Acting is tough. The hardest part of it is the fact that you’re not going to get every role you want, no matter how badly you want it or how perfect you think you are for it. They say you’ve got to have a thick skin in this business- you have to be prepared to be rejected. But instead of telling you how to deal with rejection, all everyone keeps saying is “something better is coming”, “one door closes, another one opens”, “it’s their loss”, “everything happens for a reason” etc. Those sentiments are all well and good, but none of them have ever actually made me feel better when I wasn’t cast in a show I had my heart set on.
A few days ago, I got the news that I wasn’t cast in a production of Heathers. I auditioned, spent nearly 5 hours at the callback and waited anxiously for three days, hoping I’d see the words the near 30 other girls at the callback wanted to see- “We’d like to offer you the role of Veronica Sawyer” or even one of the Heathers. I had finally gotten the email and my heart dropped- as soon as I saw the word “unfortunately”, I knew that I hadn’t gotten in. I reread the email, and it was confirmed that I wasn’t cast. This type of news is the kind I’ve become accustomed to, seeing as I’ve been doing this type of thing for going on 15 years now, but the pain hasn’t gotten any more bearable throughout the years. The wounds don’t heal any faster now than when I wasn’t cast in Sandy in Grease back in high school. The worst part is, that still hurts a little, even now after all this time.
When we go to an audition, we open ourselves up for rejection. It’s similar to asking a crush out for coffee… you get a 50/50 chance- yes or no. Hopefully the odds are in your favor, and you get the part AND the guy! (Who am I kidding, that doesn’t happen!) But I digress. Just as often as you get a yes, you get a no. Sometimes more often than not. And it hurts. It hurts even more when you’ve had your heart set on a role for a long time- you memorize every lyric and every line and pour your heart and soul out at the audition.. And you just don’t get it. To be honest, it really sucks. That’s why this one hurts so much.
My love affair with Heathers began in the summer of last year when I was in a production of Veronica’s Room. I had heard some friends talking about how wonderful it was. I bought the soundtrack and began to listen to it as I drove back and forth to the theatre every night, which was a 45 minute drive both ways. Before too long, I was enamored with the show, the story, the characters, and the actors in it. The musical is nearly as much of a cult hit as the movie was. I was surprised by how catchy the music was and by how relatable the show was. It quickly hopped to the top of my theatre bucket list, and like everyone else, I wanted to play Veronica in the worst way. Needless to say, when I found out a local theatre was putting it up as one of their summer shows, I was prepared. My time had come.
Unfortunately, even though you hope and dream and pray, you don’t always get your way. (Get the reference?) I auditioned, got called back and I wasn’t cast. You never know why a director does the things that they do- it usually never has anything to do with your talent or abilities. Sometimes you just don’t fit the image they have in their mind. Even if you could be Barrett Wilbert Weed’s twin, it’s possible that the director doesn’t want to go in that direction. Sometimes directors cast people they’ve worked with before casting people they don’t know. Seems a little clique-y, but if you had a friend that was casting a show you were dying to be in, wouldn’t you get mad if they cast a stranger instead of you? And at the end of the day, maybe your audition just wasn’t that great.
The first thing we tend to think is “I’m not good enough.” There’s the parallel to the dating world again. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Chances are that it wasn’t because you weren’t good enough. You just weren’t what the director had in mind. Maybe a year from now you’ll audition for a different show with the same director and they’ll cast you because you’re exactly what they wanted for that role. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we hoped they would. You don’t have to understand it in order for it to make sense to someone else.
Rejection is painful both mentally and physically. Yes, it’s scientifically proven that rejection activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain. MRI studies have even proven that sometimes taking a Tylenol helps to make you feel better after being rejected. There are also scientific studies that claim that the pain rejection causes was an evolutionary adaptation that gave our ancestors an advantage to surviving. According to an article in Psychology Today, it’s stated that “Evolutionary psychologists assume the brain developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk for ostracism. Because it was so important to get our attention, those who experienced rejection as more painful (i.e., because rejection mimicked physical pain in their brain) gained an evolutionary advantage—they were more likely to correct their behavior and consequently, more likely to remain in the tribe.” Fascinating, right? It doesn’t make it suck any less, though. Bringing me to my next point…
Sometimes when people don’t get the roles they want, I see angry facebook posts badmouthing the director which is never a good idea. It is also scientifically proven that rejection triggers surges of severe anger and aggression in the brain, making people lash out at others including innocent bystanders. This is very dangerous, and a study done in 2001 by the Surgeon General states that “rejection was a greater risk for adolescent violence than drugs, poverty, or gang membership.” At other times, this anger is directed inward, placing blame on ourselves and harping on our inadequacies. This makes the pain we feel stronger and makes it more difficult to recover from the initial damage that rejection causes.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of reasons why people aren’t cast in shows, and it isn’t healthy to dwell on it for any extended period of time. It’s okay to be disappointed, and moving on when someone tells you that you cannot be part of an experience you’ve dreamed of and had your heart set on is no small feat. However, this fickle mistress we call show business always has something stored ahead for us. The beauty of acting is that there are always new projects coming.
So before you send that angry email or post on facebook about how horrible a director is for not casting you, try to consider the future. Burning bridges is a good way to destroy your reputation as a performer and is not worth it for a show that will come around somewhere else in another year or two. There will always be opportunities as long as you allow yourself to be open to them and wait for the right ones to come along. Break lots of legs out there, and never forget to have fun and enjoy sharing your passion with the world.