• Brandon Lee Sears

The Science of Nailing That Audition

The most important ability I try to cultivate and develop to be successful in the West End is the ability to manage stress and self-doubt to overcome fear. Many seasoned professionals suffer in silence from stage fright, and public speaking is a crippling fear of many others. When performers do not know how to effectively manage stress, we suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Maintaining high performance levels in rehearsals, auditions, and on-stage in order achieve your goals and stay at is crucial for success in the performing. But how do we manage the stress and self- doubt enough to stay at the top of our game while supporting our mental health and well-being?

Our Auditioning Brain

Every thought and emotion we have is the result of physiological activity in the brain. The relationship between the brain and the mind can help us to understand what is happening when we feel fear.

We have a triune brain that is composed of the following:

1. Neocortex – rational or thinking brain

2. Limbic Brain – emotional or feeling brain

3. Reptilian Brain (Brain Stem)– instinctual or primitive

The reptilian brain or brain stem controls our basic body functions and what these body functions do when we feel in danger (flight, fight, freeze, or faint modes). The limbic system plays a role in emotional learning and emotional memory. The limbic system is where the amygdala links our memories to pleasure and pain in our brains. The neocortex is the seat of conscious awareness where we weigh the present, imagine a better future, and plan ways to achieve our goals. Also, the neocortex processes creativity, logic and insight and help to regulate our emotions and solve problems.

Fear is a natural physiological occurence

Our brains seek safety first. It is ok to feel fear. When we feel fear, it is because we have perceived a threat to our safety. We have multiple stress responses to support our safety when we feel challenged or threatened. In neuroscience research reactivity (fear when we are “fight or flight” mode) is mapped to the brain stem leading to expressions of stress and self-doubt in low performance. However, creativity (when we feel inspired) is mapped to the prefrontal cortex and linked to high performance in those individuals who practice qualities of self-awareness, authenticity, achievement, and collaboration.Our ability to overcome fear depends on how we respond to meet challenges - from reactivity to creativity.

There is a relationship between the amount of resource and demand that our brain calculates to keep us safe. When we perceive that someone or some situation is demanding more resources than we have, we feel threatened and move into reactive mode. When we are in reactive mode on a chronic basis, stress and self-doubt lead to exhaustion, disconnection, and a reduced sense of significance. These are components of depression and burnout. We move into creative modewhen we feel resourceful enough to meet the demands of the world. In this mode we can handle a certain amount of stress while feeling challenged. We also feel a sense of love and belonging, because we feel competent enough to share and contribute. It is important to consider how we respond to challenges, so that we move from instinctual and primitive behaviour of seeking out survival in reactivity to acting in ways that are highly creative and self-aware. Be careful what you focus on when you are feeling stressed and doubtful, because your brain will begin to connect that focus to the feelings of stress and fear.

Have you ever been involved in a rehearsal process and you felt communicative, open, and you felt emotionally connected to those around you; and you seemed to be having fun and intimately involved and focused when it came to any of the work involved with the project? When we are in a creative state of being we are authentic, aware, courageous, and collaborate well with others. The feeling and expression of inspiration leads to high performance and fulfilment in a creative environment.

Now consider those times when you’ve been in an audition room and felt overly anxious to the point of confusion? Perhaps you seemed defensive and overly critical and negative toward others. Someone in reactivity will express the qualities of being overly passive, controlling, or defensive. Another expression of reactivity in many performers is perfectionism to prove our self-worth. The expressions of stress and self-doubt lead to low performance in a reactive state of being. I have been involved in processes before where the director, captains, or other creatives who are leading the rehearsals are in a reactive and negative mindset, and it has been hard for others to feel comfortable enough to have creative expression. This overly stressful environment affects the learning, pick up of choreography, and the ability of performers to make inspired choices that contribute to the project. However, we can take individual responsibility for our own mental health and artistic growth by knowing how to control our mindset. This is your responsibility and no one else’s, and you will have a higher rate of personal and artistic growth and development when you are in an inspired and creative mindset.

When we experience stress and self- doubt, we drive the energy and information down into the brain stem to survival circuits focused on safety. Experiencing inspiration drives the in our brains towards the prefrontal cortex. If we tap into what inspires us most, we can tap into those parts of the brain that allow us to engage in ways that give us the courage to take risks. Here are some hacks for moving from a reactive state to a creative state in highly stressful and challenging environments.

Change Focus

Look around the room you are in and notice everything you can that is orange. Now close your eyes. What do you see? You probably see orange or you may have had mental images of other objects that are orange, like the fruit. We can change our focus, we become responsible for the way we see things through mental framing. The next time you are in an audition or rehearsal and you feel highly stressed. Step back, take 6 very slow deep breaths to hack your physiology. Then reframe your mental state by repeating to yourself “This is not a threat. This is a challenge.” Lastly, pick one concept or skill to focus on. It can be as simple as smiling while you dance, or nailing a certain rhythmic phrase in the choreography. By narrowing your focus to one thing you lower the stress by decreasing the amount of demand your brain perceives. Thereby, lowering your stress levels. Thus, you move from a sense of reactivity to a sense of creativity and fulfilment.

Practice mindfulness

Meditation reduces the stress hormone called cortisol.

We can navigate the emotional experience of fear and pain to carry out complex tasks if we can manage those neurological stressors that inhibit motivation, and cause hypersensitivity It is possible to move from the negative framing of pessimism to the positive framing of optimism in our own beliefs to build the resilience in ourselves to thrive in the face of adversity and challenging situations Reframing the way we see the world and changing our focus to rehearse and put to use deliberate practice through a positive framework is important for fostering curiosity through challenge; building resilience through adversity; and inspiring motivation through in an environment where we feel a sense of belonging and the freedom to express our talents.

Mindfulness is paying attention with a sense of openness, and curiosity for whatever is arising in the present moment. By making a deliberate effort to practice openness and look on whatever the experience is with curiosity we can change the amount of stress we’re feeling to a manageable level that allows us to work in heightened performance state. When we feel curious, there is not threat but an attraction to the perceived challenge.

We joyfully jump at chances that we were previously fearful of, and we no longer allow fear to stop us from accepting those opportunities that are most challenging yet beneficial for our growth. The more we overcome fear to take action and achieve results in the face of fear, the more resilience we build from our experience. This is where the ‘magic’ happens. This is when we begin to know success. We learn from experience by attaching and transferring present learning to prior experience. Change is necessary for our personal growth, but it may feel uncomfortable as the brain seeks out our safety when we begin perceiving new experiences. Go ahead and jump head first into those situations you fear.