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Someone asked me to explain one of my favorite words, NEXT. Since rejection is an enormous, a huge, a top-heavy part of our professional world as actors, we need lots of ideas about how to handle it (and how NOT to handle it!). One of the best way not to dissolve into depression over all that rejection is the magic word, NEXT.
But first, here is a pathetic but true story about loss of innocence, rejection, and the dawn of reality in the world of acting.
When I first entered this profession (after coaching for two or three years) I knew less about this business than Pepper the Diva Cat. I had never heard of Backstage or a Ross Report. I don’t think Actors Access existed, since I don’t think electronic submissions via the Internet even existed in 1989. I hadn’t a clue about how to get an audition.
At the time, we lived in Princeton. A neighbor who knew I was studying acting in New York suggested looking in the local papers for auditions, since there were several excellent community theatre companies in the area. I looked, I auditioned, got the role, performed the role, got my first review. It made me feel good. Wow, another reason for giving in to the delayed dream. Repeat the same happy story several times.
After moving back to Manhattan to pursue this delayed dream, I innocently assumed the pattern set in Trenton’s Blithe Spirit would stretch out on an infinite yellow brick road of auditions automatically followed by being cast. And, by golly, it did–for two glorious years, always climbing up the career ladder. I considered putting OZ REACHED on my towels and tee shirts.
Then one winter morning at an open call for a Beckett role I was born to play, I picked up a flyer in the foyer of the theatre holding the auditions, and there read that “my” role had already been cast–with no less than Jean Stapleton, Archie Bunker’s fictional wife.
Close-up of me in audition foyer: innocence dissolving. Goodbye assumption that “audition” led automatically to “cast.” A mach speed reality check. Yellow brick road becomes mud trail–rapidly. And I am lying in that mud, face down. Mouth open. Drowning in reality. Pathetic. Self-pity reigned.
No matter how loudly the brain insisted, “Hey, I’d cast Jean Stapleton. She’d fill the seats”–no matter how the mind held to practicality–that flyer nevertheless revealed the scrim behind which our profession hides. The road to roles is potted with disappointment, rejection, hurt, unfairness, nepotism, and bottom-line dollar signs. I would love to claim that the idea of “NEXT” was born while holding the Beckett flyer–“next” meaning on to the next audition. It wasn’t. “Next” sort of gradually evolved–from necessity. And from lying in mud. Drowning in self-doubts.
Almost each subsequent rejection hurt. And truthfully some of them still do. On the other hand, some roles I wouldn’t cast me in either. But even those accurate rejections still caused small pinpricks. Alligator hide would help most of us actor types! However, after the oh’s and ah’s and “You’re what we’ve been waiting for” and “the costume designer will be calling you” and never hearing a peep from them later, pretty soon you really need some tangible life boat to climb into. Or a crane to help you get out of the mud of that yellow muck road to Oz.
We who experience rejection and disappointment, if not daily, at least weekly, have just one thing we can do to survive.
HOW TO SURVIVE REJECTION–or–THE ROAD TO “NEXT”
The one thing? Go in and do a killer audition. There is a phrase I use as a mantra before every audition and performance: “Knock ’em dead and give ’em hell.” And that’s what we aim for–every time. The killer audition brings pride and pride cushions some of the rejection. Pride is a kind of ego parachute. If you walk out of an audition and can say truthfully, “That’s the best I can do.” Then leave it in the lap of Zeus and announce NEXT.
Just be sure that “the best I can do” is not self-delusion. In order to say it’s the best you can do, you must be PREPARED. I am writing an entire article on preparation and presentation specifically directed toward auditioning. Preparation is not just working on a particular monologue or one set of sides. It is technique, attitude, hours of work, reading poetry, novels, looking at art, listening to music (not just heavy metal), looking into the sky and allowing yourself to experience internal limitlessness. More on that to come later.
In order to say it’s your best, you must know how to audition. And then you go into the audition room to take over, to knock ’em dead, to walk out with pride, and on to NEXT. And never wonder for whom the call-back telephone bell is going to ring. (Is John Donne cringing at this massacre of his glorious phrase?) Forget the audition. On to NEXT.
I have watched fellow actors as they wait to audition and without hearing a word of their sides or monologues could tell who was going in to kill and who was going in to be killed. Audition is a battleground and you yourself are both friend and foe. I have coached actors for auditions and could tell before the event who would and who would not get a callback and no, it has nothing to do with talent. It is Preparation. Presentation. Pride. NEXT.
So before you burst into inconsolable sobs, look in the mirror. Preparation? Yes? Presentation? Yes? Audition savvy? Yes? Then you have earned the right to proclaim NEXT. If one, two or all three are “No,” then back to the drawing board. It is much more comforting to know that you yourself have blown the audition rather than be told you’re spectacular and never hear from them again. If you yourself created the rejection, then you can correct it. Or wallow in the depression inevitable in this business. How you audition is totally within your control. Whether you get cast is only partly within your control. But you reaction to rejection is TOTALLY up to you. I can add this as if written in stone, however: If you let rejection infect you, when you walk in to the next audition that infection, that virus goes in with you. How you walk into the room, how you introduce yourself is as important, and sometimes more important, than the talent itself.
Exude that beautiful “I am as good as the best and better than most” attitude and your casting people will believe you. And how do you create that attitude? By dismissing all past rejection. By the magic word, NEXT.
What precisely is a NEXT mentality? What exactly are the steps to NEXT?
NEXT is forgetting about the audition, if you can answer “Yes!” to the three questions above after you’ve finished your post-battle review. Do not look for implications or innuendos from the audition committee. A mere “Thank you” or even silence is as reliable as “You’re great, superb, exactly what we want.” Do not search for hidden indications of how they liked you or your work. Do not assume you have the role if they laugh in the right places or gasp when you are finished. Do not glow in their praise (that gives them too much power). Glow in pride at your own job well done–more than well done–your own job done the best you can do.
Besides, you should be too focused on your song, your sides, your monologue to pay any heed to what an audition committee is doing.
Review, repair, then start the three P’s all over again (preparation, presentation, pride). In other words, work, grow, learn, watch, listen, experiment–maybe even do something as basic as picking a more interesting monologue. Be too busy growing to give rejection room to grow into bitterness. Then in you go and on to NEXT.
The steps to NEXT? Reread the previous two paragraphs. “NEXT” is doing the best you can. Then comes the moment in your life (after lots of experience auditioning and a barrel full of preparation) then comes the moment when you demand of yourself that you change “The best I can do” to “The best they will hear.” That is your goal: being the best they will hear. Nothing less. Until you are so groomed and polished that you know you are the best, then NEXT is a safety net from the hurt of rejection. Once you truly know you are your best and that your best is the best they will hear, then NEXT is a statement of pride, not reassurance.
There are ways of handling rejection which I strongly do not endorse. They do not require expansion. Most of us know them only too well. Depression, stupid bad relationships, overeating, drugs or alcohol, doing nothing to help improve yourself, hating everything, anger turned against self rather than turned into activity (like taking classes or starting your own company). Not practicing if you are a singer or dancer. You truly know the routine.
Just today I asked a student how she did at an audition she had got for herself and, since it was strictly singing and dancing, she had not coached with me. Her reply? “Not too well.” Why?” “My plane was delayed and I was tired.” Solution? Cancel the audition. Fib a bit if necessary “My plane is delayed and I can’t make it.” Do not go in to lose. Unless you have an inner well of hurricane energy, you are shooting yourself in the toe by going to an audition tired. I have a teaspoon of respect for most casting people but the one thing you can truthfully say is they never forget! Once you have made an impression they never seem to forget or revise that initial impression. You cannot walk in and say, “Sorry, I’m tired.” There is not one excuse that is truly acceptable! Cancel if you are physically incapable of doing your best.
This failed audition has no excuse. No NEXT can erase the rejection.
Back to coping with rejection: There are healthy ways to cope with the hurt inherent in this profession: work out your feelings in the gym, jog, clean your apartment, go to a movie, take an extra dance class or singing lesson or coaching session.
One famous film star fired her manager because she felt she was being rejected in favor of another superstar. When you reach that level, you won’t need NEXT. Money buys lots of alligator hide.
In the meantime, the best net under the high wire we constantly walk is preparation, presentation, pride, and NEXT. And then another NEXT. Until preparation, presentation, and pride lead to CAST!
The greatest comfort against inevitable rejection is riotous success. And that success partly comes from NEXT.
write by Amelinda