January 22, 2020

I'm taking Seth Godin's altMBA this month. As part of the program, we received a giant box of books about business. I've decided to read these business books from the actor's perspective. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of the concepts from the books and my spin on using this information in our industry. If you're curious, follow along!


According to The Coaching Habit, there are 4 primary influences that affect how our brains read situations:

T- Tribe

Are you with me or against me?

E- Expectation

Do I know the future or don’t I?

R- Rank

Are you more important or less important than I am?

A- Autonomy

Do I get a say in this or don’t I?


Knowing the answers to TERA will help your brain determine what kind of situation you’re in.


That being said, 5x a second, your brain scans your surroundings to determine if you’re safe or in danger.

When you’re safe, your brain operates at its most sophisticated level:

  • able to perform subtle thinking,

  • better able to manage ambiguity,

  • assume positive intent,

  • tap into collective wisdom,

  • you’re present and engaged, etc.

When you’re in danger, things get black or white:

  • assume “they” are against you,

  • unable to engage your conscious brain,

  • you’re metaphorically and literally more likely to back away.

...And when you aren’t sure if you’re safe or in danger, your brain automatically assumes danger.


Before an audition, I find myself asking myself the above 4 questions to help identify my current situation. Asking yourself is fine, but if you can find a way to ask someone else the TERA questions, that will give you much better information within which to work. You want to figure out as much as you can about the situation. Clear is kind, yes, Brene, and clear is also confidence. Being unsure about what you’re walking into forces the brain to translate the situation as unsafe and encourages you to physically & metaphorically back away from the opportunity at hand.


Well, when put that way, it’s clear that the brain needs to relax: it’s just an audition! It’s not a tiger!


What can we do to better our ability to assess for danger in these situations to serve our cognitive abilities and safety signals?


What can we do to convince our brains that we are safe to make art even when we don’t know all of the answers to TERA?

The book suggests asking a simple: “What do you want?” to whomever you’re working with to clearly identify the situation.

I am curious about whether or not that question could translate smoothly into the audition room. I wonder if asking such a simple direct question could label me as “bitchy, blunt, or aggressive” and/or if the question could get “lost in translation” due to its novelty in the audition room. It also feels like starting an audition with “What do you want?” could be viewed as permission-seeking. This could lead to the question being dismissed (as in, “Don’t ask for permission, just show us what you’ve got!”) to which then my brain may still interpret the situation as “dangerous”.


...There were a lot of could and woulds and maybes and mays and unnecessary waffling going on in that last paragraph. I’ll stop and call myself out for the passive voice usage. The tea: I haven’t actually tried asking the “What do you want?” question, and maybe if I did, I’d see that asking it was the *secret sauce* I’ve been looking for all along.


Until then, as a warm up challenge, I’ll take the idea of “What do you want?” and creatively interpret it in different audition room scenarios:


At an Initial Audition/EPA/Open Call:

Ask yourself: What do you want from this experience?

Get clear on who it’s for and what it’s for, so that you know what to assess for safety and success along the way. It's the most generous posture for you to come in with a distinct P.O.V on why you're here and what you want to get out of the session.

When asked for more material:

Ask the table: What do you need to see (or hear) from me?

By asking this question, you’re providing a generous opportunity to give the table clarity on what they’d like to hear or see next from you in order to determine if you fit their artistic vision.

In callbacks:

Ask the table: Jen Waldman’s question “Is there anything I should know?” feels like a callback-friendly version of “What do you want?”.

By asking this question, you’re offering a generous opportunity to skip straight to collaboration and work in a director-actor relationship. You’re offering room and space for the director to insert whatever information they’ve been dying to share with all of the other auditionees that day.


Here are 10 other ideas of questions to ask at appointments in an effort to promote collaboration and clarity:

  1. What would be most helpful for you to see first? 

  2. What can I do for you today that will spark some joy?

  3. Is there anything specific you're looking for? 

  4. What's glaringly obvious to you about this side that other actors have missed? 

  5. How can I best serve your artistic vision today? 

  6. To you, what's the most important thing about this character (this scene/this relationship/this moment/etc)?

  7. What can I do today that will make your day/make your life easier? 

  8. Before we dive in, is there anything specific that you want me to do?

  9. What have other people screwed up today that you're hoping I won't? 

  10. I just read Steal like an Artist. Have you seen anything inspirational today that’s worth stealing? 

What other questions can you add to this list to eliminate fear and increase magic?




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