Theatre is a weird place. Only in the theatre world do human beings wake up at 4 a.m., travel across an entire city, stand outside in the freezing cold for hours, then walk into a room just to sing for 30 seconds of a song, while being judged by a panel of complete strangers. It’s called an audition and the chances of being successful are slim to none.
Actors do it every day. They bare their souls at odd hours of the morning and wait to be judged. Judged on the way they talk, the way they sing, the way they look, and nothing more. No one bats an eye. This is standard. This is how the theatre industry works. It’s daunting and nerve-wracking to say the least.
Nearly every actor, performer, or storyteller has suffered at the hands of stage fright at one point or another. Whether it is the anxiety of a big audition or performance, the jitters before a monologue in an 8:00 a.m. acting class, or the downright fear of not being good enough, performance anxiety lingers, and it isn’t afraid to rear its ugly head.
What if you knew that one audition determined the trajectory of the next four years of your life?
Haiden Pederson, first year BFA Musical Theatre major at the School of Theatre, Film & Television, knows first-hand how daunting auditioning for college can be.
“College auditions are intimidating and there is a lot of pressure associated with them,” Pederson said. “A show is a two- or three-month commitment. College is four whole years of your life.”
In a typical audition setting, you are auditioning for a role, a character in story. When you audition for a play or a musical, you are acting. You are putting on your best portrayal of a character. College auditions are a bit different.
“In these auditions, you are playing yourself,” Pederson said. “You have to go into the room representing you and your best self.”
Coming into a room as the best version of yourself means that the panel of strangers behind the table will be judging that best version of yourself. Walking into a room like this can give your mind a lot of “worst case scenarios” to think about.
“It is easy to fall into ‘thinking traps’ before you go into a room,” Pederson said. “Artists tend to over generalize and think to themselves, ‘if this doesn’t go well, I might as well give up on this career.”
Pederson explained that performing can be so intense, that artists, often so-in-the-moment during an audition, will “black out” and completely forget what happened in the audition room once it is over.
“Every time I walk out of an audition room, everything that just happened is just a blur,” Pederson said. “I never remember any of it, and I think that is for the best. I can walk away from it and think, ‘oh well, that was nothing.”
Many say that a career as an artist is a career of auditioning. Often, auditioning is a performer’s full-time job.
“I always remind myself that this is my job, and if it is a no, then it’s a no,” Pederson said. “You can define so much about the character of a performer by their resilience in this industry. What defines success is the fact that we wake up every day and say, ‘you know what, I may not get this offer, but I did it, and that is what I’m here to do.’”
Life in a BFA Program
You survived college auditions, but do the nerves go away? Not exactly.
“Performing in an academic setting has an edge to it,” Pederson explained. “My work is being graded now, and that’s something that I’ve never experienced before.
“There’s a new bit of fear that comes with knowing a letter grade will be attached to the work you produce,” Pederson said. “It is intimidating, but it is pushing me to do unexpected things.”
You would think that getting into a program comes with feelings of security and relaxation when approaching performance. You already got in, right? But as performers, auditioning and performing tend to always carry the same weight.
“Oh, I still black out. I truly don’t remember what I did for my monologue final the other week,” Pederson said. “But it’s really exciting because I am now able to perform freely. I’m able to just stand up in front of 17 other people and a professor and say, ‘this is my work.’”
What if you knew that one audition could determine your entire life post-graduation? Senior BFA Musical Theatre major, Sofia Gonzalez, has spent the last four years at the University of Arizona preparing to audition for her future.
“I am about to graduate,” Gonzalez said. “My nerves have been on a simmer for the past couple of months, but now they are starting to boil.”
Auditioning for a musical or play is scary enough. What about auditioning for the future of your career? Gonzalez is gearing up for Senior Showcase. Think of Senior Showcase as essentially the audition that has the power to determine your career path post-graduation. At this performance, senior BFA Musical Theatre and Acting majors perform for talent agents across the country. If they like you, and if they sign you, you can open a multitude of doors that could provide you with opportunities for your career to soar to unimaginable heights.
“I’m scared, but I think everything is going to work out,” Gonzalez said. “There are just a lot of questions. A lot of ‘what if’s’, and not a lot of answers yet.”
Gonzalez explained that as a first-year student, she looked at senior showcase and would think to herself, “I am so scared for this to be me.” She felt the gravity that came with the showcase ever since she first set foot on campus. Now that she is in the senior shoes, she looks at things a bit differently.
“Looking at [senior showcase] now, I see it as less of an audition and more of an opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “I am approaching it with a lot less fear. It is a chance to do what I love and be seen by some really important and impressive people in the industry.”
Are nerves before an audition good? Can you eliminate performance anxiety all together? Can you at least combat it? With years of performance experience under their belts, Pederson and Gonzalez both say that the nerves never go away, you just get better at feeling them, handling them, and allowing them to inform your work.
“Finding ways to calm yourself is the most important thing to do,” Pederson said. “I will not ever go into an audition or a performance without using at least one of my relaxation techniques.”
Haiden Pederson’s Audition Anxiety Tips
- Find something to focus on
“Find something extremely niche that you love. I am personally really into horror movies, so I take a couple of minutes to watch some of my favorite horror movie clips. It might sound weird, but it takes me out of the elements of an audition. It makes me completely forget about the audition that I am going to be doing and the nerves that come with it.”
- Find practice time beforehand
“Don’t be afraid to step into a corner and go over your audition material. Preparation and familiarity will calm your nerves by default. Make the time to warm up. The first step to easing your nerves is knowing what you are doing.”
- Discover your passions
“At the end of the day, we are not our work. We should not let our work and our craft define our life. I like to find thing that I like to do outside of the arts, so when I am pulled back in, my craft is even more exciting and fulfilling.”
- Remember that you are uniquely you
No two performers are the same. No two performers have the same pre-audition routines. But what most everyone can agree on is that nerves are normal. Nerves mean you care.
“Even as a senior in college, I still get nervous,” Gonzalez said. “But with age and experience I realized that I am nervous because what I am doing is important to me. It means so much to me.”
Sofia Gonzalez’s Audition Anxiety Tips
- Find the joy in what you are doing
“Nerves are normal, but ask yourself, ‘why am I putting myself in this situation?’ It is probably because you love what you do. It’s about really finding the joy in what I’m doing and what I’ve realized being an empath is that I strive to be able to touch an audience member. My mindset has shifted toward finding the joy and finding the ‘why.’”
- Remember that auditioning is an opportunity
“It is easy to look at auditioning as a high-stakes situation with a lot of pressure and a lot on the line. I have started to look at it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to have the full attention of directors and creatives while you do what you love. Even if you don’t get the job, hey, you got to perform in front of important people.”
- Use the nerves
“Don’t bottle up the nerves, just let those feelings flow. Maybe you could even use those feelings to better your audition, you never know. Being present in the moment is super, super important.”
- Trial and error
“What works for me might not work for you. You have to try everything to discover what it is that works for you. For some people its journaling, or centering yourself physically, stretching, positive affirmations, talking with a healthcare professional, meditation, etcetera. It is really a self-discovery thing. There is no magic fix. You just have to find it on your own. But as soon as you find it, you’ll know it. It will click for you.”
Gonzalez and Pederson both echo the same mantra: everyone’s journey is different. There is no right or wrong way to go about breaking into the industry and building a career. There is only your way.
“There is no set timeline for this career,” Pederson said. “You are not expected to go from high school to college to a Broadway stage. You create your own story.”