You would think someone who’s already written 2,371 words on the subject of auditions would not fold like a house of cards in that situation. But I did, my friends. I did.
It was virtually the same story as my last audition. Rampaging beast in Round One. Flailing wallflower in Round Two.
What. The. Hell?
It’s funny because as I was going through the process, I was clearly thinking of my recent post about choking under pressure. For the first round, I deliberately occupied my mind elsewhere. I had a show the night before. I went on a date. I took a nap. I woke up so late, I had to cab it to the audition. I did this (partly) by design. As long as I wasn’t thinking about the audition, I couldn’t overthink it.
In each scene, I was relaxed. I listened. I reacted in the moment. And I murdered.
For the callback, I had far too much free time before my slot. My brain started “performing” as soon as I woke up. I started thinking about great scenes I could do. I improvised both parts of a conversation: bump, set, spike. I was having a lovely little performance in my head.
Then I jumped on the bus. And I took the long, long ride through Cubs traffic to the theater. My mind started racing. What can I do to stand out? How the hell can I replicate what I did last time? It would be fun to audition with a friend. But what if I’m auditioning with strangers? What’s our suggestion going to be? I hope it’s a good one. Don’t blow it. Don’t blow it. Don’t blow it…
So, of course, I blew it.
What an awful feeling. You hear the laughs during other performances and you think, “Damn, I’d better bring my ‘A’ game.” That’s kind of the opposite of, “I look forward to being in the moment and making discoveries with my partner.”
After my slot, I sat and watched other performers remain chill and flexible. I watched friends nail it. I watched a few people totally choke. Mostly, I spent the time beating myself up.
Yeah, there’s a chance I could make a team. But honestly, I don’t think I deserve it.
It’s entirely crazy that the first round brought out my best abilities, while the second brought out my weaknesses. When I’m really bad, I get in my head, I disconnect from my scene partners, I spew run-on sentences, I’m inflexible and repetitive. I even went blue. And I never go blue. (The exact phrase was “bust a nut in an underage Caucasian.”)
In one scene, I watched a woman do the same thing I was doing. She summoned three “students” on stage and told us to take a test while she read a book. As she was initiating this scene, I thought, “She’s disconnecting. She just started a scene where we can’t really interact.”
And then it hit me, I’d initiated a scene with the same f***ing problem. I started on a phone, announcing I’d forgotten my computer password. My scene partner just paced while I spoke to tech support offstage. I hung him out to dry. Godawful.
One of the first hard criticisms I ever received came from Anne Libera in the Second City Conservatory in 2002. She said I had a tendency to pre-plan scenes and try to drag everyone along with me. Ten years later, I still have that problem.
The one thing I’m trying to work on more than anything else is being present. It’s so, so hard for me. I think ahead, I think back, I spend a ton of time in my head. I need to spend time in my body. I need to feel my feet on the ground and feel the vibe my scene partner is giving. Since I can’t predict anything in an improv scene, the only way to survive is by being entirely present in the moment.
But I blew it, man. I blew it.
What makes it worse is that I know I’m better than that. And I know exactly what I did wrong. While I was doing it, I knew it.
And I had brief flashes where I felt like I should hang it up. These other performers clearly had something I didn’t. It may be something I’ll never have.
Or maybe I should shut up and keep working. I may never be great, but I can always be better.