Sunday Chronicles: Life Lessons From Auditioning

Yes, this was originally a Sunday Chronicles article. Yes, I posted this before. But this week, as I’m trying to set my goals for the year, and really thinking about who I want to be (and what I want to wear this year), I’ve been thinking about some of the themes below. How can I put myself out there (in an outfit at the grocery store or opening up to you) and be comfortable with some people not liking it? How do I get better at moving through things? How do I forgive myself for missing the mark? The article below doesn’t solve all of those problems, but it does remind me of where the magic happens, and that’s a start.

If I had to add anything to this, it would be along the lines of don’t be afraid to revisit and rework ideas, help the people behind you, share your knowledge, and trust that what’s for you is for you. Maybe that’s the next article!

In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about these again, and trusting that everyone is rooting for me- because I’m rooting for you!

Or : “What Facing Constant Rejection Has Taught Me About Living”. Acting is an interesting beast–to be great you have to be raw, honest, and vulnerable. However, the process by which you get jobs–auditioning–is about constant rejection, making the whole “be vulnerable” thing a bit hard at times. Ask any actor and we will all tell you that we have a love/hate relationship with audition. At their best, auditions are great; you own the part for at least a moment and you feel so empowered. At their worst, auditions can be a flawed way to match a character with an actor, akin to choosing your starting QB in football based on who scored best on a physics test. Auditioning is in itself a skill-set, one which I like to think I’ve become fairly good at, and the older I get, the more I’ve realized that what’s true in the audition room is true in real life. The best moments come from open, raw, vulnerable things–and facing rejection can be scary. However, if you can work at being great at auditioning some of those lessons have to apply to real life, right? That’s my theory, and the following is what I’ve learned.

Some notes: This list is by no means definitive, there’s a ton more–some of it is so specific to acting that I left it off, some just seemed redundant. If you’re interested in specific acting techniques there are amazing classes and coaches out there–and I would be happy to recommend some! These lessons do bleed into each other, and I tried to be as concise as possible (some of these snippets could probably fill their own book)–but these are things I remind myself of everyday and wanted to share. Also, know that there are times when I have walked into rooms and blown it, was just awful. We all have–to fail is human. I don’t address that case in the following because really the only solution there is to go back on work on your craft and try again. As the saying goes–it doesn’t matter that you fall down, what counts is that you get back up.
But what you should know is:

Everyone in the Room is Rooting For You
Walking into an audition can be completely intimidating. There may or may not be a ton of people in there–some of whom may never acknowledge your presence. You may be taped. You may have to do the sides more than once, you may have to take adjustments, you may be cut off. The good news? Everyone in that room wants you to get the job. They believe in you–or else they wouldn’t have called you in. Don’t believe me? It’s true. The casting director’s job is to find the best candidates to present to the director/producers and they are not going to risk their careers by bringing in people who can’t do the job. The casting director wants you to succeed, because it means they succeeded. The director/producer want you to be a fit so they can move on to the next role or get on set. You doing well means everyone does well. Everyone wants that –and is on your side.
It’s the same in life. Your boss wants your report to be great, your boyfriend/girlfriend wants you to be happy, your friends want you to succeed, even the people in the grocery store want your check out to go well (even if that’s only because it makes their check out go well). People may be out for themselves but the world is not against you; and people are on your side more than you think. Know when you walk into a room people are rooting for you, and if you’re constantly walking into rooms where they aren’t, you may want to reassess what kind of rooms you’re walking into.

Rejection is NOT About You
I know that is hard to hear. Rejection is hard because it FEELS personal. And it can hurt to want something, to work for something and not to get it. I’m not saying not to hurt, or grieve, or even go scream in the woods if you need to. We take rejection personally because we take it as a comment on our worth–what I’m saying is maybe it’s about changing your perception and seeing rejection as a combination of fit and timing, not comments on your worth. Loves, while it can be hard to hear, rejection is 99% fit and timing. In auditioning. In careers. In love. And there are times when that is hard, but often it’s what’s best for us.
A casting director had an analogy that changed my life, and how I take rejection. She explained that casting is like planning a meal. For example, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving you’re considering every aspect-the meat, the appetizer, the sides, the desert. You want it all to go together, to fit, and to use the best in season. So strawberry shortcake may be your favorite desert, and you may know the best strawberry shortcake. But you aren’t going to put in on your Thanksgiving table–it doesn’t fit the meal or the season, the timing isn’t right for it. So if you’re the strawberry shortcake should you be upset? No, it doesn’t mean that you’re “bad”, it means Thanksgiving is not your time. So what do you do? You be the best strawberry shortcake, put it out there, be so good that people can’t forget you, and trust that when the time is right people will put you on the table.

Don’t be Desperate
There is nothing wrong with being passionate, with working hard, with having focus–in fact to be successful you need all those qualities. However, nothing kills a moment faster than trying to hard. A contradiction? Yes, but we all know that look of white-knuckling, forcing things to happen, being so desperate that you’ll do anything–in audition rooms, on dates, in meetings. Loves, more often than not forcing things to happen doesn’t work. There is not a situation in life where being desperate is attractive, in any sense.
Many times we get desperate because we’re thinking ahead, or focusing on things we can’t control. In acting it’s called playing a result, in life we call it not being present. It can often sound like “I have to book this gig so I can be a working actor and pay my bills”. Or “I want to get married and this first date could be the one so I will bring up this/this/that”. “I’m broke and need this to happen so I have to get the promotion or job”. We all can get caught up in this–and I’m not saying to not have goals or look ahead, but a football team can’t win the championship on the first game on the season; they can only win one down at a time.
When I audition my goal is never to book the job–that’s completely out of my control, and as we know comes down to fit and timing. When I audition my job is to show my work–to be good, make a fan and let it go. I cannot control anything else. On a date the goal is to have fun and get to know someone–not to book a wedding venue. Have a job interview? You’re goal is to show how great you are and showcase your skillset–you can’t control getting the job. It is my experience that if I focus on my goal in the moment–be it do a great scene, win a down, or have a good time–it keeps me from being so desperate. And some of the magic is that the more you focus on what you can do in the moment the future takes care of itself.


Be Yourself
I know. That is the most cliched advice in the history of mankind. But it’s true. An actor’s job is to breath life into a character, and that doesn’t come from thin air, but is informed from the actor’s own experiences. We are each unique with our own world views, and when we allow that to bleed into our work magic can happen. It’s true not just in acting: you’re an accountant who happens to be really empathetic? That will inform your work and make you great with clients. A football coach who loves to surf? Balance and timing are needed on the field too. We get caught up in how things should look, or should be (in acting it’s called playing the idea) and we can forget that there is no formula, no way things have to look. So bringing yourself–all of yourself–to your work can only make it better. It’s what people really want. Anyone could just enter numbers or repeat lines. There is something about you that’s special, that can make a job extraordinary; and if you are brave enough to offer up those special parts of yourself you will find that more often that not you get rewarded for it.

Live a Big, Full, Juicy Life
This is part be yourself, part don’t be desperate, part don’t put your worth on one aspect of yourself–or your paycheck. You know the actors that book the most? They’re the ones that have a ton going on, a ton of interests, and a ton of places they could be. That’s not to say that they don’t take acting seriously and work on their craft–but they’d also love to tell you about their family, or charity work, or great book they just read. Acting is not the only thing that defines them, or their worth is tied to, they tend to have a lot that interests them and they pursue all of it. I think this works on multiple levels. As humans we find interested people interesting. As we know, every aspect of yourself can inform your work–and make it deeper. (Music can even make you better at math, it’s proven). And if you have a lot going on, you tend not to be so desperate.
The casting director who preaches this advice makes it specific to actors. Acting is a beast and like all creative fields requires you to put so much of yourself out there and allow yourself to be judged. And there are good years and years where you may not book at all. You can control your acting but there is so much you have no control over–what scripts are optioned, etc. We’ve talked about timing and fit, and it’s true, however, rejection can still be tough. A few years ago I had a week with two big auditions–I lost one as I was “too old and not blonde enough”, I lost the other because I was “too young and too blonde”. Other than hair dye there’s not a lot I can control there. There are tons of Hollywood stories like this (I had a friend cut from a pilot as she reminded the producer of his ex wive whom he hated, it happens); again rejection can be constant and the casting director was making a point that if you’re tying your worth to situations that you don’t have control over, and where rejection is likely, you are setting yourself up for disaster. This is akin to the “be your own soulmate and then your partner gets to be the cherry on top” advice, but I think it holds true. And not just for acting.
Be interested. Pursue whatever makes you happy, even if you don’t earn a paycheck from it. Read what you love, have great friends, travel, anything that makes your heart sing. It will make you a better whatever you are. And those things can sustain you. No matter what, Loves, there are going to be jobs you don’t get, relationships that fail, and things that don’t go your way. And when that happens all these things that you love can still fulfill you.

Let the Ball Fly
No matter how much you prepare, there comes a time when you have to just go for it. In audition rooms things don’t always go the way you plan–and the choice is to white knuckle your choices or take in what’s going on and use it. The latter, in my experience, is always your best bet. This is what your training comes down to–the ability to have grace under pressure, to take what is happening and use it to your best advantage. When things don’t go your way you can either get stuck and freak out about what is going wrong, or you can adjust. Loves, adjust. Just like a QB–no matter how great his coaches are and what play they’ve called, the ball is snapped and he has to read the defense and make a call. He can either freak out about the defense moving, and usually then get sacked or throw an interception. Or he can read the field, find an open man, and let the ball fly. I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of the touchdowns (except when my team is playing defense).

There’s so much more advice: don’t apologize for your work or who you are. Be prepared. Be on time. Treat everyone with respect. Know your function in the script and serve it. There are whole classes devoted to how you hold your sides. I could go on forever. But for me, I think it comes down to “do good work and love your life”. Nothing else is within our control.

Wishing us all a week of big, full lives and amazing shoes! XO RA

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Actress, avid shopper, and a lover of fashion. Hoping to make the world a better place one pair of shoes at a time.

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