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Actors: Handling Rejection or the Road to Next (First Boo Hoo Then on to Next)

Someone asked me to explain one of my favorite words, NEXT. Since rejection is such a huge, huge, prominent part of our acting professional world, we need lots of ideas on how to handle it (and how NOT to handle it!). One of the best ways to avoid melting into depression with rejection is the magic word: NEXT.

But first, here’s a sad but true story about loss of innocence, rejection, and the dawn of reality in the world of acting.

When I first started in this business (after two or three years of coaching), I knew less about this business than Bors, the Diva Cat. I’ve never heard of Backstage or the Ross Report. I don’t think Actors Access existed, as I don’t think there was electronic filing over the internet in 1989. I had no idea how to audition.

We lived in Princeton at the time. A neighbor who knew I was studying acting in New York suggested that I search the local papers for auditions, as there are several excellent community theater companies in the area. I watched it, I auditioned, I got the role, I performed the role, I got the first review. It made me feel good. Wow, another reason to indulge in delayed sleep. Repeat the same happy story several times.

After moving back to Manhattan to pursue this delayed dream, I innocently assumed that the pattern set at Trenton’s Blithe Spirit was an endless, yellow-brick road of auditions followed automatically by casting. And, hell, it did – for two glorious years, always climbing the career ladder. I thought about putting OZ REACHED on my towel and t-shirt.

Then one winter morning at an open call for a Beckett role I was born to play, I picked up a flyer in the lobby of the theater where I was auditioning and read that “my” role had already been cast – no less. as Jean Stapleton, Archie Bunker’s fictional wife.

Close-up of me in the audition lobby: the release of innocence. Bye, let’s assume that “listen” automatically led to “cast”. Mach speed reality check. The yellow brick road turns into a mud path—quickly. And I’m lying face down in that mud. Open mouth. Drowning in reality. Pathetic. Self-pity took over.

No matter how loudly the mastermind insisted, “Hey, I’d nominate Jean Stapleton. He would have filled the seats”—no matter how much he insisted on practicality—the flyer still revealed the strife behind our profession. The path to roles is littered with disappointment, rejection, hurt, unfairness, nepotism, and the lowest dollar signs. I would like to say that the idea for “NEXT” was born while holding the Beckett flyer – “next” meaning the next audition. It wasn’t. The “next” breed evolved gradually – out of necessity. And from lying in the mud. Drowning in self-doubt.

Almost every subsequent rejection hurt. And to be fair, some still do. On the other hand, I wouldn’t play some roles either. But even these precise rejections caused small pinpricks. Alligator hide would help most of our actor types! However, after the oohs and aahs and “You’re the one we’ve been waiting for” and “the costume designer will call you” and we don’t hear a peep from them later, pretty soon you really need some tangible lifeboat to climb into. ba. Or a crane to help you get out of the mud on the Yellow Mud Road to Oz.

For those of us who experience rejection and disappointment – if not daily, at least weekly – there is only one thing we can do to survive.


The only thing? Go in and do a killer audition. There’s a phrase I use as a mantra before every audition and performance: “Knock ’em dead, and give ’em hell.” And that’s what we strive for – every time. A killer audition fills you with pride, and pride softens some of the rejection. Pride is a kind of ego parachute. When you walk out of an audition and can honestly say, “This is the best I can do.” Then leave it in the lap of Zeus and announce the NEXT.

Just make sure “the best I can do” isn’t self-delusion. To be able to say this is the best you can do, you have to prepare. I’m writing a whole article on preparation and presentation specifically for auditions. Preparation is not just about working on a particular monologue or a group of pages. This is technique, attitude, working hours, reading poems, novels, looking at art, listening to music (not only heavy metal), looking at the sky and experiencing inner limitlessness. More on that later.

To say it’s the best, you have to know how to listen. Then you go into the audition room to take over, kill them, walk out proudly, and move on to the NEXT. And never wonder who the callback ringtone is for. (John Donne shuddered at this carnage of his glorious sentence?) Forget the audition. Go to NEXT.

I watched co-stars waiting to audition and without hearing a word of their part or monologue, they could tell who was going to be killed and who was to be killed. The audition is a battlefield, and you yourself are both friend and foe. I coached actors for auditions and could tell before the event who would get a callback and who wouldn’t, and no, it has nothing to do with talent. This is Preparation. Presentation. Pride. FOLLOWING.

So before you burst into inconsolable sobs, take a look in the mirror. Preparation? Yes? Presentation? Yes? Is it worth listening to? Yes? Then he earned the right to announce the NEXT one. If one, two or all three are “No”, then back to the drawing board. It’s much more comforting to know you survived the audition yourself than to be told you’re spectacular and never hear from them again. If you created the rejection, you can correct it. Or you sink into depression, which is inevitable in this business. How you listen is completely under your control. Whether or not you get cast is only partly within your control. But how you react to rejection is ENTIRELY up to you. I might add, like it’s set in stone: If you let rejection infect you when you walk into your next audition, that infection will come with you. How you enter the room, how you present yourself, is just as important, and sometimes even more important, than the talent itself.

Embrace that beautiful “I’m as good as the best and better than most” attitude and the cast will believe you. And how do you develop this attitude? By rejecting all previous rejections. According to the magic word: NEXT.

What exactly is the NEXT mentality? What exactly are your NEXT steps?

NEXT will forget the audition if it can answer “Yes”! to the three questions above after completing the post-battle review. Don’t seek consequences or innuendo from the hearing committee. A simple “Thank you” or even silence is just as reliable as “You’re great, great, just what we want.” Don’t look for hidden signs of how much they liked you or your work. Don’t think you’re the part if they laugh in the right places or gasp when you’re done. Don’t bask in their praise (it gives them too much power). Be proud of your own job well done—more than well done—that you did your own job to the best of your ability.

Also, you’d have to be too focused on your song, your pages, your monologue to pay any attention to what an audition committee is doing.

Revise, revise, then start over with the three Pts (Prep, Presentation, Pride). In other words, work, improve, learn, watch, listen, experiment—maybe even something as basic as choosing a more interesting monologue. Be too busy growing to let rejection give way to bitterness. Then it goes, and on to NEXT.

Your NEXT steps? Read the previous two paragraphs again. “NEXT” is doing your best. Then there comes that moment in your life (after many auditions and a barrel of preparation) when you demand that you change “The best I can do” to “The best they’ll hear.” This is your goal: be the best they hear. No less. Until you’re so groomed and polished that you don’t know you’re the best, NEXT is a safety net from the pain of rejection. Once you truly know that you are the best, and that the best is the best they hear, NEXT is a statement of pride, not reassurance.

There are methods of dealing with rejection that I strongly do not endorse. They do not require expansion. Most of us know them all too well. Depression, stupid bad relationships, overeating, drugs or alcohol, doing nothing to improve yourself, all hatred, anger turned against yourself instead of an activity (like taking classes or starting your own company). If you are a singer or dancer, don’t practice. You really know the routine.

Just today I asked a student how the audition she had for herself was, and since it was strictly singing and dancing, she didn’t practice with me. His answer? “Not too well.” Why?” “My plane was late and I was tired.” Solution? Cancel the audition. If necessary, tweet a little “My plane’s delayed and I can’t get in.” Don’t go in to lose. Unless you have an inner well of Hurricane Energy, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot if you go to an audition tired. I had about a teaspoon of respect for most of the cast, but the only thing , which you can honestly say will never be forgotten! Once you’ve made an impression You never seem to forget or change that initial impression. You can’t walk in and say, “Sorry, I’m tired.” There is no really acceptable excuse, delete it if you are physically unable to perform at your best.

There is no excuse for this failed audition. NEXT cannot cancel the rejection.

Back to dealing with rejection: There are healthy ways to deal with hurt feelings in the profession: exercise your feelings at the gym, go for a jog, clean your apartment, go to the movies, take an extra dance class, singing lesson, or coaching session. .

A famous movie star fired his manager because he felt he was being rejected in favor of another superstar. When you reach this level, you won’t need the NEXT. They buy lots of alligator skins for money.

Until then, the best net under the high wire we keep walking is preparation, presentation, pride and NEXT. And then another NEXT. Until preparation, presentation and pride lead to CAST!

The greatest consolation against inevitable rejection is rebellious success. And that success comes in part from NEXT.

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