How To Turn Any Acting Note Into An Audition Win

Getting an acting note is fantastic in any context. It means the acting coach, director or casting director is paying close attention to your work and wants to refocus it in some manner. Tinkering is a part of any craft, and it is how you reach a level of excellence. At an audition, notes are still great to receive, even though many actors don’t see it that way. Some of my clients view getting a note in an audition context as a sign that the director/casting director didn’t like something they did, or that their choice was off. I give this interpretation an emphatic no. It means that you have their attention and that something you did intrigued them and they want to see more. Don’t let getting a redirect rattle you. Use it as a springboard to solidify a spectacular audition.

1. Get clarification

Many people who work in entertainment do not know how to give actors useful notes. This includes screenwriters, directors, producers, playwrights and sometimes even casting directors. Some of the most insightful creators and writers are shockingly some of the worst communicators. Many of these people view acting as this mysterious process and they feel very comfortable critiquing it watching television on their couch at home. However, when it comes to shaping a performance, they can often not supply much clarity other than remarks like, “not so big… softer.”

Many directors, with the actual producing teams behind them, will often feel compelled to give a note, even if your performance was flawless. This is a manifestation of their own anxieties: they want to show the producers that hired them that they know how to direct actors. So this will often translate into vague or tepid notes to actors, to “just change it up” or “do something different this time.” This is a great example of some of the garbage notes actors often get.

In this case, don't be afraid to get further clarification of any notes that may be confusing. Demand specificity. Ask a question like, “Oh, ok, do you want me to show more hesitation or do you want more conviction?” Often providing the note-giver with two choices in your question can help force them to offer more specificity. If they say anything that doesn’t make any sense (which often happens), you MUST ask that follow-up question.

For example, one of my clients got a note where the director told her at a second callback to be more rhythmic. My client wasn’t sure what this meant, so she said, “more rhythmic, when I raise my voice?” And the director said, “yeah, like bones.” Bones? Luckily, my client asked for further clarification and he said, “Say the lines more rhythmically like bones snapping together.” Oh, ok. Taking that five seconds to receive more clarity meant that she could take a very oddly-worded note and apply it directly to her performance.  

2. Take your space

You'll want to get some distance from the note-giver and take a brief moment to process it. Don’t succumb to the sense of urgency that can sometimes exist in the room. On occasion, the people in the audition room are cranky or impatient—that’s not your problem. Take a minute to think about what the note means to you, how it impacts your perspective of the character or the script. Take a second to get a sense of what you’re going to do. Don’t feel like you have to hurry up and act, especially if that might cause you to do something that is motivated by a sense of panic. This is still your audition. Gather a few seconds to digest the note.

Sometimes you’ll need to gently remind the casting team of your rights as a professional.

When pushed to take a structurally significant note immediately, a phenomenally talented client in my Master Class likes to say this: “You want me to do well. I want to do well. I’m going to take this outside for a few minutes.” Take the time you need. Stand up for yourself! Most reasonable casting or producing professionals will not have a problem with such a request.

3. Make it your own

When your preparation is solid, often the note is only a minor tweak to freshen your "hook." This helps you adopt a new emotional attitude, giving you a renewed perspective on the scene. Even so, you must make the note your own. A note from the casting team is like someone tossing you a hat and saying, “here, put this on.” So put it on. But just like real life, you wouldn’t just plunk a hat on your head and walk around in it willy-nilly without tweaking it a little. You’d bend the brim, cock it upwards, turn it off center, slide it backward or inside out, slice open the lining, or add a pin or a sticker you liked to the outside. You would make it your own before parading all around town in it. You have to let those same instincts rule in this case. Whatever note you get, you have to let it jive with the character you’ve created and “adjust the adjustment” so that it meshes with the world you’ve developed. You have a right to give yourself that freedom.

Remember, the difference between "good" acting and "great" acting is the ability to start every scene emotionally full and lit up. Getting a note from the director does not invalidate the choice you made—in many cases, it’s just the opposite. If you went into the audition with an awesome and bold choice, don’t be rattled if you get a note. Production or casting can always pull you back, and sometimes they will, but they will never pull that awesome and bold choice out of you if you don't have the courage to do it when you walked in.

And while the note you get might sound nonsensical, it’s your job to build a bridge of communication between you and the director, helping this person engage in dialogue with actors. This is so important as it gives everyone in the room a glimpse of how you like to work and shows that you can make adjustments on set.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.