No actor (or regular human) is immune from it. In fact, most actors spend the majority of their time in the Land of Rejection.
So how do you cope with frequently being told you’re unwanted?
Well, one thing you must remember about being rejected from a role, a production, even from getting an audition in the first place is that it is not personal. Like most humans, I’ve experienced a lot of rejection in my life, particularly since I moved to the UK, and much of it has felt horribly personal. Rejection of person is difficult to swallow. It hurts, it breaks you down and makes you question your perceptions of yourself.
For the past 5 years, I’ve allowed various rejections–silent and spoken–to hold me back, hold me down, keep me in a place of complacency tinged with fleeting despair and tempered only by wine and denial. Rejection has fuelled my depression and anxiety, and I have allowed some it to change my sense of self worth.
I don’t think I found myself again until that first evening back in the ‘classroom’ in January, working on some Shakespeare. I remember sitting on the bus on the way home thinking, I am an actor. That is who I’ve always been and who I always will be. And I am good. I am a fucking good actor.
So that’s how I’m going to handle professional rejection this time around. I will allow nothing to erode that one belief in myself I have had since I was a child. That one thing I have, that I know, that I will not let anyone take away from me. That I am a good actor and I must keep trying.
These past couple weeks have been super reject-y. And I think it will be beneficial, perhaps to other people out there struggling with these feelings, to discuss how I’ve worked through various rejections.
Just like auditions themselves, rejections comes in all different shapes and sizes. The easiest for me to deal with is when I feel/know/agree I have done something poorly and am worthy of rejection. Like that commercial casting–I would have seriously questioned their judgement if they cast me. I was not prepared to have a successful audition, and I was not good! And with Othello, I was immediately embarrassed by what I’d done compared to what I knew I could do. These expected rejections were easier to take.
And also redeemable! Even if I couldn’t re-audition for that girl, I could prove to myself that I make a passable Edmund and film the monologue to share with you guys. And commercial castings–I just need more practice! There is a tangible solution to that failure: take some film classes (bleck)!
Other rejections are a bit… harder to deal with.
I was called in last Tuesday evening to audition for multiple roles in a series of Black Mirror-esque plays being staged at the end of August. I was really pleased to get the audition in the first place and felt good about the opportunity. I was feeling confident and positive, if not a bit lost, when I ran into (almost literally) the director of the Othello thing on the stairs in the building where my audition was scheduled to take place.
Shortly thereafter, I was waiting outside the studio to be called in…. and what appeared to be the entire cast of Othello arrived for a rehearsal in another studio next door! Fortunately, my mood of the day found the circumstance humorous rather than humiliating, and I smiled to myself as I waited to the soundtrack of my rejection playing Zip Zap Zop (or Zip Zap Boing as they call it over here) in the other room.
Eventually, it was my turn to audition. I got called in with 3 other actors for a GROUP audition… which luckily turned out to be much more tolerable than that Group Interview I told you about last year. None of the other actors in the room were competing for the same roles as I was, so that made for a fairly relaxed setting. The panel had us read through several scenes from the various plays and gave us direction. I have to say, I ended up having a bit of a blast. Rather than an audition, I approached it as a fun opportunity to get up and do some acting with other talented actors.
And I thought I’d done really well. The panel seemed pleased with my performance, and I completely got the vibe from them. The vibe is when the people you are auditioning for get that look in their eye, that glint, that indicates that they want to cast you. I’ve never been wrong about the vibe–I’ve always ended up being cast once I’ve felt it. And boy, I felt it this time, I felt I’d absolutely smashed it.
I was riding so high on Tuesday night through to Wednesday morning, when I first woke up at 5am ready and thrilled to start my day working on more auditions! I forced myself to go back to sleep, but the thrill was still alive when I eventually tackled the day at 7am. My happiness cup ran-eth over even into Thursday, where I didn’t particularly mind as much as usual getting up and going to work… for there was a light at the end of the tunnel! I would soon be cast and the snowball would be gaining momentum!
Late Thursday morning, I received an email on my phone.
That sickening jolt to the stomach, like you’ve been punched.
Regardless of the vibe and knowing I had done my best, amazingly even… I had not been cast from that Tuesday night audition.
I allowed this disappointment to cloud the rest of my (miserable) work day and my hot-as-hell commute home. This one little rejection caused me to momentarily despair that I’d never get anything else, maybe I’m totally wrong about my talent, I will rot in this office until the end of my days. I even briefly contemplated not bothering that evening with the video submission that had been requested of me for another audition.
But that is all ri-di-cu-lous. Ridiculous thinking.
I’m glad to say that I didn’t allow myself to entirely fall off the cliff edge as I sometimes do. I’ve only been back at auditioning for two months, I reminded myself (okay, Cordelia also reminded me). And I’ve done incredibly well to even GET any auditions in the first place. This is a process.
I got home, dusted myself off (errrr wipe all the sweat off), and taped another damn audition.
So, none of my work this week has borne fruit. Or has it? Isn’t each attempt a step in the right direction? Good practice? Immunity-building? And what if, rather than breaking you down, each rejection makes you stronger and more determined?
As I was considering these questions on Friday, I came across an incredible passage in East of Eden, greatly condensed for you here:
What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against? Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. […] If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
‘The glory’, as Steinbeck defines it, is what I have described in my Tuesday-Wednesday euphoria. I suppose it’s only right that that should come with a little pain. The worst thing would be for it to never come at all.
For then we would be lost.
PS I’ve also been thinking about how lucky I am that I don’t have to deal with rejection AND discrimination like so many actors who are BAME, full figured, or otherwise deviant from the very narrow expectation that is considered ‘the norm’. Major props and admiration for that even steeper uphill battle, to which I hope I am an ally.
PPS Obviously none of these photos of the glorious social reject/outcast Winona Ryder are my own… thanks, Google!