“I don’t feel you are committing to what you are doing,” the casting agent said to me at today’s audition. “Mess it up more. Make it more real. Stop caring about it so much.” Casting direction came at me all at once and flustered me.
Of all the different things I’ve done in life, acting is one of the most challenging. Making something real isn’t just playing a part; it’s becoming part of it. In so many things we do in life, we can “phone it in,” or “fake it ’til we make it.” We play a part, whether it’s in the business world or somewhere else. We become conditioned to follow someone or some institution’s many rules. Do this. Do that. Follow what the sign says. Fit in. Understand the culture. To go along, get along.
Rarely are we asked to “mess it up” and express our authentic self. In fact, most of the time, we find ways to hide what’s real about our selves. Some days I wonder about this.
So there I was. As the casting director worked me over, I began to sweat. “You’re doing it as if you were looking for my approval,” she said. She was right. At this point, I was looking for her approval. “Don’t do that. Just have fun and see what comes up. If you go too over the top, I’ll pull you back. And don’t worry. We have lots of time.”
In the majority of acting and voice over jobs I do, there is specific but usually gentle direction. Yes, I’ve even been ‘accused’, criticized if you will, for having ‘too pretty’ of a voice. Now, once you get booked on a job, the client has every incentive to get you to do what envisioned and they certainly know that they catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Plus, you are already booked and on the job, and part of the reality is that clients don’t want to squander their investment. If you are moving the wrong way, they will tell you. If they want you to have more of a ‘smile’ in your read, you’ll hear it. If they want five extra takes even when they loved the first one, you’ll do them.
But today, I was face to face with a casting professional who seemed to read my mind and know my every insecurity. “Do you do a lot of voice over?” she asked before I could complete the first take. I nodded. “I can tell. Your voice is too perfect for this. Make it more real. Loosen up.”
Another take and finally I saw the casting assistant raise his arms in victory. I must have done something good but I had no idea what I had done. “I’m sweating,” I replied when she asked how that last take felt. “Good,” she said. “It means you finally showed up to the audition.”
As I left the office and walked out in to the bright sunshine, I was disoriented. Not sure where I was and so I walked, unsure whether to laugh or cry. I’d just eaten an audition and hadn’t felt this dejected in a while. In a way it was no big deal. Every actor knows that you have to eat a lot of auditions along the way.
But it made me think. Why was it so hard to find my voice today?
I wondered. And wondered some more. I thought about my voiceover friend Lynne and her thyroid cancer surgery. What would it be like to physically lose your voice when you use it for some source of income?
In many senses, my blog and my exploration to understand my childhood burn accident is all about finding my voice. I think a great deal about the story I learned on the day of the accident. My mother was ironing in the basement when I slipped upstairs to grab a treat from the cabinet above the stove. Call it intuition or just mothering, but my mom noticed I was missing and went to look for me. When she found me stuck to the stove and burning, I was silent, unable or unwilling to call out for help. I had lost my voice.
All these many years later, I am taking the time to find it. It’s no coincidence that I wandered my way into acting, voiceover and writing. When one door closes, a window opens. The older I get, the more I think about those windows.
Back to that audition. As much as I detested the moment, I am grateful to that casting agent for pushing me. Just imagine if we were all reminded every day to work harder to find our true voice. It’s certainly not easy but it is good.