They said no. You prepared for your audition for hours, and they said no. You did extensive character research, and they said no. You learned a new accent, you bought a new dress, you walked into the audition room with confidence and positivity, you gave it your all, you landed your laughs, you cried on cue, you hit the high note, you correctly pronounced that difficult word, you completely aced your hard-earned audition … and they said no.
Rejection is a central component (one could argue the defining component) of a career in the theater. Yet, even if we are aware of this fact intellectually, being denied a job we really want still stings. It is so easy to feel discouraged, heartbroken, and unworthy. How can one remain sane in the acting world when it feels as if the doors of opportunity keep being slammed in one’s face?
Here are five tips to help you deal with rejection as an actor.
Remember: It’s Not About You
You being denied a part in a play may have nothing to do with your audition or with your acting talent at all. Maybe you are simply too tall, too small, or too something for this particular part in this particular project. There are many things about ourselves that we cannot change; if one of those things costs us a job, that’s beyond our control and not worth sweating over. The casting director may have a specific image or quality in mind for a given character and if you don’t match that, no matter how brilliant you are, the answer will still be “no”. That has nothing to do with you and all to do with them. Take a breath, shake it off, and move on to the next audition. Which brings us to …
Remember: This is Not the End
I get it. We actors feel things deeply. It’s easy to become defeatist and fatalistic when denied a job one really wanted. It’s tempting to allow one’s emotions to take over and spiral into a morass of despair. It’s alluring to think that this rejection is a sign, the last straw, or all you can take. Rejection can cause all the doubt demons to swarm around you and all those half-buried insecurities to bubble up.
I’ve been there. Many, many times. I too have thought “Well, they said no. I’ll never work again. My world is over. I’m going to quit acting and become a cobbler.” And yet … one rejection is not the end. Not even close. Important as any one audition can feel, it really is just one step in a much longer journey. That one show you really, really, really wanted to book and didn’t? It was not the be all and end all. There will be other opportunities. This industry is a marathon not a sprint. Hang in there. More will come.
Remember: You Are More Than Any One Job
Acting is an unbelievably personal profession. We performers pour our full selves into our work and for all of that effort to not lead to employment can make one question one’s value: both value as an artist, but also value as a person. I had a great acting teacher named James S. Little who once said: “Your work is not your worth”. I circle back to that phrase all the time. As important as acting is to me, I have to remember that my value as a person is completely independent and unconnected to my profession. Being turned down from an acting gig does not decrease my worth as a human. The things that make me me are unrelated to my employment. My sense of self must extend beyond any one audition or any one job.
Remember: The Future is Unwritten
So they said no. Bummer. But … that “no” is only for now. Nothing is fixed in this business; everything changes with time.
And as frustrating as it may be to hear, every “no” can help lead you to a “yes”. I recently booked a job at a theater with whom I had previously been in callbacks for seven other shows. Seven shows. That’s seven different rejections over almost as many years. If I had let any one of those rejections deter me I wouldn’t have landed the eighth one. Each of those seven auditions encouraged me to familiarize myself with the theater, enabled me to get to know their casting director, and allowed the theater’s staff to get to know my work. Those seven “no’s” paved the way to this current “yes”. Persistence pays off. Don’t get discouraged. Allow each of your rejections to be a teaching moment: are there things you could have done better in your audition preparation or your performance in the room? How can you take control of the situation by turning a rejection into an opportunity for growth? And finally …
Remember: It’s Okay to Feel Bad
In the industry, it is vital to have fortitude and a tough skin. And yet, it’s also okay to feel bad. It means you’re human. And that humanity is what makes you a good artist. If you didn’t feel any sadness after being denied your dream job, I would worry about your mental state. It’s a balance. Explore ways to allow yourself to honestly feel your emotions but not allow those emotions to overwhelm you into inaction and despair. How do we do this? By keeping it all in perspective and remembering that your rejection is probably not about you personally, that your career will soldier on regardless, that your work is not your worth, that every “no” helps lead you to a “yes”, and that feelings are okay. When you encounter the tempting tug of bitterness, remind yourself that you are an actor regardless of how your last audition went. You are an artist, and no rejection can change that.