Holding Room Hacks: How to Keep Your Cool and Not be a Jerk

holding room

Sara Glancy

  • Featured Columnist

Alright, folks.

I know we spend a lot of time talking about how to be our best selves in the audition room, but I think it’s time we back it up a step and talk about…

The Holding Room.

Allow me to take you there.

The room is small and windowless.

The fluorescent lights perfectly highlight the girl in the center of the room casually stretching her center split… at a singer’s call.

The air is perfumed with the smells of sweat, burning hair, and—wait is that actual perfume? Who is wearing all that perfume right now?!?

You close your eyes and take in the sweet sounds of nature:

  • The man furiously muttering his monologue to himself

  • The belter “That’s Mine, THAAAAAAT’S MINE”-ing to the heavens

  • The gaggle of recent college grads loudly discussing the callbacks they have this week and the fact that they heard this show is already cast

Just when you think you can take no more, another sound pricks your ears…

The monitor is calling your name.

It’s time to audition.

If the simple act of imagining that scenario made your shoulders hike up to your ears, you are not alone.

That’s why we’re talking about this today. Because there’s nothing worse than showing up to an audition fully prepared to be brilliant and then letting the holding room jungle sabotage you.

So, here they are: my three top strategies for not freaking out in a holding room.

1. IF YOU CAN LEAVE, LEAVE, LEAVE.

I know this is probably a no-brainer, but it still merits saying. If you are lucky enough to have an appointment time, leave the room and don’t come back until 15 minutes before your time slot. If you are dismissed till after lunch, come back after lunch.

The next two strategies are going to be much easier if you only have to employ them for 15 minutes.

Cool?

Okay, moving on…

2. ALWAYS BRING HEADPHONES.

Do this whether you want to listen to something or not. Why?

Because wearing headphones is the universal sign for “Please, don’t talk to me right now.”

You’re going to see friends, rivals, and everything in-between at these calls. If you’re not the kind of person who likes socializing before an audition, put those headphones on.

Some other fun uses for headphones in holding rooms are:

  1. Podcasts (Great for distraction)

  2. Character-Appropriate Playlists (Great for focusing)

  3. Meditation Apps (Great for centering)

This is definitely a choose your own adventure sort of situation.  

Do you have a tendency to get tunnel vision and overthink your auditions? Then you may need to distract yourself in the holding room and only focus on the audition in the 5-10 min before you walk into the room. Podcasts are my favorite source of free holding room distraction.

Conversely, if you find yourself constantly flustered and distracted in the audition room, you may want to spend your time getting your head into the world of your character. Journaling about your character’s “moment before” or listening to a playlist of character-appropriate music can be a great way to do this.

And, let’s be real, whatever your tendency is, meditation is never a bad idea. Focussing on your breath can calm down that nervous system (which is probably pumped full of pre-audition adrenaline) and root you in the present moment. As meditation newbie, I find the 10-minute guided meditations from apps like Headspace very helpful, but if you don’t want someone talking in your ear, feel free to just throw those headphones on as a deterrent to conversation.

Most people will understand this universal symbol.  For those who don’t, we have Hack #3….

3. SET FIRM (AND FRIENDLY) BOUNDARIES

This is the hardest one to do, which is why I put it last.

Some people are just not going to understand that you don’t want to chit-chat before what is essentially a JOB INTERVIEW.

(Psst! Remember this when you get nervous about being rude for not wanting to chat. This isn’t a college reunion. This is quite literally a job interview.)

Maybe they’re an extrovert who finds chatting calms their nerves and they figure the same is true for you. (Let’s be generous with our assumptions, right?)

Whatever their reasons are, sometimes you need to politely extract yourself from a conversation pre-audition. Here’s the basic script that I tend to riff off:

Hey, so good to see you! What time’s your audition? I need to center down for mine right now, but I’d love to chat when we’re both done!  

Okay, so it’s not Tennessee Williams, but it gets the job done. Feel free to add and subtract as necessary. (If you don’t actually want to chat after your audition, maybe don’t add that part…)

We all have different boundaries.

And, crucially, people won’t know what those boundaries are unless you tell them.

For me, a smile and a wave is the perfect amount of friendly interaction in the holding room. If you’re a close friend, maybe it’s a hug and a three sentence exchangeprovided neither of us is in/about to line up for the audition.

Boundaries are a gift to the other person. I LOVE when people tell me what their boundaries are because it means I don’t have to waste any anxiety over whether I’m about to accidentally cross them.

(Now I can devote all that anxiety to other pursuits! HOORAY!!!)

But speaking of anxiety…

Now that we’ve braved the holding room, let’s take a moment to talk about that moment after they’ve called your name.

If this is an appointment, this is the moment the monitor has told you you’re on deck. If you’re at an open call, this is the moment when they’ve put you on line.

This is a vulnerable moment for a couple reasons.

First off, you can’t leave.

Hack #1 is firmly off the table! Please, stay where you are and don’t miss your audition.  

Unfortunately, this means you’re a little bit at the mercy of the conversations around you. You can opt out of having any conversations yourself, but you don’t have much control over the other folks gabbing in the hallway.    

Second, you can’t fully tune out.

Personally, once my name has been called, it makes me uncomfortable to have headphones on. At this point I feel like I need to be aware of my surroundings.

(Also, my clunky noise-cancelling headphones have definitely mussed up more than one audition hairdo…)

So, what can you do?

These last few moments are a great time to double-down on craft.  

While all of us would love to have an hour-long voice and movement class pre-audition, that’s probably not realistic.  

Keep it simple.

Before walking into the audition room, ask yourself 3 questions:

  • Who is my character talking to?

  • What does my character want?

  • Where am I?

If you can manage to bring relationship, stakes, and environment into an audition piece, you have done your job.

Now, for the love of Audra McDonald, get out of there!

Take 5 minutes to update your audition journal with all the relevant info (if you want my checklist for that, you can download it here) and go home.

So, there you have it!  Those are my 3 main holding room hacks. Please season to taste and break those legs!  

Hope to smile and wave at you in a holding room in the very near future.




 Photo by Jessica Osber

Photo by Jessica Osber

Sara Glancy is an NYC actor and the founder of Audition Rep Matchmaker, a service that helps match actors with the audition materials that will book them jobs. She last wrote for OnStage Blog about the unfairness of taking actors to task for calling out for performances.