Actors and the Fallacy of “Rejection”

Audition“Oh, you’re an actor?” they say with interest.  “I could never do that – I don’t know how you handle all that rejection!”

It’s so kindly meant, I know, and it’s such a universal understanding that auditioning all the time is a heartrending experience because of all the rejection.  But I’d like to set the record straight once and for all: rejection is not what makes the actor’s life so hard.

It would actually be wonderful to have a casting director say, “I’m sorry, but you’re not what we’re looking for.”  Or to have a producer frown and say, “I don’t like your voice very much.”  Or to have a writer say, “We just pictured the role with blonde hair, sorry!”

Because do you know what the number one thing you hear in an audition is?

“Thanks!”

That’s it.

You’ve waited for hours, finally gotten to walk in, and acted and possibly sung your heart out.  For all of that, your only response is one word.

Here’s a brief glimpse of what went through my head after a recent callback – for which I prepared and memorized 20 pages of songs and sides – once I was told “Thanks!” after singing one excerpt of one song:

“Is that it?  I did so well!  Why didn’t they ask me to sing the other songs?  I did exactly what I wanted to do – went in with total confidence and had fun.  I guess this means they aren’t interested?  I wonder what I did wrong.  Was it because I messed up the words?  Though they sure did laugh and seem to enjoy my soldiering through.  Am I the wrong height?  Did I use the wrong part of my voice?  Did I not look cheerleader-y enough?  Are my legs not skinny enough?  Is it possible that they just don’t know yet and could end up calling me back again?  No, because they said they’d have people back on Wednesday.  Have they already cast the role?  What didn’t they see?”

See, it wasn’t rejection that bothered me so.  It was the lack of information, the complete absence of feedback.  I never heard a single word about that audition – nor any of the dozens (if not hundreds) of others I’ve done this year.  No clue if they liked me but hated my work or possibly liked my work and didn’t click with my personality.  There could be a million reasons why I didn’t get the job, from “You looked like the producer’s ex-girlfriend,” to “That role needs to be tall,” to “Your voice was too nasal.”  It’s not getting the job that’s frustrating – it’s not knowing WHY.

Can you imagine doing your job in a vacuum?  Not having any way to look at your work objectively and not having anyone to offer you criticism or comments.  If all you ever heard was “Thanks!” as an advertising exec or a retail salesperson, you’d go crazy trying to figure out what caused the customer to walk.  Most businesses offer REASONS for not using you, like  “The other firm was cheaper,” or “I’m not looking to buy a TV right now.”  Acting is one of the few professions where its job applicants are expected to exhibit their talent, art, and skill in 30-second moments (which, if you’re wondering, is a completely different skill from preparing and performing a real role) and receive absolutely no feedback.

To be fair, it’s not like the casting director should feel obligated to write to each and every actor who comes through the room – which could be as many as 450 in a day – with a short note of feedback or reason why they did or didn’t get the callback or the job.  But would it be so unreasonable for someone (anyone in the room!) to say, “I think we’re looking in another direction,” when you’re standing there?  Or just to say clearly, “I just don’t like your voice”?  I would not mind!  I promise, I would rather have something negative than nothing at all.  And then I wouldn’t wonder for the next several hours or sometimes days.

This is why actors try to forget an audition the moment it’s finished.  “Never happened,” we tell ourselves.  “On to the next!”  That’s also why there’s an unwritten rule never to ask another actor about an audition they went on, for “Did you get it?” is about the cruelest thing you could ask someone.

In the theatre, no news is bad news.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/aktivioslo/5016098094/”>aktivioslo</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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