What Didn't Kill Them Made Them Stars (Part Four): Harvey Fierstein, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jason Robert Brown and More Turn Rejection Into Tony Success

The day following the announcement of the 2014 Tony Awards, Playbill.com asked this year's nominees to talk about how they cope with rejection in show business and the hard work it takes to carve out a career in theatre. From bad reviews and flops, to the jobs they didn't get and the roles that got away, here's what keeps these artists going.

The Tony Award
The Tony Award

Click here to read the previous installment of What Didn't Kill Them Made Them Stars.

Nick Cordero

Nick Cordero,  Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical  (Bullets Over Broadway)
I think the life of an actor is one of faith. There's really not a lot of validation out there. You have to really have a strong belief that you're on the right path, and sometimes that belief can waver. Truthfully, before I got this job, I was considering other things to do. I was taking real estate courses because I wanted a little certainty in my life, and I feel like this job is sort of the hand of fate pulling me back a little bit.

Alan Menken

Alan Menken, Best Original Score (Aladdin)
If you can't take the rejection, then you really shouldn't be doing this. You can't let other people define your value. And that's a hard lesson. You define your own value. And you always, always, always continue to move forward. Continue to write, continue to create. And if you get stuck licking your wounds over a lost project or trying to just continually get your dream project on to the exclusion of other things, you're gonna have a real rocky road.

Menken also offered advice to up-and-coming songwriters who are pursuing their dreams:
Be in love with the process, not the result. On a day like today people are going to ask, "How do you feel?" "Oh, I feel wonderful!" The honest truth is that it's not about this. It's about the process. It should feel wonderful to go back to your piano or your PC, or your design, whatever it is you do - and work your process. That is where you devote your love and attention and then what comes comes...

Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein, Best Play (Casa Valentina)
Everybody's struggle is different… You either come through or you don't. You come through by yourself or you come through with friends or family. No one has the same path — no two people do. I've been sober now for almost 20 years, but 20 years ago, I was a wreck, though I had whatever anybody would want. I had success, I had money, I had love, I had family. Everybody's path is different, and you have to find your path, so… I don't give that kind of "advice" because it doesn't work for anybody else. A really bad director I once worked with said to me — he was directing a revival of something — "Well, the original director said to the actor then…" And, I said, "He said that because that actor needed him to say that. I'm not that person. I need you to say something else. I need you to talk to me, not a dead person." We're all individual, and we all have to be treated that way.

Jarrod Spector

Jarrod Spector, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
Even though I'm here — and I'm grateful to be here — I understand nonetheless how fleeting it is. If you could name for me the five Tony nominees for Best Featured Actor in a Musical from three years ago — if you can name all five of them off the top of your head — you're a better man than I. I understand that this moment is a wonderful thing, and I'm so grateful and so thrilled to be here, but I know that it's fleeting. I know how difficult it will be to get the next job, despite what seems so wonderful right now. It is so hard to get a job. It is so hard to get the next thing and to know that it's going to be good. How lucky [it was with Beautiful] to have gotten a good job, to have a creative team that was creative and talented and to be in a show that people love… It's this incredible perfect storm. I'm in the nexus right now, and it just doesn't happen that often, so I'm beyond grateful that it's here and hoping that this leads to the next thing. Everybody hopes that this one thing leads to the next big thing, but who knows that it will, so I'm just going to be happy right this moment.

Anika Larsen

Anika Larsen, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)
I literally quit the business… Last year at this time, I was as low as I've ever been in my life, and I decided I was going to quit the business, and the next day I got Beautiful, and it turned everything around. It was unbelievable!

Celia Keenan-Bolger
photo by Michael J. Lutch

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (The Glass Menagerie)
I've been fired from shows. For all the jobs that I've gotten, there are 30 jobs that I haven't gotten, so I think something that's interesting about doing this [career] for a long time is that you do start to sort of make peace with the fact that you can only do what you can do. Sometimes it will be more disappointing than others, but you can only control what you control, and then it's really out of your hands. Obviously that's life's work to really try to believe, but I think as I get older, I try to have things in my life that are not about work that make me feel happy and make me feel whole as a person — particularly, my friends do that for me. When I don't get a job or something doesn't go my way, I still have other things that make me feel happy and fulfilled as a person. I think I would say [to my younger self], "Don't worry so much about pleasing everyone, and try to take care of yourself, and the rest will follow."

Joshua Henry
Photo by Joan Marcus

Joshua Henry, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Violet)
Your battery life would go down to one percent if I told you all the doors that were closed in my face — for reasons that I could try to formulate in my head. Like the song "Let it Sing" says, there's some things you have control over and there's some things that you don't. And, if you focus on the things that you have control over, I think you have a much better — much happier — life. All the doors that were closed in my face were doors that should have been closed in my face, and I'm here for a reason now. I don't know why those things happen, but it's all a part of your journey, and I really believe that your journey is specific to you, and if you stay on it — yes, there are going to be peaks, there are going to be valleys — but realizing that your journey is specific to you, you can have a happiness in that. That's how I have led my life, and that's what's helped me, especially in the business of actors.

Tom Kitt
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (If/Then)
Tom Kitt: I think about the earlier years where Brian and I were writing together, and there were times where we almost stopped — especially with Next to Normal, where it just seemed like it was too hard.

Brian Yorkey: I quit the business many times in the '90s.

Tom Kitt: You're poor, and you're trying to figure out how to write. And, I'll never forget the Village Theatre applied to the Jonathan Larson Foundation on our behalf for a workshop of what was called Feeling Electric at the time in Seattle, and they gave us a grant, and that saved the show and, in a lot of ways, probably saved our collaboration to see that through, so I just think of what if that hadn't happened. [It's] another one of those "Where would we be right now?" questions for me.

Read the full Playbill.com feature with Kitt and Yorkey.

Jason Robert Brown
Photo by Monica Simoes

Jason Robert Brown, Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (The Bridges of Madison County)
I have given up at various points of my life and being here doesn't change that. Writing is hard… This business is hard, but writing is hard, and if you feel like giving up, I always say, "So give up! You'll come back to it." That is what I have always said to myself — if it's too hard, no one is forcing me to write anything — but there are times when the need to express something will be so strong that I have to do it, and that's when I start writing again. I've been very comfortable following that — no one should be in show business to be miserable, and I'm certainly not one of those people who is going to be like that, so for me, this is another step along the journey. There's no guarantees that the journey ever gets easier or harder. It is what it is, and this is the ride I signed up for a long time ago.

Read the full Playbill.com feature with Brown.

Kenny Leon
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Kenny Leon, Best Direction of a Play (A Raisin in the Sun)
Sometimes you look at things — sexism or racism in our country — and you're never one to call that out, but I remember one time, there were four or five plays by Tennessee Williams on Broadway, or in New York… I grew up in the South and ran a major theatre in the South and taught Tennessee Williams poetry [and] did workshops at Cornell [University] on it, so to not get a call from any producer about maybe directing one of those productions, it was like, "Wow. It never occurred to anyone that I would be good for a Tennessee Williams play?" So you start fighting inside your own head, then you just keep pushing and realize that everyone has a different walk and a different road, and there's enough out here for everyone, and your time will come. I came from the South with a mother who was hard working, so I love going to work everyday. I love getting up [and] doing it — it's what I do with the hand I've been dealt… We live in a great country, and as long as I keep getting the chance to tell these stories on Broadway, I think I will be doing my part to bring the world closer together.

Read the full Playbill.com feature with Leon.