How to Stay Calm During Auditions

a group of young people sitting and waiting to audition at a casting call

Izabela Habur / E+ / Getty Images

It’s completely normal to feel nervous when walking into an audition. Whether it’s your first time reading for a part or your thousandth time, dealing with nerves is a perfectly natural part of the process, and the symptoms of anxiety you feel are not something that’s just in your head. 

Often times, your body is reacting involuntarily to what it perceives as a forbidding situation. As a result, your system is thrown into what’s commonly referred to as “fight or flight” mode. That acute stress response is hardwired into your physical disposition. And if you’ll notice when you’re thrust into this mode, the more you fret, the more anxious you feel, and the more debilitating the nervousness becomes. 

The best way to combat this is first to understand what’s happening to your body physically and then take steps to lessen the instinctual response you experience. There are physical steps you can take to help calm yourself, along with mental and emotional prep you can do in advance.

Understanding What’s Causing the Feeling of Nervousness

Mikael Cho, the founder, and CEO of a company called Upsplash, wrote an item for Buffer that was adapted for animated TedEd piece explaining what causes stage fright and how to overcome it. 

It all starts in your brain, according to Cho. Whenever you’re faced with a situation that evokes a sense of dread within you, the hypothalamus region in your brain wakes up and taps your pituitary gland, which then secretes a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). 

That gets your adrenal glands going in your kidneys, which then release adrenaline into your blood, and that is what is responsible for the physical reaction that you experience—shaky or clammy hands, the shortness of breath, rapid pulse, the tensing of your muscles. 

Once that course is set in motion, it’s challenging to dial it back. The best defense, Cho points out, is a good offense—breathing and stretching beforehand to invoke the release of counter hormones that create a relaxation response. Simply raising your arms above your head and breathing deeply tell your body to take it easy, that everything is alright. Even if you’re already in fight-or-flight mode, breathing can help pump the breaks.

Breathing to Set Yourself at Ease

One of the easiest things to forget and yet one of the easiest things to control is your breathing. If you find that your nerves are really starting to wreak havoc, then take a minute or two and just breathe slowly in and out until you start to calm down.

You can also Imagine the things that help you feel calm. Put those images into your head and let yourself relax. Some actors find it helpful to imagine how they'll feel after the audition, and a wave of relief starts to creep over them. If you let this relaxed nature overtake you before you enter the room, chances are your performance will reflect that in a good way.

Practicing to Keep Yourself Calm

In the TedEd piece, Cho stresses how important advance preparation is, noting how Steve Jobs would practice his keynote speeches hundreds of times prior to delivering them. 

In a blog entry that she penned about performance anxiety for “Psychology Today,” Vivian Diller, Ph.D., offers tips on how to deal with the anxiousness of speaking in public based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. She also stresses how important it is to prepare exhaustively, rehearsing your material until it becomes visceral so that when the rush of anxiety takes effect and starts to overwhelm, you can sort of kick into autopilot and deliver your parts seamlessly until the tension eases. 

“Vulnerability results from the fear of being humiliated or losing control,” writes Dr. Diller. “Recognize that neither is likely. Control comes from the proper mindset...and good preparation. If you have rehearsed well, assume that one sentence will follow the other until your confidence gains traction.”

Avoiding Caffeine

Any inherent stressors that you feel will be heightened by the consumption of caffeine. Coffee, sodas, even iced tea are usually loaded with caffeine. And although caffeine will make you feel more alert, it will also increase your heart rate and likely your anxiety level. So it’s best to lay off the caffeine at least four to eight hours before any sort of audition.

Making Sure You’ve Eaten

Actors tend to skip meals when getting ready to audition. But if your body is starved, then so is your mind, and you simply won't be able to give your best performance. Your mind and body need fuel to be able to give you the energy and creative power you need to show people what you can do. So, don't skip the meal before the audition. Be sure you take care of this physical need.

Giving Yourself Plenty of Time

Rushing to an audition will definitely make you feel nervous. So be sure to give yourself plenty of time to not only drive to the audition but also to make sure you know how to find the exact locale of your particular audition in advance (the room number, the floor in the building, etc.). Do a dry run if you need to do the day before, if possible. It will help. Showing up 20 minutes late because you couldn't find parking not only will fray your nerves but will also limit your chances of getting the part.

Controlling What You Can Control

Probably the best advice we ever got when entering Hollywood was to "control what you can control" and let everything else do what it's supposed to. You can't control the weather, so if it rains and it's going to ruin your hair for your audition, put together a plan to fix it. Or, figure out a way to make it work for you. You can't control what someone else thinks about you, but don't help them think any less by coming in unprepared. You may not be able to control traffic, but you can control how you react to it. If something is keeping you from your audition, then figure out ways to control your emotions and emotional response. 

Putting Things in Perspective

Finally, one last point to remember: You're not auditioning to save your life. It's just a job. The people on the other side of the table recognize that you might be a bit nervous having to perform in front of them. More than likely, they'll be accommodating to whatever preparatory methods you need to utilize beforehand to get yourself ready. In many cases, casting directors (and some producers, writers, and directors) will ask if there's anything you might need to help you give the best performance you can. Keep that in mind, and it might help you keep your cool.