On Rejection...

C. Austin Hill

In this field, rejection is common. Sometimes we blow an audition. Sometimes we drop the ball on an interview. Sometimes we get the job and make a mistake…and lose that job. Often in these cases, the blame is on us. We might not have prepared well enough, focused well enough, paid close enough attention, or done enough research. These times are hard, but them’s the breaks. If you don’t do the work, you don’t get (or keep) the job.

There are other times when we do ALL of the work, and have a bad day. We all have bad days, and there’s not much we can do about them but, in the words of the great Jimmy Buffett, “breathe in, breathe out, move on.” These are the days that get into our heads on the good days, of we aren’t careful, and so it’s best to just call them what they are—a bad day—and go on to the next audition/interview/job.

But there are times—strange, inexplicable times, when you do everything right, and you don’t get the gig, land the job, or you lose the job—and there’s no way in which you could have controlled that decision. Sometimes you’ll audition for a role that’s perfect for you—you have the right look, the right voice, the right training…this one is in the bag…but then it isn’t. Sometimes you interview for a job that seems to be created for you, and yet they go another direction altogether. Sometimes you can get the job, do everything that has been asked of you, exceed expectations in every way, have perfect evaluations, and still be shown the door. This can happen in any area of work, and in any part of this industry—including academia.  What I need you to know is that this isn’t about you. It’s about them (whoever them is).

For you actors, you need to know that casting decisions are often very complex. They are about fit, and vision, and preference—they are about who the director sees in the role, how they fit with the other casting decisions that are being made, and how all of that figures into the ultimate approach to the material. Sometimes directors are up-front about these considerations, and sometimes they are not. More than once I’ve been surprised by a whole new way that a cast can shape out while IN the audition room—I have thought I was going in one direction, but the avalanche of decisions that begin with one choice can shape the entire cast. Some directors pre-cast roles without disclosing those decisions. Some directors are picky about where an actor has worked in the past, or with whom. Some (thankfully not many) are discriminatory about where an actor has trained. There is nothing you can possibly do, even with a perfect audition, to overcome these parts of casting. It’s just not about you.

Technicians and others, the same elements can figure into your interview processes. More often than not, you truly were qualified, and amazing, and the hiring manager simply went with another candidate. This wasn’t your failure—it was a business decision. The same goes for losing a job you’ve already gotten. It’s not uncommon for those decisions to be made without consideration of you at all (as horrible as that is to say)—occasionally money dries up, the mission changes, or there’s an internal political battle within your organization—and you are the hapless victim in all of this.

There is nothing easy about rejection, but it CAN be made a bit less painful. One of the reasons that rejection hurts is that we tend, particularly in the theatre (but not EXCLUSIVELY) to tie our identities to our work. In A Chorus Line, Paul (and then the rest of the cast) asks an important and painful question. He sings “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?” and he concludes that his headshot is a “picture of a person I don’t know.” Paul, like you, is not his resume. I am not my resume, or my CV, or my successes or failures. You are far more than the work you’ve done, or the work you will do. You are a person with INTRINSIC worth, and none of that is tied to your success. The more you can force yourself to believe that—force yourself, until you DO believe it—the less rejection will hurt. A director, or hiring manager, or boss, can tell you no or to take a hike, but that doesn’t change who you are. And it doesn’t change the fact that you will get another gig.

There are also some things you can do to help you to get that gig:

·      Don’t burn bridges. This is a very small business. People talk. People will help you to get jobs, and a bad reputation WILL keep you from getting seen. You need to protect your reputation, especially after a rejection. If you go on the offensive—accusing people of unfairness, or screaming about how terrible your former boss (or company) was, it only makes you look bad. Even if it’s true. Sour grapes never help you.

·      Network: reach out to those you’ve worked with, and ask them to help you. And when you are in the pink, do the same for others. This is how all of this works best. Work for others, and they’ll work for you.

·      Check out your book/resume: it’s important to keep your material fresh—so maybe take this chance to update your resume, your headshots (if you can afford it), and your website. Look at your audition book—have you been using the same song for 2 years? Did you do that monologue last week? Refresh, my friends, refresh.

·       Keep your chin up: I know it’s hard, but try to stay positive and look forward. Don’t look back at what was, or what might have been—focus on your future. Get back on that proverbial (and cliché) horse, and go audition and interview again.