Ever since I realised that actors such as Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Sean Penn were using ‘the method’ to fuel their performances, I’ve been hooked. Method acting removes the need for imitation and makes your acting more real. Another reason for favouring method acting is its practicality. Far too often drama schools and acting coaches neglect the business element of acting. In order to succeed as an actor you not only need to know how to act, you also need to know how the business works!
One crucial and unavoidable part of the ‘business of acting’ is auditions. Auditions can be stressful, unnatural and frustrating. You are usually required to give a performance which could determine the direction of your acting career with only a few minutes to prepare. Unless you are particularly lucky, succeeding in this environment takes skill, preparation and a huge amount of patience.
Using ‘the method’ in Auditions
Stories such as Robert De Nero driving a cab for a month to prepare for his role in Taxi Driver mean that most actors presume that method acting is only useful when the actor has time to prepare, get into character and allow emotion to slowly permeate their performance. The reality is quite different.
Method acting is all about teaching yourself to feel real emotions. By recalling past personal experiences and learning to draw on these experiences when required, you can deliver intensely authentic performances at the drop of a hat.
Over the years I’ve helped many actors develop their ability to give first class performances in their auditions. In each of these cases there have been three key elements which have helped them develop. I’m going to look at each of them here in the hope that you will be able to apply them to your own audition performances.
One of the most challenging aspects of an audition is the lack of preparation time. In most cases you will be given a part to play opposite someone you’ve just met and expected to give your best performance. There’s no time to ‘get into character’, invent a complicated background story or talk the scene through with your fellow actor, you’ve just got to do it!
‘Personalisation’ is one of the core techniques used by method actors. It’s one of the most effective ways of fuelling your performance with real emotions rather than imitations. By remembering and re-feeling emotions and thoughts that are relevant to a particular scene or situation, you are able to give an authentic performance. The reason this technique is so useful for auditions is that, if you are practised in the technique, you will be able to draw upon your bank of feelings and emotions almost instantly.
Auditions are stressful, unnatural and uniquely challenging. Unfortunately, those watching your audition are the gatekeepers to a successful acting career. If you are going to succeed as an actor, you’ve got to impress them. Despite the importance of auditions to the business of acting, very few drama schools teach you how to effectively negotiate an audition or help to develop the skills that are necessary to perform in that environment.
One of the skills I regularly help my students develop is the authentic portrayal of a ‘personal moment’. To develop this skill I ask them to perform an activity they would usually only do in complete privacy in front of an audience. This activity might be singing, dancing or playing an instrument. Anything that you’d stop doing as soon as someone walked into the room.
By practising this exercise you will gradually learn to feel comfortable in front of an audience, learn how to battle your nerves and how to focus completely on your performance. By mastering this technique you will be far better equipped to deliver an authentic, natural performance in your auditions.
3. Know Yourself
Method acting is a very personal process. You don’t imitate, you feel your character’s emotions first hand. Many of the most effective method acting techniques and exercises focus on the actor getting to know themselves. This self knowledge is crucial if you are to gain the level of control required to effectively harness and use your own emotions in front of an audience.
In auditions, this self-knowledge is crucial. If you are to give an authentic, accurate performance you need to know which experiences, memories and emotions to draw upon to deliver the right performance. You also need to have practised recalling these experiences in a relaxed environment first. You need to know that you can control your performance before you use this technique in an audition environment.
Finally, you need to know your limits. If you aren’t suited to a part, you won’t get it. Don’t just put yourself forward for every audition you see. Play to your strengths. Understand your own acting ‘brand’.
If you go to the right auditions, make the right preparations and use the right techniques on the day, doors will start to open for you.