Advice to the Mom of Actor (Age 5) Preparing for a “Big Audition”
A parent called me today looking for private coaching and advice. Her daughter is five, and is just about to go out for her first “big audition.” She’s done some commercial auditions, booked a commercial, but this is her first real foray into Film & TV. Three pages. Twenty lines. The kid is only five. Here’s a brief summary of the advice that I gave to the mom:
1. Focus on the situation more than the lines.
It’s not just about saying the right lines, it’s about being in a place and doing a thing. Right from the first time, keep her focused on the situation. Every actor doing the audition says the lines, but it’s not about saying lines, it’s about believing in the life of the character on screen. It’s in between the lines that we see if someone is a real actor, because that’s where we see if they’ve prepared the “imaginary circumstances” of where they are, who they’re talking to, why it’s important, etc. Help your daughter make the choices about who she’s talking to, who that’s like from her life, what’s going on for her character, what event/feeling that’s like from her life, what she wants in the scene, what’s getting in the way of what she wants. Make sure that all of those choices are important to the character in some way: instead of caring a little bit, care a lot. It’s called “stakes” and it’s what makes a scene worth watching. That’ll at least give you some basics to build on.
2. Right from the beginning, never apologize or ‘break character’.
Know right from the beginning that when she does the audition, she’ll make some mistakes. She’ll get some of the lines wrong, and forget some of the things you practice. And it doesn’t matter. In fact, those mistakes often end up being the best part of the audition, especially with a 5-year-old actor. BUT ONLY IF you practice right from the beginning never stopping when a mistake happens, never saying “I’m sorry,” or repeating a line to “get it right.” Every apology pulls the viewer out of the situation, and throws away the story that the actor has built. Make sure that you build into your practice and rehearsal at home the idea that mistakes are okay, that it’s all about telling a story. You still try to get the lines right, but not at the expense of the acting, or the story.
3. Get some coaching.
As a parent of an aspiring actor you are going to get an education in acting, because you’re going to be helping your daughter prepare for her auditions. There’s a lot to learn, and so much of it is experiential and difficult to learn from a book. Book 30-60min of private coaching. If you don’t know a good audition coach ask your agent for a referral, or call one of the coaches listed at www.bizstudio.ca/coaching. Know that because auditions always happen on short notice it’s very normal to call four coaches and simply book the first one who calls you back, so you never need to apologize for that. Sit in on the coaching session if you can. Stay quietly in the back and resist the impulse to “help,” but take notes on what the coach is doing, because it’ll help you learn how to help your daughter prepare for all of her auditions.
4. Be as prepared as you can.
The more prepared you are before your coaching session, the more the coach will be able to focus on your helping your daughter with her acting. If she hasn’t practiced the situation and learned most of her lines before she comes in then the coach will spend most of her time rehearsing the scene, not coaching it. Bring the wardrobe you’re going to wear for the audition so you can get feedback on it. If you have questions about any part of the process, ask them now. The whole reason to get coaching is to take advantage of someone who has a *lot* more audition experience than you or your daughter have.
5. Know that she’ll forget 95% of everything that she learns.
Kids ages 2-6 don’t have a lot of conscious retention, unless they’re extremely precocious, and even then it’s not a lot better. With the right kind of practice her body will remember it, but consciously she’ll lose about 95%. So if you want her to do the same quality of acting that she did in the coaching session, be prepared to practice it a couple of times between the session and the audition. That’ll help her get the acting in her body, which is where it needs to be anyway to really be “inside” that imaginary situation. Also for her age group it’s probably best to plan on multiple 20min practice sessions, with a break or another activity between each session. If you accidentally teach her that acting is “hard work” then it’ll make her less likely to want to do the practice that it will take to do a professional quality audition.
6. When practicing, stay focused on the situation to avoid mechanical repetition.
The danger here is that if she finds something that “works,” especially if it gets a good reaction from you or from her coach, she may try to repeat the exact phrasing and intonation. Once she starts doing that, the words begin to take on that musical quality that we associate with elementary school plays. The language is dead, the actor is no longer talking to a person, communicating an idea within a given situation. Instead the actor is trying to repeat a line reading. So be careful. Mix it up, stay focused on the situation, get her to try different ways to affect the person she’s talking to. Or once you’ve got an interpretation of the scene that you’re happy with, mix it up by making practicing a game. Do it in your best english accents. Do it in funny voices. And then go back and practice it the way you want her to do it in the audition, and practice not giving her any cues with your face or your voice about what comes next (or get someone else to read it a couple of times). The more fun the process is, the more likely she will be to do the practice that it’s going to take to ensure that she gives a professional-quality read even when you’re not there subtly reminding her what to say and do.
Owner+Head Coach, Biz Studio