Overcoming Rejection (Now with Bonus Material)

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  For those of you wondering how my audition went, I am sorry to report that I did not get cast in Boeing, Boeing.  A year ago, I would have really taken this defeat to heart, but thanks to Leaving Iowa, that is no longer the case.  My only real regret is that I missed out on my final chance to work with Carl Beck.  But I would like to take a moment to thank him for the opportunities he gave me in my early days when I was. . .less than good ;).  I wrote the following article shortly before my casting in Leaving Iowa about a year ago and thought it would be good for any actors who read my blog who may be having their own struggles with theatre.

Auditions.  I think that word has the same effect on actors the way crosses affect vampires.  Yet all performers must endure them in order to be able to do a show.

Personally, I don’t mind auditions as I view it as the one brief moment where I can showcase my craft.  It’s the aftermath of the audition that can be depressing when I meet the dreaded beast known as REJECTION.

What is so peculiar about the audition process is that an actor actually has very little control over it.  The only control an actor has is over his or her acting, singing, and dancing and that actually counts for very little in getting cast.  Uncontrollable factors such as weight, sound, look, chemistry, director’s vision,  and other items play a much greater role in getting cast.  It will NEVER be purely about talent.

I learned that lesson in the most brutal way imaginable.  A short time into my career, my dream show, The Elephant Man, was going to be produced.  I prepared like I had never prepared before.  By the time I walked into the audition, I was thinking, speaking, and being John Merrick.  And it was a fabulous audition.  In fact, I rank my read as Merrick, as my absolute finest.  Three weeks later I received notification that I was not cast in the show and to say I was crushed would be the understatement of a lifetime.  I was CRRRRUSHHHEDDDD!!!!!!  Imagine how flabbergasted I was to later discover that the reason I wasn’t cast was because the director thought I had worked too hard on the role.  That was how I learned about the power of uncontrollable factors.

I have been in this business for nearly 18 years and after all this time I still get terribly disappointed when I do not get cast in a show.  As actors, we put ourselves on the line and lay bare our souls for judgment in the hopes that our talent, in conjunction with those uncontrollable factors, is enough to land roles.  If I didn’t feel bad about not getting cast, I would think I wasn’t caring enough.

There are only 2 types of auditions that do not bother me when I don’t get cast.  The first is if I simply didn’t do a good job.  If I had a poor audition, I have nothing to feel bad about because I know I didn’t present myself in my best light.  I have a “Darn it!” moment and move on to the next audition.  The other type is if I know I was simply outclassed on that particular audition.  Nearly two years ago, I auditioned for a show called Becky’s New Car and I had a really great audition.  I was proud of it.  But there was another gent there whose audition was clearly superior to mine.  When he was done reading, I wanted to stand up and say, “We have a winner!!  Give him the role.”

After many years of hard work, I have evolved into a decent actor so those types of auditions occur very infrequently today.  Most of my defeats in recent years have occurred simply because of factors outside of my control.  And it is very humbling to know you have done good work and to not have that work rewarded.  The only blow more difficult is to know you did not have a chance to show your absolute best and that blow is downright devastating.

With very rare exceptions, I go into every audition thoroughly prepared.  By that I mean, I’ve read the play, selected the characters I’ve liked, and put some practice into those roles so I can be seen in the best possible light.  Back in 2008, I auditioned for Twelve Angry Men and I dutifully prepared the role of Juror 8 (played by Henry Fonda in the film version).  I was in the first group called up and I was asked to read the role of Juror 2 (played by John Fiedler in the film) for that scene.  Juror 2 had 3 very short sentences in that scene, so all I could really do was listen to the others as a very nervous man would.  After several more rounds with other actors, the director said she would start dismissing people and I was the first person eliminated.  I was stunned, but refused to go down without a fight.  I asked if I could read for Juror 8 and the director thought for a moment before looking at me and saying, “I don’t see you as Juror 8.”  I felt like I had just been punched in the gut with a gauntlet.  Losing is one thing, but to lose without being able to go down swinging is another.

I share these anecdotes with you so you know that rejection happens to every actor.  It’s a guarantee. It’s also OK to feel bad about being rejected.  It’s natural.  It’s understandable.  Just remember to keep it in perspective.

Remember that being rejected is not personal.  A director never feels good about making an actor feel bad and he or she does not WANT to make an actor feel bad.  Heck, the directors in my first and third anecdotes went out of their way to console me after I swallowed the bitter pills.  Neither one was saying I was a bad actor.  All they were really saying was that I just didn’t suit their vision of the characters.  A director sees the whole of a show and makes casting decisions to ensure the artistic integrity of the project.  Those decisions are impersonal and you should never take a rejection as a slight on your talent.  One rejection or a string of rejections does not mean you are not a well rounded performer.  All a rejection means is that you didn’t suit the particular needs of that particular director for that particular project.  And remember casting is very, very hard.  I just assisted with the biggest audition in Omaha history.  350 people showed up to audition for Les Miserables.  Regrettably, 300+ talented people aren’t going to make it in and that will not be a reflection on their abilities.

Recently, I read a wonderful article on handling audition rejection and that is what inspired me to write this article.  The author pointed out that after a bad audition experience, NEVER DWELL ON THE NEGATIVES.  Consider them in terms of improvement for the next audition, but do not DWELL on them.  Instead, FOCUS on the things that went well for you and remember them in terms of good solid audition technique as well as the strengths you possess as a performer.

Most importantly, NEVER DEFINE YOURSELF BY THE AUDITION.  Just because your unique styles and strengths weren’t needed for this particular project doesn’t mean they won’t be vital for the next project.

ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOUR TALENT.  Talent cannot be stopped.  Eventually, it does prove itself whether it takes 8 auditions or 800 auditions.

COMING SOON:  I will be returning to Las Vegas for another series of stories in March.  I will also be reviewing the Prairie Creek Bed and Breakfast in a little under two weeks.  In the meantime, if you need a fix of traveling stories, please visit my brother’s travel blog at http://thatoneguywhotravels.wordpress.com.

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