Advice for Actors: The Four Audition Agreements

If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that I have a very intimate relationship with self-help books. I’ve never been able to afford therapy, and I truly believe that certain books saved my life this past year.

I believe that the official book for anyone who ever auditions, should be The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Please buy it (clicking on the title takes you right to Amazon), check it out of the library, steal it from a friend, read over someone’s shoulder, please. Please read it. It will change your life – not just auditionwise and careerwise, but it will change your entire life. Randy Skinner used to talk about it, but it wasn’t until Johnny forced me to get it (or else), that I picked it up.

The agreements are simple: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. Mr. Ruiz writes in simple text, that sometimes makes me feel like a child, but I don’t mind at all. I like that he breaks down the crucial information into easy reading and eye-opening sentences that I can comprehend.

This week, in a continuation with my promise to make February about audition preparation and coming together as a performing ohana across the miles, I tweaked all four of the agreements to fit the life of a performer. There’s even a bonus for you at the end.

The First Agreement

Don Miguel Ruiz says: Be impeccable with your word.

Trusty says: Just be honest.

I know that it’s extremely hard to follow through with everything we say during audition season. We sure do plan on getting up every day at five to get to the gym by six to get to the EPA by eight so we can do three different calls today before work at four. And there is nothing wrong with ambitious plans. But sometimes, we’re just pooped. Or sick. Or PMSing. Or whatever. So I think that we have to twist the first agreement a little bit to fit the actor life, just this once. We would love to follow through with this daily plan. We make ambitious plans in hopes that one or two of them come to fruition. But the more we beat ourselves up about not keeping every plan we make, the worse the gray cloud around us becomes, and we can throw ourselves into a personal guilt trip that spirals so far out of control we are just staying home every day to eat the cookies and cream for breakfast. No? Just me? Okay. Well, hopefully you get my drift.

My suggestion? Let’s just be honest with ourselves this year. As actors who sometimes audition for jobs more than we work jobs, we are constantly coming up with different tactics to deal with rejection. “They were only keeping tall girls.” “They only wanted Asian guys.” “The accompanist played my song way too slow.” Sometimes, this stuff is true. But sometimes, if we step back, these things are merely ego padding to keep us going. And that’s okay. It’s so okay. My suggestion is to be honest with ourselves in every other aspect of our life, so that there’s as much truth-facing as possible to keep us sane. Are we really being ourselves in our relationships? Are we lying to our mothers that we had a callback when we really don’t just to keep her from asking what’s happening every day? Are we eating our feelings because we’re so busy trying not to eat at all? Those three questions lie closest to my personal life, so they’re the first three I thought of, but there are more. I was myself in my relationship with Stallion last year unless I had to cry, I had to poop, or I was sober. I’ve lied to my mother a whoooole lot over the years. And the third question about food, well, c’mon, have you read the catch line for the blog? So in the midst of all these white lies and exaggerations we share on our OkCupid dates and our family visits during the holidays, let’s just observe what’s coming out of our mouths, and try to bring it back to honesty. The closest thing to honesty that we can get. And it’s not always gonna work. But like the fourth agreement says, just do your best, right?

That serious problem we’re ignoring, or the general assholery of people we date, or our love/hate relationship with Cheetoh’s whenever we have a bad day, is something to be observed rather than ignored, noticed rather than pushed away. It’s hard. It sucks. It like, totally sucks. But it leads to a better you. A more real you. An honest you, who you can fall in love with. And all of this personal growth that might come from more honesty, might also carry over into our artistic work. Our writing, our singing, our acting, our performing, our general persona when we walk into a room. We will find our authenticity through our honesty, and it will reflect in every aspect of our life. After all, aren’t we always being asked to bring authenticity to the characters we play? Authenticity starts with you. You at your very core. What makes you you, is fucking awesome. And the more honest you are, even when times get tough, the closer you come to staying true to who you awesomely are. It’s worth a try, no?

The Second Agreement

Don Miguel Ruiz says: Don’t take anything personally.

 Trusty says: Ditto.

I’m not going to preach on taking rejection personally. Your mom preached it to you, your college professors preached it to you, your dance teachers and your roommates and anyone you’ve ever taken a master class with has preached it to you. Don’t take rejection personally. Easier said than done, but at least you’ve heard it before.

I want to talk about the question we all hate the most. The awful, the dreaded, the “what are you up to?” Listen. We have to stop taking “what are you up to” so personally. It’s a question. It’s a thing. Instead of hating whatever mouth it comes out of, let’s figure out some tactics for dealing.

First of all, the “what are you up to” is not a personal attack, 98% of the time. There are always the malicious ladies who I see every season who love to ask the question and get my blood pumping, but even then, it’s not about me. It’s about them. They have their own shit to figure out. I can’t take that personally.

“What are you up to” has caused many, many interesting answers to come out of my mouth before I had time to think about them (hence, my paragraph on honesty above.) I’m sure you can relate with your own stories and your own exaggerations, and I’ll give you a moment of silence to reflect with me about what we do to save ourselves from looking like we are jobless, starving artists who have to bartend at 5pm tonight. And seriously, is that really so, so, so bad? Cut yourselves a break. Seriously.

Ways to deal:

If an acquaintance, or a casting director asks you “what are you up to”: Kate Galvin, who used to cast shows for the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, gave me one of the most excellent pieces of advice I’d ever heard back in 2011. She said that people in that room just want to see if you’re a real person. Instead of stuttering over what job or what callback is going to make you look like “the shit”, just be honest. Answer the question by telling them about your sister’s new baby, or the wedding you just went to in New Orleans, or your yoga teacher training, or how you just moved to Brooklyn and you don’t own enough fake glasses to fit in. Tell them anything honest, anything about you, anything that could be funny, or interesting, or a conversation-starter. People love to compare stories – who knows where your answer might lead you with that choreographer who was just in New Orleans for a wedding as well. You don’t have to tell them about how you just closed Les Mis (four months ago) and how you’re in callbacks for Chicago (well, you got seen at the EPA, so). Don’t feel drilled. Don’t feel put on the spot. Just be yourself. Just show them you’re a real person who lives life outside of your career (even if it feels like most of the time, you don’t.)

If a family member asks you “what are you up to”, or better yet, “have you been on the Broadway yet?”: I know it’s hard. I know it’s hard to breathe, and try to empathize with your grandmother’s lack of understanding for your performing pursuit, but try to remember, she is not out to get you. She is not out to tell you you’re stupid for doing what you’re doing, or tell you to get a real job, or whatever. I mean, maybe she is, but I know that mine is not. My grandma, and my aunts and uncles and cousins and high school friends honest-to-God just have no idea what auditioning and performing really means. If you can, forgive said family member for making you feel like you’re doing nothing with your life, and answer with this: “I’ve made a lot of promising contacts this year, and in my business, who you know is just as important as what you know, and I’m really looking forward to continue my networking while I audition.”  This will cause 90% of said family members to start talking about how politics are everything in this world, and Sue, their manager, just got promoted because her husband plays golf with some higher-up’s brother, and can you believe this Obamacare stuff and also, they saw Sue’s husband the other day at the grocery store and he looks like he’s gained weight. I mean, I’m not guaranteeing anything but people love to talk about themselves and if you open a door – like the “who you know not what you know” thing, they will probably let you off the hook and change the subject to something they know. After all, they might have just been asking “what are you up to” to be polite. They’d actually rather talk about something that they know, instead of feeling ignorant to what Broadway really is and whether or not it’s the same thing as that Times Square place.

If a close friend asks you “what are you up to”: Try and recall the last time a close friend did this. Most of the time, close friends respect the question asking process and avoid traveling down that road that they also don’t want to travel down. If you are a close friend of someone who is an actor and you find yourself asking them this question a lot, consider cutting it out of your vocabulary. We hate it, and we don’t want to hate you for asking it.

If your mother asks you “what are you up to”: Tell her you miss her and you love her. Don’t hate her for asking. She’s asking because she wants to support you and be there for you.

The Third Agreement

Don Miguel Ruiz says: Don’t make assumptions.

Trusty says: Seriously, ditto.

Don’t assume the girl across the holding room is looking at you with disgust. She might simply be picking blueberry seeds out of her teeth with her tongue.

Don’t assume the casting team will only be thinking about Chipotle if your audition is at 11:30. They might have had a big breakfast and are very intent on listening to you.

Don’t assume the dance call will be easy just because it’s non-Equity. Ever.

Don’t assume you won’t get a callback just because a casting intern is in the room for the EPA.

Don’t assume that the director is over it. Don’t assume the director hates you. Don’t assume the director thinks you’re too fat just because your birthday was yesterday and you feel like you look like the chocolate cake you treated yourself to. Don’t assume the choreographer wants you to fall out of your double pirouette. Don’t assume the accompanist can play obscure shit, unless it’s Joshua Zecher-Ross behind the piano. Don’t assume.

Don’t assume.

Don’t assume. Go in, like we talked about last week, fully respecting the people behind the table. Go in with no expections, no assumptions, no doubts at all. Go in there to do your best and be yourself, nothing more, nothing less.

The Fourth Agreement

Don Miguel Ruiz: Always do your best.

Trusty says: Always do your best.

It’s audition season. It’s cold. It’s exhausting. It’s a lot of things. But it’s also an awesome time of year. It’s not December, and it’s not July. There are auditions and opportunities and people to meet every single day from here until the end of April, at least. So listen, if you’re not honest with yourself today, or you flipped on your mom because she asked you how your audition went, forgive yourself. It’s today. Tomorrow is a new day. Do your best today. Your best today might be different than your best yesterday and it might be different than your best tomorrow, so focus on doing your best today. I know you work tonight, but for the next half hour, you’re dancing for Gerry McIntyre so honey, focus on this half hour and enjoy yourself! He’s teaching you soft-boiled egg hands – enjoy this moment brought to you by Gerry McIntyre yourself. If you don’t know who Gerry McIntyre is, get off Facebook this instant and google him. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing, just do something about it instead. Do your best.

Nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s doing it all right, all the time. And this year, remember that. You’re up against thousands of other performers, yes. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, I know. But none of those performers are perfect. Nor are the jobs. They’re all just doing their best too – and their best, is different than your best. You are the only person who is best at being you. So rejoice in that, and rejoice in the authenticity you find this season as you bring more honesty into your life.

The Johnny Agreement

Johnny says: Do not make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on love.

Trusty says: Johnny’s right. Again.

Johnny (who is my boyfriend, by the way) reminds me of this when I have pitfalls along the way. He’s always right.

Fear is an ugly character in our personal stories. If Fear is the antagonist, make yourself the leading lady who knocks out Fear with your stilettos. If Fear is the bad guy, make yourself the dashing prince who crushes Fear to a pulp with one, good, stage combat punch.

We did not choose an easy career path. We did not choose the most lucrative career path. We chose this journey of ours out of love for all things music, all things dance, all things comedy, all things beautiful and creative and moving.

Remember to continue making choices and decisions based on love. Our love of art is what got us here. Let the love continue to carry us through our daily lives as we bring honesty and authenticity to everything we do

“We have to choose life. Choose risk. Choose love. The only safe place for our hearts is to dive deeply into magnificent, eternal, ridiculous, overhelming love. Really, do you have an option? How is that life of fearful control working for you? Better to ask, how it working for those who have to live with your fearful control? Come and be free in the love.” – Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself

I can’t elaborate much more. Just think on this one, The Johnny Agreement. It’s not really his agreement by the way – he’s just sharing it because he’s learned it in his own personal experience. It’s a learning experience we will all continue to have for the rest of our lives. Better to consider embarking on the journey now, rather than waiting until fear has completely overtaken us.

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This week’s post has been spiritual, I admit. But isn’t audition season sort of spiritual in a way? We have to keep the faith that it will all work out the way it’s supposed to. Faith that our hard work will pay off. Faith that our karma will come back one day. Faith in ourselves.

I hope this helps in the next few weeks. I wish you faith, love, and freedom this week.

Much aloha,

Trusty

PS: Mahalo to those of you who submitted pictures and videos to Roar Part 2. I’ve received pictures from brave breast cancer survivers, women with C-section scars, men who think they are too skinny, and things that moved me beyond words. I couldn’t be more humbled, and inspired by all of you. You are all so much braver than you give yourselves credit for. It’s truly amazing. In order to proceed, we need about forty more submissions. Please consider contributing this week so we can move forward with this amazing, inspiring project.

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2 Comments on “Advice for Actors: The Four Audition Agreements”

  1. […] speak to you, yes, but only when you are in a state where your gut is calm, and capable of making a decision based on love. Had I left Hawaii two weeks after moving in with Johnny when things got hard and he repeatedly […]

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  2. […] if you are a performer, or an artist, please read this book – or at least check out my recent blog post about […]

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