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Narcissism Is Necessary for an Actor (Well, to an Extent)

July 31, 2013

Part of the reality of living in the regions means that there are auditions I cannot attend, either for theatre or for film. While an in-person audition is always preferable, if the client will accept a video submit, I get one to them – pronto! (And, p.s., I have scored several jobs through video submits.)

Shooting and editing my own audition videos has taught me valuable lessons, and continues to teach me. And, since there are not as many professional development opportunities here, spending time each week watching myself – take after take – is a good way to stay on top of my craft. Watching myself -take after take – can be boring, and painful – Oof! that was a really bad take; Wow, what is my hair doing? – I get sick of watching my own face and listening to my own voice after a while. But that narcissism has proven to be very helpful because it has made me very attuned to what a good take feels like, how to work with the frame of the camera, where I get too theatre-y, or when I tilt the other direction into being too film-y (depending upon the needs of the job at hand).

Likewise, I do a lot of voiceover work, recording my own auditions in my modest home studio. It doesn’t take long to hear some habits that sound awful in a mic, and then you can set yourself about the task of correcting those. One thing I didn’t anticipate voiceover work helping me learn was great breathing technique.

As a singer, I thought I had the breathing thing in the bag. And I’m big into yoga, so of course I know my breathing. Plus, my instrument (my voice) is naturally resonant and projects easily; people in my civilian life often comment on how amazing it is that I can be loud enough to make my voice heard over a crowd without shouting. Breathing and projection are totes my thing, right? Well, after working in voiceover for a hot minute, I could hear that the breathing techniques I had developed for theatre and for singing were not necessarily the techniques that would work in voiceover. The studio mic is a different medium. After listening back to my VO takes and editing the tongue clicks and catch breaths out, I have finally settled into a technique that works for that intimate microphone environment.

Whatever market you live in, it will behoove you to put yourself on camera, record yourself on a mic – even  the voice recorder on your phone – and watch, listen. Yes, it may be painful at first, but it will make you a better actor. It took a month of watching myself and listening to myself on nearly a full-time basis to get used to it, to get over that “blech” feeling so many of us have when we see or hear ourselves played back.

Occasionally, I fill in at my agent’s office for the audition coordinator. This means that I put people on camera and edit their auditions to submit to clients. It also means that I get to watch the self-taped auditions of some of our out-of-town talent. I often wish, as I am sure many casting directors do, too, that talent would spend more time on the other side of the camera: watch yourself, listen to yourself, learn from your mistakes. There is much to be gained in our profession from giving in to our narcissistic tendencies.


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