The women at my gym are fascinated with the idea that rejection isn’t a reason to take to my bed. They are devastated that I never heard back from an audition I submitted for a local community theatre musical production. In trying to explain to them my feelings about it (in between TRX and yoga classes, of course), I was essentially making a case for why theatre folks are extremely well equipped to “deal” in life, across the board. When I sat down to formulate my thoughts into a journal entry or blog post, I kept returning to one of my soapbox topics that I touted regularly to “my” kids during their educational theatre experiences. Theatre prepares us for success in life. Theatre majors should not be discounted in the workplace. Theatre kids get it all, and can give this knowledge easily. This is a huge topic to write about. As I hash out each element of my list (TBR….to be released), I hope you’ll join me in an episodic presentation. First up: Rejection. Rejection is a multi-faceted part of this theory. Part one, comin’ at ya.
In the last six months I’ve auditioned for theatre projects only twice. I didn’t get either part. Both times I submitted my interest, I expressed the desire to be cast in ANY role, not just the lead or featured role (respectively) for which I was reading. I can regale you with the first audition later this month, today I’m telling you about the audition that my fitness center pals are so invested in.
I submitted a video audition for a community theatre musical production, citing my interest in a specific featured role, but stating that I was interested in ANY role. I received the polite, “we got everyone’s auditions stay tuned as we begin assembling the cast” email and then….nothing. Not one word. Not a text, not an email, not a call, not a carrier pigeon. This next part is lengthy without any fun graphics or memes to keep you entertained. It is the personal backstory of my rejection, my theory of my rejection, my bad or questionable decisions, and concludes with my lessons learned.
Step One: Prepare for the Audition
I downloaded two different cast albums. I researched the desired role. I bought [overpriced] sheet music for the character’s bigger song. I downloaded the karaoke track for said song. I sang for a trusted friend who encouraged me while keeping my hopes and ego in check. I scripted and memorized a brief monologue to introduce the song. I memorized the song. I hired my nephew to film the audition.
Step Two: Accidentally Learn Background Information and Question the Validity of the Audition
Three different “friends” told me that several roles were pre-cast. One of the friends was the recipient of said pre-casting. Upon consulting the audition notice and seeing “all roles open,” I questioned one of the proverbial “powers that be” as to the truth in this. I had been told very reliably that several roles, including the one I wanted, had already been offered to other performers. This is confirmed and I decide to not audition. Why waste my time and embarrass myself?
Step Three: Make Other Plans and Then Have Chaos Erupt
I decide against auditioning and make other plans. I let my nephew off the hook to film. Then I get another message from the aforementioned representative of “powers that be” saying s/he was mistaken: that nothing is pre-cast and please audition. Please be involved. I’m welcome. Now I’m torn: I’ve literally named names and will likely be auditioning to be cast in the ensemble. I can do it; I love theatre, I value arts in the community, and I have quite a bit to bring to many aspects of the production.
Step Four: Re-hire Nephew and Submit Video Audition
I sent it. I swallowed my pride, pushed the rumors out of my head, and did what I could. I was confident that at very least I’d be cast in the ensemble. It kind of sucked to have invested that much time, energy, and money in an audition for an unpaid gig as an ensemble member, but that’s what loving art is. I needed to check myself. I also constantly remind myself that if I want to be the person who “calls out” others, I have to put action where my mouth is.
Step Five: Re-hear the Pre-cast Names/Roles
Literally twelve hours after the nice email that nothing’s been offered or cast yet and to hang tight, one of the pre-cast rumor actors tells me TO MY FACE she was offered the role before auditions. I ignore it. I smile, I think, “It will be super nice to be in the ensemble and support a friend in a nice role. This is a test of humility and enthusiasm.” I go home and am sad, but I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed that I keep getting lied to.
Step Six: Hear Absolutely Nothing
I never got any communication. No formal rejection, no offer to be in the ensemble or backstage. The actress who was alleged to be pre-cast in the role I desired confirmed it a second time by offhandedly mentioning the part while talking about something else.
Step Seven: Evaluate the Rejection
I have thirty-five years of theatre experience. I have fifteen years of community theatre credits in this area. I have eight years of professional theatre credits. I have a freaking degree in theatre. I can’t get cast in ensemble of a community theatre show.
Step Eight: Evaluate My Errors- Past and Present
I am currently beating myself up for every single thing I’ve ever done in theatre, or at least how each of those things could be interpreted. I’m raking myself over the coals remembering moments in which I was difficult to work with. Moments in which I chose candor over ass-kissing. Moments in which I was guided by the work, not the feelings of others. I am frequently asked to watch rehearsals to help the director give notes or troubleshoot problems in a show. I am often the audience member that the cast fears seeing after a show, worried about my opinion of the production. I am the person who spots the weakest link or moment and wants it repaired. I am always the person who works really hard to bring the best show possible to its feet- whether as an actor, director, stage manager, choreographer, or audience member. I tell you, reader, honestly:
*I never criticize that which I can’t fix. If I don’t know a way to rectify a problem with a show, I don’t articulate my dislike. I strive to be constructive, not destructive.
*I am infinitely harder on myself that I ever will be on others or complete productions.
*I hold everyone to a high standard.
*I don’t subscribe to cliques. I don’t like when a cast member is excluded or “Mean Girl’d.” I don’t like when outsiders don’t get equal treatment. We all started as outsiders.
*I don’t sign on for disrespect. Don’t disrespect the art. Don’t disrespect the script. Don’t disrespect the cast. Don’t disrespect the creative team. Theatre is a machine in which each cog has a function. When one cog is out of whack, the whole mechanism malfunctions.
*I don’t like fake relationships. It makes my blood boil when a friend will talk smack about a director or performer at length, and next be seen buddying up to them for a role. Integrity trumps popularity in my book.
Step Nine: Resignation and Acceptance
I didn’t get a part. There is always another part. There is always another show. Onward. But I also have to check myself- again. My mouth gets me in trouble. Sometimes it’s calculated, sometimes it is not. Usually, I feel justified. You know that meme that’s based on George Carlin’s comedy? “Everyone loves honesty until you’re honest with them. Then you’re an asshole.” DING DING DING. BUT………………… and it’s a big BUT…………
I will hold my tongue more. Not be deceptive, just be quiet. I don’t have to sacrifice my personal integrity by letting someone else exercise the lack of theirs. I don’t have to hold a mirror to every person in every situation. I can learn and practice more subtlety. I can embrace this reality and adjust my behavior accordingly.
Step Ten: Rejection Lessons
For my ladies at the gym, theatre rejection teaches you to keep going. Not getting the part doesn’t mean I’m giving up on theatre. Theatre rejection teaches you that there are always factors out of your control. You can’t control the whims of casting agents or directors. You have to do your best and present your best. Theatre Rejection teaches you that every action has an equal reaction. Called a director lazy? You won’t be in any of his shows any time soon. Said you “loathe” a particular leading man? You’ll never be cast opposite him, no matter how much you want the part. You have to be accountable for everything you do in your life, knowing that a bad experience someone had with you a year ago may influence decisions in the present. Diplomacy is important in most of our lives. To hone this skill in creative environments is to perfect it. Most importantly, theatre rejection teaches us to evaluate how we can improve. Sometimes it’s as simple as investing in dance classes, a vocal coach, or better headshots. Other times it is learning how to audition better. There are even times it makes us dig deeper and learn to get along with each other better.
And so…we theatre people go on. We embrace the next opportunity for rejection, knowing that eventually there is acceptance.