Why Self-Direction Matters

self-direction

When was the last time you heard another actor say, “I auditioned for that role. I would have done that—if they would have they told me to play it like that”? Maybe you heard yourself say it.

Frankly, it’s doubtful you would have been told exactly how to play it for the simple reason no one told the actor who booked the job precisely what to do. Most talent bring the core of their performance into the room during the audition. Auditions demand you make dynamic decisions if you hope to get booked. Yet, one of the greatest misconceptions about this industry is whoever hires us already knows precisely what they want and will direct us.

It may come as something of a surprise, but you’re not likely to get much direction at all. This is the case for auditions and sessions alike. All the more reason why you must effectively self-direct rather than wait to be told what to do.

Self-direction requires you give yourself a command and follow through completely with that modification on the next take. Seems simple enough. Until you quickly discover self-direction isn’t immediately intuitive and requires continued practice. Otherwise when you are offered direction, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be agile enough to deliver what’s being asked of you without a numerous unsuccessful attempts.

The fact is no one can direct you if you can’t successfully deliver after you’ve been given a command, such as, “Can you go up on this? And down on that?” “Take that break out between here and there. Connect those thoughts.” Or “Warm up your approach at the end. Soften your attack on that.” These are simple modifications most talent will struggle to apply, or, worse, rationalize that they’ve successfully delivered what was asked, for the simple reason they’re conditioned into delivering a repetitive performance.

To add to this, far too many actors kill perfectly wonderful opportunities to create and collaborate by second-guessing what they think someone else might need and want from them. You’ll be far more successful if you concentrate on how you imagine the piece to go. Don’t over-think it—just commit. Take the leap of faith. There’s nothing but discovery in it. Don’t sit and wait for someone to take your hand and lead you.

Self-direction is a performance muscle that only develops and responds with coaching and continued application. Doing so will make you a valuable, skillful talent.

A vast majority of directors and producers consistently tell us, “I’ll know what I’m looking for when they see it”. In fact, the bigger the project, the less direction you can expect to get. (On the other hand, if it’s a low-budget, smaller caliber production, you may find yourself being completely micromanaged. So, careful what you wish for.) And when it comes to voiceover, with nearly all your auditions recorded at home, self-direction isn’t simply a concept, it’s required from all manner of talent, regardless of the medium.

So, rather than frustrating yourself by continually asking, “How do they want me to say it?” or “What do they want from me?”… keep in mind you’re paid to have a pulse. And rather than walking into an audition expecting them to feed you with an imagination, understand it’s the other way around—you’re expected to engage THEIR imagination! This is, in part, what makes you a valuable talent.

If you are given direction, don’t over think it. It’s rare there’s some hidden message in what’s being asked of you. More often than not the director is trying his hardest not to step all over your talented toes by feeding you a line reading—so give them a break. They want to help, but often they don’t know how to articulate it. Consider this: If the director has to come up with every detail of your performance because you demand being micromanaged, then he’s not only doing his your job, he’s also doing yours. And that’s a deal-killer in any business, especially acting.

To succeed you must risk. The more you risk, the more confident you’ll be in your choices. It’s essential as actors we make a habit out of risk. It doesn’t mean you’ll succeed every time you do, but you’ll trust yourself more and more. There’s nothing but discovery in every risk, if you allow yourself the chance to truly play.

You clearly have what they want—you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t. So let the director see how you’d tell this story. If they have a specific idea to convey, even if it’s a complete 180 apart from what you’ve been doing, they’ll do their best to articulate it and guide you toward it. Be willing to modify your approach as needed. Be prepared to surprise everyone with your performance—even yourself.

Copyright © 2015 by Kate McClanaghan, Inc. All Rights Reserved.