Forget every bit of advice you ever heard about how to show up at auditions with a professional smile and a polite and gracious manner. Forget all the b.s. about headshots and resume formats, as well as how to intruduce yourself, slate, smile, dress, make eye contact, exude positive energy...ALL OF IT.
Nothing could be more misguided and crippling to an actor. That kind of behavior immediately sets up a power imbalance that puts you at a disadvantage. You, hoping for their approval, smiling your way to a callback, and them, holding the keys to the kingdom.
Don't do it. In fact, don't listen to anyone who gives you any sort of a blanket approach to walking into an audition room. Why?
The crux of any audition, any public speaking situation and any job interview is TENSION.
We all deal with room tension at one time or another in our lives. Job interviews, dating, public speaking, etc. YOU are in front of US with a job, or approval, on the line. You are there to make your case, we are there to evaluate your case. Some people manage it, some don't.
The weird thing about tension is that it usually doesn't affect the people evaluating because they're used to it. And they don't take on the responsibility of breaking it, because interviewees are usually quick to do so.
Why do we do that?
Because society has taught us we must work to make that tension go away. We're taught, for some bizarre reason, that we have to impress, charm, or tap dance that tension away, so we do. Fortunately for most people, job interviews are a temporary gateway that they don't often have to pass through.
Unless you're an actor.
Actors repeatedly find themselves in these situations. Auditioning, if you think about it, is unlike any other form of job interview. Every job you get lasts...how long? A day or two? A week? Couple of months maybe? Then you're back at it. And contrary to what a lot of young actors tend to think, the higher you climb in this business, the harder it gets. Compare for a moment, if you will, how your pre-read feels in relation to a final callback for a pivotal role in a prominent feature, or pilot? The high-pressure, high-tension situation never, ever goes away, and (some would say) only gets greater as you work your way up the food chain.
So why not make it your friend?
Easier said than done, right? Maybe not, if you think of it the right way.
First of all, you are not there to make people LIKE you. You are not there to be NICE. You are there to serve the story.
Everything you do should stem from that, and we can tell in a moment if you're an actor who has their mind on the distraction of what's going on in the room. You talk too much, show your cards easily, and interact in a way that works against the material. You can't help but respond to the feeling that the people on the other side are comfortable with that tension. But you can't control the producer who doesn't look up from his phone when you enter, so why should that behavior affect you?
Your power lies in how you handle that tension. Ultimately it comes down to how strongly you believe in your own work, of course, but we take our cue from you on how seriously we should take you as an actor. And I believe that if you are comfortable with tension, we will pay attention to you.
Actors who know their power lies in their work don't tend to feel the need to do too much beyond that. They accept that there is going to be tension in every room, and will often preserve that tension if it works for the role.
These actors want you to feel threatened, moved, offended, awkward, etc. if the material calls for it. They see that akwardness as their ally if it fuels the scene itself or triggers their emotional responses. And it's that awareness of how to use the pressure of a given room to their advantage that sets working actors apart.
Next time you get a set of sides, take a moment and think through the psychology of managing tension in a room, and how it relates to that role, and that story. Chances are, the worst thing you could do is approach it the same way you'd approach a real job interview. With a smile and some bizarre pre-rehearsed body language or (worse) micro expressions, whatever the hell those are.
Trust your preparation, accept that tension is always a factor, and know that there is more than one way to deal with it. More often than not, if it is right for the story, it will be right for the room.