I just walked through a very special rite of passage with the Elon Seniors: the spring casting directors/agent master class series.

Each year, the seniors pull together, raise thousands of dollars by themselves, and invite the industry’s top casting directors and agents to campus.

It is not for the faint of heart: imagine working all year to make sure you have every possible musical style and requirement in your audition book, understand what type you are, or think you may be one day, have a few good monologues in your back pocket just in case, organize several original Broadway combinations in your mind and body, get your pictures and resumes all set, try to get yourself in a good psychological headspace…all to hear vastly different points of view, reactions, and opinions from industry professionals who are the ones who help actors get jobs.

Aaaaahhhh. And people ask why actors act crazy sometimes; our career environment is antithetical to mental balance.

The seniors did a phenomenal job, and all this got me thinking about an essential question so many auditioners ask: What makes a person stand out?

I’ve also pondered this question after watching over 400 very talented students audition for a small number of spots in next year’s incoming class.

I will offer you my opinionĀ  on this. There are the obvious steps of preparation and technical skill that we must display as actors and singers in the audition room. That’s a given.

I’m talking about the many many, actors who enter a room prepared and skilled and offer a performance that is lovely, nice, well done, and completely forgettable in the sea of lovely, nice, well done auditions.

Don’t panic, though. This is not about competition and numbers. This is about you.

I tell my students regularly, “God only made one you.”

And that’s the secret.

And that’s the most difficult thing to trust.

It feels like nothing. It feels like, “That’s it?”

But in order to stand out I have to DO something. I have to make them notice.

Sure, there are things we do to make the table people look up: choice of material, masterful execution. Sure.

But the real encounter, the thing that makes the other humans in the room have a substantial, real experience is when you open the door to your heart and trust what is there. Because what is there you didn’t make, and it’s beautiful and transcends all competition.

I often describe it like this: imagine you have double doors right on the front of your heart. You walk in the room, you open the doors, and you say “You’re welcome here.”

Sharing a song in a room is an act of hospitality. You are like a mansion, and you have no idea how beautiful the architecture is.

So let this be part of what you think about when you stand in an audition room or on any stage. You’ve done the work. You’re prepared. (If you’re not prepared, I can’t help you.) So just open the door.

And if you feel the door closing, you can simply re-open it the next time you breathe.