How to Reject When You’re Rejecting

'A Chorus Line' at Riverside Theatre

'A Chorus Line' at Riverside Theatre

  • Melody DeRogatis

In an ideal world, we’d have all acceptances to all roles, in all productions, all the time. But if you’ve been on any side of the table in theatre, then you’re familiar with rejection. If you’re an actor, you routinely deal with company after company saying “no,” sometimes after several hours at multiple auditions for the same show. On the other hand, if you’re a director, you might have a whole pool of talented actors that you don’t want to reject, but you can only cast three.

No matter what your role in theatre is, any way you dice it, rejection sucks. But when people don’t handle rejecting their applicants with a sense of professionalism, being rejected is even worse. The most awful kinds of rejection letters:

1. No rejection letter.

People put time and effort into submitting to your project. When someone auditions for you, they’re essentially giving you a free performance. Sometimes people take off work, hire babysitters, arrange their entire day around just making your 10-minute audition slot/interview.

If someone has taken the time to audition/interview with you, even if you know, they’re not what you’re looking for, make sure you at least email them and thank them for their time and talent. This becomes more important the more times you see someone.

Don’t ghost your potential employees; it’s unprofessional and rude.

2. The patronizing rejection letter.

“Dear Jamie,

Thank you so much for applying for our season this year! We received a lot of submissions, and we wish we could cast you, but we just can’t cast everyone!

Better luck next time!”

Theatre artists know that making art is a bold and vulnerable thing to do, and a big part of that is knowing that there’s always a possibility of rejection. If you wanted to cast someone/take them on as an artist, you would. And we know that. There’s never a need to say anything like: “we wish we could cast everyone, but we just can’t.” In short, never make it sound like you’re talking to the five-year-old that lost the little league game.

3. The letter with the backhanded compliment.

“Dear Jess,

Thank you for your audition! We thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and watching your audition. The talent pool was very high this season, and we had to be extremely selective.

Thanks again!”

One of the biggest tropes in rejection letters is: “the talent pool was really high, so we had to be really selective.” While it might sound like you’re telling your applicant that they are talented, among other talented people, you’re also telling them that they’re not “highly talented” enough for your project. While someone might not meet the talent caliber you’re looking for your project, they might match someone else’s project perfectly. Think about what you say carefully, even if it’s unintentional on your end, backhanded compliments can be very hurtful.

While rejection isn’t fun or easy to do, there are ways to do it as easily and painlessly as possible. Two kinds of rejection letters help ease the blow:

1. Plain and simple.

“Dear Sam,

Thank you for your submission, but we could not offer you the position at this time. We appreciate your time and energy!

Thanks again!”

Often times, a simple “no, thank you” is plenty. Long rejections can feel like they’re beating around the bush, while applicants search for their “yes” or “no.” If you don’t have something specific you feel you need to say, then say it as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Most people are just glad to have an answer, will accept it, and move on.

2. A truly genuine letter.

“Dear Connor,

Thank you so much for the awesome work at our callbacks this weekend. You made our job as casting directors really hard!

Unfortunately, we had to go in a different direction. But, Connor, you had such a wonderful energy when you walked into the room and gave us a truly unique perspective on Moby Dick we’d never seen before. Thank you so much, and please, keep creating art.

We hope to work with you again in the future.”

Sending personal rejections should only be done sparingly. Personal notes take a long time, and sometimes you’ll have a lot of people, and won’t have something genuine to say to everyone. Make sure that if you’re sending a personal rejection, it’s because someone really touched you, and you want to make sure they know you appreciate them. If this is the case, a personal rejection letter goes a long way and is very refreshing.

Of course, on a Broadway-level, people will sometimes go to five or six auditions over several months, and never get called again without any notice… but if we could adopt the principle of always sending a decision (whether a yes or no) to all theaters, it would make being a theatre artist just that much better.

If you have the ability to send a quick note at your theatre— be it community, storefront, regional, etc. take the two minutes, and do it. A little note goes a long way, and it will keep people wanting to work with you!