Wednesday, March 26, 2014

***Actress Must Be Able to Cry On Cue

I always roll my eyes when that little footnote is at the bottom of a breakdown.  The first mental image I get is of a snooty, cravat-wearing director snapping his fingers and demanding that I immediately begin to produce liquid in rolling streams from my tear ducts. 

*Sigh*  The crying on cue dilemma.  Here's the thing:  the kind of crying a director wants is a physical expression of internal emotion, not the tears themselves.  But as the actor... sometimes that internal emotion expresses itself as tears... and sometimes it doesn't.  Tears -- the real ones -- are elusive and the minute you make it about achieving "the tear", they definitely won't come. Usually if you're in the right emotional space, you can eventually get there.  When you're shooting and your tears experience a bit of stage fright, it's not usually a problem.  You may just need a second take.  

However... the audition is an entirely different beast.  You usually only get one shot and it has to be perfectly timed so that the few moments you have in genuine emotional depth coincide the with the few moments you have in the room.  You have to bring yourself to and hold at the precipice of an emotional flash flood.  Then it's a balancing act where timing and concentration are EV-ER-Y-THING.  You have to be able to walk into the room in the exact state of mind you would find yourself in at the start of the scene.  If you've ever been on even one audition, you know how difficult that actually is.  

I had an intense dramatic read the other day involving the murder of a loved one, pretty heavy stuff.  First thing at any audition, I check the sign-in sheet to gauge how the session is running and estimate how long my wait will be.  I like to allow myself 15-20 to prep on-site before my name is called.  So I'll either hold off on signing in if I need more time, or jump on the list early if the waiting room is backed up.  When it comes to the crying game, waiting too long is just as dangerous as going in before you're fully prepped.   On this one, I sign in immediately, about fifth on the session sheet.  Perfect.   Three to five ahead of me is my ideal.  Gives me time to feel the pace of the in-and-out of actors cycling through the room and enough lead time to get myself completely prepared emotionally... but not so long that I totally burn out and exhaust myself before walking in.

(There is definitely an art to audition pacing; knowing how much time you need and how much you have.  If you don't quite understand what I'm talking about yet, keep up the grind and get back to me after 300 or so auditions.  You'll know exactly what I mean.)

As it gets closer to my turn, I begin to ramp up my emotional state.  I'm "in the hole", which means there's a girl in the room, a girl ahead of me (on deck) and then me.  Can't go too far yet, or I'll spend it before my turn. Can't lose focus and think of my grocery list or I'll deflate my emotional build. 

The girl ahead of me goes in.  I'm "on deck."  This is game time.  Once she goes in, I have about 3-5 minutes before it's my turn.  I concentrate on the work I've done for the scene and allow all that emotion to wash over me.  Just then, three producer-types walk up and wait to go in the room.  Great.  Three producers are standing four feet from me while I'm  a preparing-actress slash crazy person.  I concentrate on not concentrating on them.  (ha!)

After a minute or two, the door opens and the producers step in.... and another producer steps out and proceeds to make a phone call.  The associate asks me to give them a couple minutes.  

Sure. Sure.  No problem.  (I'm just dwelling on my dead imaginary family out here.)  Still, I'm fairly seasoned at this emotional readiness thing.  It's a little annoying, but I roll with it.  Imma professionale.  **Anony brushes dust of her shoulder.**

Then... the producer who is now outside on the phone proceeds to describe two of the auditions he just saw!  Luckily they weren't for my role, but I heard him say "We already saw two for the Melissa role, one was good... the other.... yeesh."  Ugh!!  I immediately block out his voice and walk a few paces away.  No criticism can enter my brain in this moment, even if it's for someone else.  Especially when I'm holding myself on the verge of tears far longer than the ideal audition situation.

Finally the door opens and the producer heads back inside.  I walk up, expecting the associate to wave me inside after him.  She stops me again... THE THREE PRODUCERS WHO JUST WENT IN NOW WANT BACK OUT.  

My god.  It felt like the dogs at my parents house.  In the door. Out the door.  In the door.  Out the door.

Fortunately I was able to just roll with it and gave a fantastic "crying on cue" read for the five producers who decided to stay in the room.  It was that yummy kind that's so emotionally available that I have to fight the tears back (which is what happens when we're doing our job well).  It was the good kind where everyone exhales at the end because the emotion in the room has just changed, just got heavy, just got real.  

I walk away feeling great.  Knowing that I nailed it (regardless if I get it or not), and grateful that I pulled this out of my hat to redeem myself after laying a stinker in the same office two weeks ago.  

I guess they forgave me  :)

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