In our new advice column, "Hey, Johnny!" (as in: stage door Johnny), an anonymous Broadway veteran answers the burning questions that might just be keeping your theatre-loving soul up at night. Previous columns have covered everything from how to tell your parents you want to major in theatre to whether you need a "Broadway body" to make it big.
Got a question? Ask it here.
I just auditioned for the school musical and was rejected. How do I deal with rejection in general, especially since it's common to be rejected as a professional actor?
There's this haunting quote from the writer Annie Dillard about the nature of time that I think you need to hear: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
I think this applies to your predicament, because the way to "deal with rejection in general" is the same way to deal with it, specifically – by getting back up and trying again. Day after day. Over a lifetime. Even after you stumble, even after you're cut, even after you're told you're not good enough.
I wish there were a shortcut, but there isn't, so you may as well get used to the view.
A former therapist of mine once encouraged me to look at "the arch" of a long relationship before deciding whether to break up with this one guy. Was he IN GENERAL a good match who met my needs and was there for me? Was he ON OCCASION sloppy, aloof, not conscientious? That method of filtering out the truth – to look at the trend of something as opposed to an isolated incident – is one you need to employ, now.
IN GENERAL, Sidelined, do you get the same kind of rejection, over and over again?
Are you auditioning for soprano roles despite not really having the capacity to hit the high notes? Do you dream of playing the comic sidekick, but never practice your timing, or study the greats (find Lucille Ball and/or Leslie Kritzer on YouTube)? Have you taken a critical (but kind) look at your actual assets, and are yours dreams not matching up to the kind of feedback you regularly get?
"But I don't get regular feedback," might be something you'd come back to me with. And that means your task is to get more feedback. That might translate into: "get rejected more often," but, you're right, professional actors get rejected all the time. Might as well snuggle up with the concept and make nice.
Malcolm Gladwell, who writes about social-science stuff using a popcorn vernacular, states that we need "ten-thousand hours" working at something before we become truly expert. If you read up on showbiz titans, from Bob Fosse to Audra McDonald, you will learn that a uniting theme across their careers is that they worked really hard. Despite rejection and, in some cases, because of it. (I understand there are mysterious people who possess a "Well, if they don't think I can do it, I'll SHOW them!" attitude, which I truly admire and have never quite fostered, myself. Mine is more personal: I want to show myself that I can do something, more than anyone else.) Let's talk practical stuff. People are rejected for all sorts of reasons, from the trivial (you're a freshman and the director only casts seniors) to the ridiculous (the choreographer hates blondes because her husband left her for one in the late eighties), to the more nuanced (you just don't have the chops to handle the role, and perhaps never will).
My advice? Find the "Yes" that's buried in every "No" you hear.
Figure out, like a detective, if the reason you're being "rejected" is because of something in your control -- and there really is a lot that's in our control, from the way we prepare for an audition to the way we act in the hallway before the audition to the way we behave when we don't get cast. (Like: Don't go on Twitter and badmouth the girl who DID get the part.) You must become a total professional, even before you get your Equity card, so that you can rule out your attitude as a reason that might be keeping you back.
Your number one job is to practice hard, to sniff out (or, better, create) opportunities, and to demand feedback from compassionate but no-nonsense people who have actually accomplished something in show business.
Really, your job is to keep getting rejected until the day you don't.
If it's true that you must kiss a lot of frogs before meeting your prince, it's equally if not more true that you must put yourself out there as an actress in as many different situations and scenarios and settings as possible before you meet your future.
How you spend your days, Sidelined, is how you will spend your life. So spend them knowing that every so-call rejection you get just means you're part of a vast network known as "survivors of showbiz" – a club to which all of your favorite stars belong, too. Believe me: Every one of them has a story about not getting cast; about not making it into their dream college; about being told "No." Even after they "made it," by the way.
Another trend among all those starry survivors of showbiz? After they got rejected, they got back up again. And again. And that's a pretty noble way to spend a life.
Break a leg,
Johnny will be back next week with answers to your questions. Got one? Ask here. Need to catch up? All his past columns are here.