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Why Actors Should Stop Planning

Allison leaves an audition and pumps her fist. “I nailed it! I did everything I wanted to; laughed at the exact right moment, gave them that sarcastic look, put my hand on my hip…that was awesome!”

Sheena leaves an audition for the same role a little dazed. “I have no idea what just happened.”

Who books it? Probably Sheena. Why? She was fully present. So present and connected to the other person that she has no idea what she herself did. There was no room for self-reflection in the moment because she was so focused on the other person.

Think about it: in your real life, have you ever left a conversation knowing exactly what you did during every single moment? You might remember laughing, and you’ll definitely walk away from that conversation charged with feeling, but you can’t recall it like a video tape. You don’t know exactly when you put your hand on your hip or what your facial expressions were at any given moment. (Unless you have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. Yes, it’s a thing. Look it up.)

When you speak with another human being in your every day life – be it your mom, your crush or the Starbucks barista – you’re completely focused on them. You want something from them, don’t you? Whether it’s your mom’s approval, your crush’s crush back or even that the barista got your order right, you are paying attention to them because you need something. So you don’t remember anything about your behavior afterwards because your behavior is unconscious.

And so it should be with auditioning and acting. Your behavior should be unconscious. Your relationship to the other person should be so strong with such a specific need that the only thing you’re focused on is whether you’re getting what you want. If you’re truly living moment-to-moment, authentic behavior will follow without you having to worry about it.

But many actors are scared to not know what they’re going to do in the room. So they plan their behavior.

Do you ever plan your behavior in your real life? I’m not talking about telling yourself to play it cool when you ask her out or confront your father. You might have those emotional goals, but you don’t control your physical behavior – behavior just happens.

So why do you plan your behavior? Because you want the job, of course.

Ironically, thinking about booking the job will very often lead to you not booking the job. Planning your behavior puts you in your head the whole time as you try to execute what you’ve planned. How exhausting! Wouldn’t you rather experience this person’s life in the moment? Wouldn’t you rather experience the deliciousness of talking to your crush, fighting with your mom or ordering that half-caf-triple-shot-mocha-latte? Doesn’t that sound more fun?

Auditioning should feel vulnerable. It should feel unknown, exciting, electric. Because living in the moment is all of those things. Living in the moment is the most truthful experience you can have when you’re acting. But doing so means you have to give up control, let the other person be more important than yourself and have no idea what’s going to happen.

John Burroughs says, “Leap and the net will appear.” So stop planning. Leap, care about the other person and trust that you are enough…and your “performance” will transform into organic, unconscious behavior. In other words, truthful moment-to-moment living.


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