I was coaching a child today on a scene for a popular musical. We were working on elevating her enthusiasm and energy level and making bolder choices. After a few minutes, I realized my advice to her was something she’d been told by several people over and over again: Have fun. But she didn’t look like she was having fun. How could I get her to have fun?
You’ve heard this one, right? "Oh, you’re going in for an audition? Just have fun! Don’t worry about it it. If you’re having a good time, they’re having a good time." Today, for the first time, it hit me that telling a child to have fun in a strict audition environment is the equivalent of telling a non-photogenic person to act natural in front of a photographer or, even worse, telling a friend they just need to calm down when they’re having a panic attack. It’s obvious, but it doesn’t work. And why doesn’t it work? It isn't a direction!
Having been a college audition coach for about seven years, I’m sure I’ve told my fair share of students to have fun either in a scene or before an audition. The sentiment is right, but the practicality is not. So, today, I gave a more specific direction to this kiddo for her scene. I said, “Don’t think about having fun while spinning around in a circle. The goal is to spin around in a circle as fast as you can to make yourself dizzy.” My hope was that the act of making herself dizzy would allow her to feel silly, loosen her up, and result in a bit of fun when she attempted to recover from the dizziness for her next line. It seemed to strike a chord!
This isn’t a new idea at all. We all know some basics about finding your objective in a scene and using various tactics to achieve your goal. But sometimes these little moments within a scene or a monologue can feel clunky or fake. Let’s take an example where you are supposed to cry in a scene. I know a few directors who would take umbrage with the fact that a script necessitated crying at all. But let’s assume this is the case with your monologue. What can you do? Think of something sad? Pull a nose hair to induce crying? Begin breathing heavily and squinting your eyes together? I’ve used all of these. There is some truth to doing something physical to induce something emotional when you’re just not feeling it. But I know that the most powerful thing I can do as an actor is to try to be present and to fight for my objective. Maybe my character ends up crying in the scene because I’m trying so hard to get what I want and no matter how hard I try, new obstacles keep stopping me. Crying, then, is not the goal, but the reaction to my frustration at not being able to achieve the goal.
Remember that whomever you are playing in a scene is based in some sense of reality. And what happens if you get what you want in the scene? Have you ever personally had an experience where you said, “Great. I just got cast in my favorite show. I’ve done it all. I’ll be satisfied with less from now on.” NO! You get what you want and then the goal post gets moved further away. The same is true for a scene or song. You just got the guy in the first verse of the song? Great! Oh, no. Now there’s trouble in paradise. He’s not what you expected. Should you stay or leave? You know it will be hard to leave, so you fight with yourself. Eventually, you leave because you know it’s the right decision. Great! Oh, no. Now you want him back. You’ve made a terrible mistake. You go find him, but he’s hurt and doesn’t want you back yet. You have to fight for him again… and so on. We are complicated creatures. There is always something new to discover!
When you are studying a scene or a song, take each piece of your text and ask yourself questions:
Why would the character (you) say that line?
How do you say it in a way that your ‘other’ in the scene would not?
What are you fighting for?
There are many other questions you can ask yourself to get closer to your truth. I ask my students to put away youtube after a certain point in the learning of their songs. To watch someone else makes it too easy to mimic them and, while they may give you some inspiration, your audience isn’t likely to see truth from you.
So, why would I ask this child to run around and get herself dizzy? Because it was fun! We both laughed and played. We asked why the character was having fun, then played an action that informed that quality rather than playing a quality to inform an action.
Whether you are working with an audition coach or not, remember, no one has all the answers. We coaches try our best to get you to reveal your truth through these scenes and songs. But if you’re feeling that you’re having trouble finding it even with a coach, start by asking yourself, “What do you want?"
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