I get really nervous before auditions and I often feel very anxious about them. Any tips for managing those feelings?
Towards the end of my acting career I noticed that, on my way to auditions, I’d start hoping I was hit by a bus. Not hard, you understand! Not enough to injure me, but just enough so I could call my agent and say “I’m really sorry, I’ve just been hit by a bus and although I’m not injured I’m really shaken up and I can’t go to this audition” – that level of anxiety really isn’t conducive to doing your best work – and, obviously, is quite dangerous! It wasn’t long after that I quit acting and removed that anxiety from my life. Of course, it didn’t eradicate my anxiety – I’m still the same person after all – but it did relieve a huge amount of pressure. I hope your anxiety hasn’t got that bad. If it has then please know there is help out there – having someone to talk to can be really reassuring ,because it’s honestly not helpful to go through life hoping you’ll be hit by a bus! You may want to look at Entertainment Assist who are there to support the mental health and wellbeing of the Australian entertainment industry. The MEAA also has some great resources as does the Arts Wellbeing Collective.
Anxiety is often a response to a feeling of vulnerability. Ours is a peculiar industry and while unwanted anxiety can be debilitating and frightening, it is also true that, as creatives, we need to exist in a certain state of vulnerability in order to do what we do. I know, looking back, that sometimes I mistook the very natural state of vulnerability for a state of anxiety. I’m told this is very common and increasingly so, as we as a society speak more openly about our mental health and our anxiety. Learning to distinguish between the two states and accepting that a certain level of vulnerability is necessary for us to be creative is, I think, vital for a healthy performer.
One of my idols is the research professor Brené Brown. Brown is a world renowned expert on vulnerability – in her research she has found that we need vulnerability; “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” There is no creativity without vulnerability.
Our ancient reptilian brain, however, can’t distinguish between the kind of vulnerability necessary for creativity and the kind of vulnerability that produces the state of anxiety which triggers our fight-or-flight response.
As we come out of lockdown here in the UK I am noticing that the return to in-person auditions is triggering a state of anxiety in many of my clients. Perhaps it is simply because, having not experienced it in such a long time, they have forgotten what it feels like to wake up nervous and anticipatory about an audition. I often remind them that the physical symptoms of fear and excitement are almost identical and I suggest sitting with the feelings of discomfort for a while – even, if appropriate, to use the feelings in the audition room, rather than try to block them.
We work in an unusual field where, ever since we first expressed our interest in it, we have been advised of its pitfalls – “you’ll never earn enough”, “you’ll always be out of work”. Most of this concern is well-meaning of course, our parents and those we care about are just worrying about us and our future, but being told repeatedly that we will have to learn to deal with rejection, that we will hear ‘no’ more than we hear ‘yes’ takes its toll on us. Rejection is bad, right? Rejection hurts! It is a natural instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt so, of course, when we experience vulnerability, our brain wants to move us to the fight-or-flight state – it is just trying to protect us, just as it has done for millions of years. The fight-or-flight response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare our body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. Fortunately an audition isn’t likely to kill us – at its very worst it may leave us feeling embarrassed. Noticing the response, accepting it, sitting with the feelings and learning how to use them is probably the most helpful thing we, as creatives, can learn to do. Our shame, our fear, our feelings of impostor syndrome, our negativity bias, our struggle for self-worth – these (and more) are the very core of vulnerability. We have been taught that these are all things we need to ‘get over’, to conquer – in fact, these feelings are the building blocks we need to use to be at our most creative. We need to embrace our vulnerability in order to be fully authentic and fully creative.
“The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked exposing too much of yourself…that’s the moment YOU MIGHT BE STARTING TO GET IT RIGHT!!” – Neil Gaiman
We cannot, and should not, try to suppress our vulnerability as it is the key to our creativity. However, we do all need to be conscious of the problems that can arise when our natural vulnerability becomes debilitating anxiety. It’s a fine line we walk, but we don’t have to do it alone. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lucas – I’m sure there are plenty of others who feel the same. As I’ve said before – give yourself a break. Some days will be better than others but we can learn both from the good days and from the not-so-good ones.
Stay connected. Stay creative.
Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]