Photo Credit: Nikita Sursin /

Whether performing onstage or on-set, auditioning or creating self tapes, never underestimate the importance of the first few seconds of a performance. That moment has the potential to make or break a performance. Indeed, the transition from the actor being the person they really are, to being fully engaged as the character, can determine whether a casting director chooses to continue watching the audition tape, or not. The first impression must be a strong one, and should demonstrate a commitment to the role.

Making the most out of “the moment before”

The two to three seconds before the camera turns on for a commercial audition, or the 10 seconds or so before walking onstage or before the director calls “Action!” are referred to as “the moment before.” When no thought is given to the character’s moments before the scene begins, actors risk opening the performance with indifference, or a neutral level of energy. They tend to gradually work themselves into reaching the scene’s power. However, if an actor makes a strong choice as to what was happening just before the scene launches, the scene has life right from the start. So take advantage of this valuable creative opportunity.

What are your surroundings, and who are you with?

Characters don’t exist in a vacuum and are not suddenly thrust into a scene seemingly out of nowhere. They live in the world—sometimes they are alone, while other times they’re in the company of others. Be precise about these details before the scene begins. Know the imaginary layout of the space. Is your mother-in-law in the next room? Is your dog at your feet?

What did your character just experience?

Consider something your character just saw happen. What did they just experience? What were they just thinking before the scene opened? Were they driving in a snowstorm? Did they just have an argument with a family member? Did they just receive a promotion at work? It could be as simple as they were writing a grocery list, or hastily hiding an object before the scene opens. Whatever it is, the action or thought should help focus your energy on your character’s present circumstances, their internal world and the scene partner. Also, the more specific and clear the creative choice, the better. If you’re reacting to something before the audience sees it, it captures their attention. They’re immediately engaged and curious about what is happening.

“Action!” doesn’t mean “Start saying your lines.”

Every character has a life before the camera is turned toward him or her. What is this character doing before the spotlight shines on them? The moment before the camera turns on is part of the actor’s job in fulfilling a scene. So make sure you start performing an action before the word “Action!” is called. Establish the situation and surroundings. Be specific about what activity your character is engaged in before the script begins. And refrain from immediately reciting your lines the moment casting calls, “Action!”


By developing your improvisational skills, you open yourself to endless scenarios and the full spectrum of human emotion. The creative choices you make as a performer have the power to bring life to the character and reach the scene’s potential. When creating a self tape, improvising might mean having a lively chitchat with a close pal the moments before launching into the audition material with a natural singsong in your voice. Maybe on another take, you’re whispering a secret to someone before composing yourself and saying the lines. Improv is a valuable tool to establish what went on before the scene starts. The script may not help you know what the moment before is, so actors can provide it themselves. Improvising from the get-go can lead to something new and unexpected occurring between you and your scene partner.

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