Your Brain on Auditioning Part One: The Post-Audition Agony Spiral
Has something similar to this ever happened to you? You get an audition, you get excited, you prepare the sides or the monologue or the song, you show up at the studio, you give your best, you come home and tell your roommate, partner, or best friend about it, and this is what you remember about the experience…
• You heard the actors ahead of you in the hallway discussing how they know the director, writer, casting director or producer.
• Despite your attempts to block it out, you heard the actor in the room immediately before you getting praised for his audition; maybe he even got an immediate callback.
• The actor who went in before you left the room amid a chorus of laughter and in-jokes with the auditors.
• You entered the room and felt a cold or indifferent vibe. The auditors didn’t seem to pay attention to what you doing, or worse, they were eating.
• You flubbed the first line and asked to start over.
• A joke or a moment failed to land, or you just didn’t feel like you were “in it.”
• They didn’t give you an adjustment or ask you to read another side when you finished.
• They were complimentary about your audition, but it felt like the kiss of death, somehow.
• Any other negative memory that you kept re-playing in your head for the rest of the day, week, month, or until you heard back (or never heard back) from them.
If you’re like most actors, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded Post Audition Agony Spiral: you started wondering what went wrong and then couldn’t stop going over and over the whole sequence of events in your head, questioning your choices and trying to find hidden meaning in everything the auditors said (or didn’t say). You might have told yourself to sternly to stop obsessing. Maybe your roommate or your partner tried to find the bright spots that you were ignoring, and maybe this cheered you up for a bit. But it’s likely that your mind kept returning to the memories of what had gone wrong—creating stories about what the auditors thought about you, and reverse-engineering the experience with “shoulds,” and “if onlys”—inventing ways that you could have succeeded, had you only behaved differently.
It’s also likely that at some point you or your friend told you that you needed to let the audition go: that ruminating about it wasn’t going to help. You probably realized that, rationally, this was true, and you probably couldn’t stop ruminating anyway. In fact, your inability to stop may quickly have become one more reason to be frustrated with yourself. But the audition experience is a mental trap for the even the most disciplined thinker: not being a mind reader, you have no idea what—if anything—went wrong, so your brain just keeps grinding away at the same questions without getting any satisfactory answers, creating an ever-deepening rut that becomes harder and harder to escape.
There is an obvious point to be made here about your lack of objectivity. The audition may have gone much better than you thought. They may have noticed wonderful things in your work and not even registered the errors you think you made. For all you know, all the camaraderie they showed to the actor who went before you was fake, or just polite, or even genuinely warm appreciation that won’t result in a job. There’s no way to know, and there’s nothing more pointless than speculating about what other people think. But understanding all this intellectually won’t stop a Post-Audition Agony Spiral, because—and this is important—once your thoughts have been pulled into the orbit of a negative story, your rational mind is no longer engaged.
Here is what you may not know: ruminating, fretting, running the “hamster wheel” of negative thoughts after an audition is not indicative of emotional weakness or self-indulgence on your part. You cannot help it. IT IS WHAT YOUR BRAIN IS PROGRAMMED TO DO.
A Few Quick and Dirty Lessons in Basic Brain Anatomy
Your brain evolved from back to front, with the pre-frontal cortex—the part that can analyze and reason, evolving last.
Your limbic system—also known as your “reptile brain”—is the most ancient part of your brain, and handles reactions to danger and self-preservation (sometimes called the “fight, flight, or freeze response”).
When you are under stress, you brain tells your adrenal system to flood your body with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, increasing your focus and rapid response time,
Your body also diverts blood away from the pre-frontal cortex, effectively shutting down your ability to analyze the situation with any perspective until the perceived threat has passed. However, 99% of the time—unless you book the job— you will likely get no feedback or closure about an audition whatsoever. In other words, from your brain’s perspective, the perceived threat never passes. If the threat never passes, the brain continues to perceive the audition (and, over time, all auditions) as cause for a fight, flight or freeze response. Confused? Let’s break it down a little further. See my next blog post, “Cavemen Didn't Audition: Your Brain on Auditioning Part 2.”
Molly Goforth is a positive psychology and spiritual wellness practitioner for actors and other artists. For more information visit https://www.anactorrepairs.com/workshops Insta: AnActorRepairs