Acting Reflections - How to Succeed in Auditions Without Really Trying
2021 is already proving to be a big year for me, and I have one important thing to celebrate this time around. No, it's not just my birthday. No, it's not just the fourth of July or Juneteenth. No, it's not just Christmas. No, it's not just Halloween. This is my fifth year as an actress, and I couldn't be happier with where I am right now. It's been a roller coaster of a ride, to say the least, and I constantly feel the winds of change working through and within me. Much of what I've learned about my career has been on the job, though there was the occasional book, article, and online courses to guide me as well. It took me to places, organizations, and companies I never would've imagined going to or meeting the people who would become part of my life in so many wonderful and heartfelt ways. I'm proud of what I've accomplished in the past five years, and I'm looking forward to what the next five years will bring. Or even more than five, God willing. I thought it would be fun and helpful to share my observations and lessons learned while on the job in my blog once a month, and the information I have may amount to quite a bit. My wish is that you can see, hear, and understand that my path is quite different from so many of my favorite actors, or those of you who are starting out, or even those of you who are farther in your career than I am. Each reflection has a different topic featured, but I believe my stories and experiences may be helpful and may even remind you that you are not alone. We may all live in different locations around the world, but our collective love of the arts keeps our hearts beating as one.
Auditions are the one thing that many of us fear, no matter how many years we've been in the business. It's a stressful situation making sure that you have your resume and headshot in tiptop shape, you look presentable to the casting team, your song or monologue is memorized and prepped for the performance, you have backup for additional material if the casting team asks for it, and you walk out of the audition feeling like you either succeeded climbing the Mount Everest of auditions or you completely blew it by falling down flat on your face. We've all been there. Each and every time an opportunity arises. It's scary, no doubt about it. But let me tell you something that has been passed onto me. You're not alone. You're not the only one who is afraid of auditions. You are talented. You are unique. You are wonderful. You have so much to offer. It takes time mastering your confidence levels and walking into the room with your head held high and a smile on your face. Sometimes, you have to let that fear propel you to do what is the hardest thing in the whole world for an actor to do. Believe me, I'm still working at perfecting that skill. It's hard being seen as who you are to the casting team, with only so little time to present the best side of you for a chance to work and perform in what will hopefully be a great production. There are so many things that could happen in the audition room that could put you in a good or bad mood afterwards. Even all of the preparation can't help you out of this one. If anything, auditions are everything BUT predictable, even if it's in community theatre or amateur productions. Each one is a challenge, a lesson, an opportunity, and a chance to show to the casting team why you're perfect for the show and they should cast you, no matter how much experience you have. But before I continue, let me tell you something else that I hope you can take to heart. Don't take each audition as THE one that will change everything for you. If you think of it that way, you'll only set yourself up for heartbreak and disappointment. You can only do so much preparation for the audition itself, but most of the time you just have to go in there, give it your best, and let the rest go. Or as I would often say, the rest is in God's hands. You can't control every aspect of the audition or the end result. All you can focus on is YOU. You can't control what the casting team is thinking or what they want out of you. And there are so many opportunities and projects out there, but the roles are so few. We're not meant to get every single role we want. Sometimes, if you get cast in a show, you get a role that's different from what you've initially auditioned for. It's hard to know what goes on in the minds of the casting team, but in the end, you have to place your faith in your capabilities (and even in God, in many cases) and trust what the team is looking for. Even if in many cases it doesn't involve you in the production at this time. It hurts, but believe me, it's not the end of the world. Yours truly still has to remind myself of this each and every day. Even seasoned actors have to remind themselves of this every time they leave an audition. I realize many of you want to go far into your acting careers and the reach the heights of people whose successes are amazing and inspiring to others. But you have to understand that they too had to audition and work hard at their craft in order to learn, grow, and thrive each and every day. There's no such thing as an "overnight success." Each of us has to put in the work and effort to get better and even have fun at what we do in the audition rooms, rehearsal spaces, and the stage, movie/TV sets, and recording studios. The way I see it is every show that I audition for that I end up getting cast in is a building block for my career, and I can look back at previous auditions to see what worked, what didn't work, and how I can keep moving forward in my career with what I've learned from each chance. The biggest takeaway from the auditions I've been on thus far (and they are numerous!)? I'm learning at each and every one of them, and it has given me the confidence to go in the room and showcase what makes me happiest to others, even if it's only for less than five minutes. "What have you learned from the auditions you've been on so far and the many more coming your way in the future you want to put into practice?" I've got plenty of stories to tell you about auditions I've been on, but I don't want to bore you with all of them. These are just some of the memories from past auditions that stick out the most in my mind. When I was in college, there was a play I wanted to audition for, and I struggled with finding the perfect monologue for this opportunity. I thought it would be really cool to set myself apart from the others by selecting a monologue from The Mirror Has Two Faces starring Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges. I got into the room, feeling pretty confident, and I was about halfway through the monologue when one of the directors asked me if it was indeed from the movie. I said yes, and neither one of the directors was pleased. Needless to say, I didn't get cast in that project. I auditioned for a community theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and I got to the theatre in plenty of time to relax and mentally prepare. Unfortunately, I decided to use the bathroom right around the time my group was called into the audition room. I not only got there late and was the last person there, I was asked to read for a character I had no intention of reading for and had a very low chance of getting cast as. I was only seen once, and then left after that. I didn't get cast for that show, either. I was looking to join a theatre troupe's show for a political comedy revue, and I had planned on singing a song as was the request for the audition. My song was slow, and I thought I did a very nice job with it. Then, one of the directors asked me if there was a faster song I could sing. The only faster song I knew right off of the top of my head was "Something's Coming" from West Side Story. Unfortunately, the lyrics went right out of my mind as the pianist played the song, and I floundered helplessly. I didn't get cast in the revue. Are you noticing a trend here? These three stories and lots more all ended up in REJECTIONS. Something I was forced to learn early on in my career - I can expect more rejections than offers for roles. Even from companies and organizations I've worked with in the past. And do you know what is the hardest part of rejections? They hurt so bad, and sometimes it's especially bad if they come from out of the blue. ALL of us go through rejections in this business, and it's a 50/50 chance of getting cast in a role. Even in communities and areas where the acting pool is smaller, I can just bet that there's plenty of rejections out there as well. When I was first starting out, the one thing that I always seemed to do whenever I got a rejection email was to cry, question myself and my capabilities, and wonder if there is even a small chance that there is something out there for me. And it happened every single time. After doing my first show out of college, the director took me to the side and explained that I will be getting plenty of rejections in this business. The best thing to do is to have tough skin, even an armor, to protect you from the rejections. Like so many people who are just starting in this career field, I took it to heart. I ended up developing the tough skin that came with the rejections whenever I would receive them, even to the point of putting on the armor whenever that email comes. But there was just one problem with that suggestion. I didn't allow myself to truly feel what was going on inside and let it out in a way that was healthy. I forced myself to expect NOTHING but rejections whenever the emails would arrive from an audition that I did several days or several weeks prior. I was always preparing myself for the worst possible outcome instead of the opposite, which was the best possible outcome. I had become robotic in some ways. It would be several years and several articles later when I realized that it was okay to feel the way you do after a rejection. I shouldn't have to NOT feel at all because all of us are human, and we are all capable of emotions of some sort. But the biggest difference between then and now is how I would react and feel after receiving a rejection email. Or its equivalent, which is no response at all. Back then, I would cry, complain, blame myself, and question who I am and what I can do. Nowadays, I would continue to cry from time to time, but also allow myself to feel these emotions in a way that is healthy. I now listen to music to help me feel better or to cope. I would now go out for a treat to satisfy my sweet tooth or craving and drown my sorrows in. I even talk about it with others who know exactly what I'm going through along with others outside the acting business. But the biggest difference I see now is that I'm not dragging those emotions and thoughts of failure on for weeks at a time. I allow myself to grieve for however long I need to, and then I dust myself off and pick myself back up again. The main message here is that it's okay to feel disappointment, doubt, and fear about getting rejections. It's normal for all of us to feel this way! But instead of having it drag out for weeks or months at a time, allow yourself at least a couple of days to grieve. Or if you want it to drag out for more than 2-3 days, go right ahead. You deserve all of the time you need to mourn that rejection. Go cry in your living space. Scream into or punch the pillow. Drown your sorrows in a Ben & Jerry's pint of ice cream. Go out for a few drinks. (Emphasis on "a few"!) Watch something funny. Listen to music. Talk to your friends. Whatever you do, allow yourself to feel these emotions and recover from the rejection or bad audition. But don't hold back your emotions because of the tough skin and armor. You will end up getting rejections, as well as having terrible auditions. But please don't think that you don't deserve to cry after a failed opportunity. Please do so, and remember that there will be other chances to audition again. And it will get better. Just don't give up after one or several bad auditions. Please don't. You are worth so much more than a couple of bad auditions. Just continue learning from each experience and build off of it in order to do better. Allow yourself to mourn the lost opportunity, if you must, but please don't quit. You know what's just as bad as getting a rejection email from a company/organization you auditioned for? Not getting a response at all. It's a befuddling thing, not being able to get a response from a company/organization you took the time to audition for. Why is it so hard to compose a message letting everyone know what happened, regardless of getting cast or not? From my perspective, I anticipate an email from the production I audition for so that I know how to plan out my schedule and determine whether or not I can prepare for the rehearsal process or keep on looking for more opportunities to audition. Not receiving a message at all keeps me on pins and needles, and after a certain time limit, I'm forced to give up and move on. And it hurts every single time. I always make a habit of asking the casting team how soon I should expect a response, along with whether or not I will be getting a response at all. Some of the people who are casting the show would tell me that they've been on the other side of the table and know what it feels like to not get a response at all from some of the directors and people in charge. They would absolutely make it a priority to keep in contact with everyone who auditioned for the show because they wouldn't want to put anyone in the same position they were in when they auditioned for a show and never got a response back. To the casting directors, directors, producers, or anyone reading this that are casting shows in the future: please make an effort to keep in contact with everyone who auditioned for your projects and productions. Even if there are tons of people, it shows that you are courteous and considerate of others by letting them know the result in order to help put minds at ease. If you can even be encouraging in the rejections to ask them to come back and audition for your company/organization again, that would be a big plus. You must've been on the other side of the table once upon a time, and it felt terrible not getting a response back from a project you auditioned for. Remember that feeling and let it push you to not do the same thing again to others. It may be a hassle at times, but I believe it's important to communicate with others. If we all want the arts to come back stronger than ever when this pandemic is over, the first big step is communication and transparency. Please consider letting everyone who has auditioned for your projects and productions know the results of an audition. You have no idea how much of a difference it will make in someone's day when you do. (Much of what I have to say in my blogs are based on my experiences and observations. The same is true in my reflections as an actress. I'm not an expert by any means, nor do I pretend to be. You are welcome to disagree with on anything I've said in this or previous blogs. But I won't tolerate disrespect or harassment. Please be kind.) I can hear all of you saying, "I get it! Rejections suck. I'm allowed to feel whatever I'm feeling if I get one. But what about the times when auditions DID lead to a role offer? Have you ever experienced that?" Yes, I have. One of them stands out in my mind. I was auditioning for a community theatre production of Radium Girls. I didn't know a thing about the story or the characters, but it looked really interesting so I decided to audition. On a rainy night, I arrived with about a dozen or so people to the barn to audition. I didn't know what to expect this go round, but I was glad that I was among friendly people. We were all given sides to look over and come up with our interpretations. When it was my turn to go up, I read for Sob Sister. I got up there and did the best I could do. I was asked to read for that part again and again. I must've done something right because I was asked to come in for a callback for the same role several days later. I ended up being cast in Radium Girls as Sob Sister, Clerk, and Board Member #2. The biggest takeaway from this story? You may not know what is going on in the minds of the creative team, but by showing up and just being yourself can make all of the difference in the world. At the cast party for the show, I was told by both the director and assistant director that during my audition for Sob Sister, they somehow knew that I was right for this role. I was very surprised because I never expected to be right for something beyond the ensemble. Then again, this was my first time being in a supporting role in my career, and that was a big jump from being in the ensemble in shows. But the bottom line is that I was true to myself and just trusted my instincts on what I wanted to interpret for the character. We keep on playing this game of trying to figure out what the creative team wants. But the only thing we should be focusing on is being ourselves and trusting that what we have to offer is enough. Even if it's not meant to be this go round, allowing ourselves to be confident in our talents and who we are can make all the difference in the world. There are opportunities out there that you're right for. It may take time finding them, but they're out there. And when it happens, you will know. As DaJuan Johnson from Bosch says, a rejection is one step closer to a yes. Think about how happy you will be when you finally get that yes. Want to hear my very first audition story? There was an open call for The Lion King/Aladdin national tour in DC, and I had gotten up early to make sure I have a place in line. By the time I got there around 8 am, there was already a line around the building. But I was still close enough to the door that I would be seen. The people helping out with the auditions were very nice and gave us updates as the day went on. I was initially prepared to sing a 16 bar cut of "You and Me Against the World" by Helen Reddy. That got cut down to eight real fast as the number of people auditioning grew. I ended being placed in the group that was seen after lunch. I went in, sang my piece, and went out again. Then, I ended up getting a call from The Lion King/Aladdin several weeks later asking me to join them on tour. I know what you're thinking. Did that REALLY happen? Yeah, no. It didn't. I wanted to see if you were paying attention. I didn't get the chance to do a tour with The Lion King/Aladdin. But the one takeaway from this experience was how supportive all of the other actors were to me and to everyone else. We were laughing, having conversations, and just being supportive. We didn't see each other as competitors, and I took that with me for future auditions. As actors, there are so many things we want to do, but so very few roles. The last thing we should be is competition to one another. We can't all be right for every single opportunity. It just doesn't work that way. It's hard being judged by our resume and headshot, but even still, we shouldn't have to resort to turning against one another for the sake of getting the role. I know in community theatre auditions I meet people I worked with or seen all the time. We get to have a nice chat, share a hug or two, and wish each other luck. If only that was the case with ALL auditions. In the instance of EPAs and professional auditions, that's a little bit harder to do because there are lots of people you don't know and some of them may not want to be friendly because they are preparing to go on and perform for the casting team. It's okay to not engage in small talk if you're mentally preparing for the audition, but also keep in mind that it's nice to be supportive of each other, no matter where you come from. We're not enemies. We signed up for this career because it has made us happy and we wouldn't imagine ourselves doing anything else. We love to perform, tell stories, and engage with the audience. We enjoy being creative. We want the chance to shine. The way I mentally prep for an audition nowadays is listening to music to get the blood flowing, say some affirmations to myself, say a quick prayer, and then go in when it's my turn. It may be different for all of you, but allow yourself the chance to mentally prepare yourself and be ready to be creative for just a little while. My biggest wish for you when you attend an audition is to be yourself. Don't second-guess yourself or try to figure out what the casting team wants. There's something beautiful about who you are as an individual. Show it! There will be LOTS of rejections in this business. Allow yourself the time to grieve, learn from the experience, and keep going. Don't give up after one bad audition. And always remember that one rejection is one step closer to a yes. Keep at it. Your time is coming. Don't keep on constantly treating every audition as THE one that will make or break your success. Every opportunity is the chance to learn, grow, and thrive in this business. Take each lesson to heart and let it help you transform into the actor you want to become. One final note: if you're still afraid or dreading auditions, use that fear to propel you to go for it anyway. Courage is not the absence of fear, but it's rather when we face our fear head-on. It will help you in the long run to find your confidence in the audition room, and running away from it is never the answer. You have one person in your corner that is rooting for you in every audition you go on, whether that's in person or virtually. And that's me. Knock 'em dead!