but over time it really will become an asset rather than an obstacle.
The seed has been planted. Now water it.
- Let go of all expectations.
“I don’t know approach”
I don’t know what they’re looking for.
I don’t know how this will turn out.
I don’t know if I am right or wrong for the part.
I don’t know what they are looking for (either do they!)
- Read the sides and break it down.
Where am I?
When am I?
Who am I?
Sex, age, occupation, relationship, passion, fear, secret, dream.
What do I want?
Why do I want it? What in my history has brought me to it?
Who am I communicating with?
How do I feel about them?
Who are they to me?
I am similar like this.
I have experienced similarly this or that.
I have shared this dynamic with this person.
I am different like this.
- Make choices and run scene trying them.
Run the scene trying to express your answers to as many of the answers that came before this in behaviors, gestures and actions. No talk.
Set up the given circumstances as real as you can.
Get others involved to play the parts and ask them to be invested and play.
Give yourself different but clear POV’s. I feel like this, I want this, I hate this, I’m afraid of this….
Be curios. Enjoy. Explore. We are lucky to be doing this for a job.
- Take it up a level.
This could be my job for the next, week, month, or even years. How seriously, would you take developing this character if you know you are doing this for the next 5 years of your life?
Tattoos, scars, vintage clothes, fake teeth, accents, injuries, diseases, quirks, make up, etc. etc. etc – be specific and make it so real you are excited to share it. You have created something you are proud of.
Breathe – 5-minute exercise.
Visualization – 5 minute exercise.
Music – Play music that pulls you in.
- Owning the room
Welcome them as if they have just entered your living room.
Set-up YOUR environment.
Close your eyes and take a minute to get centered and respect your work.
Lower their judgment by making them feel safe with your confidence and ease with your work. “I know what I’m doing so sit back and relax.”
Thank them and leave.
You have a gift and an amazing opportunity. Indulge and take it to the top of your abilities. Don’t be lazy!
Put yourself ahead of 99% of everybody else. Become someone else, believe it and live it – every moment of it. You prove to yourself every time you have the chance how good your are, how imaginative, how unique and how committed. It goes all the way and you will feel more and more confident and you will actually get to a place were you love the chance to prove it.