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The Working Actor

A Very Bad Audition

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A Very Bad Audition
DEAR JACKIE:

I haven't had a lot of jobs through my agent the last couple of years, but I have managed to get my own jobs on small independent stuff. And since the beginning of this year, I've been really fortunate to get about nine auditions. I was thrilled and pumped and felt great about all of them—until I got no callbacks and no work. After the fifth audition, I started to lose my confidence more and more each time.

What made it even worse was when a big national commercial came up and my agent told me I was their No. 2 choice but they decided to go with a different look. I was devastated. It just felt like, "Come on, you've got to be kidding me!" I work two jobs and manage to fit auditions in by lying about where I'm going on my lunch breaks. Not only is it exhausting, but I invest so much in each audition, hoping it's my chance to quit my jobs.

I recently had another national commercial audition, but I was exhausted. On top of my jobs, I'm doing a really low-budget independent movie at nights after work. I hadn't gotten enough sleep, and my gut told me not to go to this audition, but I forced myself.

I have never been so humiliated. I dropped lines, paused, my hands wouldn't stop shaking, and I broke character at the end. I kept apologizing, which made it worse. Then, as I was holding back the tears and walking out of the room, everyone just stared at me. Everyone in the waiting room could hear everything I'd said, so not only did I humiliate myself in front of a casting director—who never casts me in anything—but I humiliated myself in front of the girls I have to compete with at every audition. I left the room crying.

I knew I shouldn't have gone, but now I feel like I can never work through what happened. It was the first time I'd ever acted that way in front of a casting director, and these people are always going to remember what happened. Every audition I go to, all that these other actresses do is talk and gossip like it's a social event, which makes it hard enough to concentrate. Now I have to deal with the stares and laughter. How do you recover from that, and what can I do to block these girls out at auditions? How will I be able to work with that casting director again?

Elizabeth the Humiliated Actress
    via the Internet

DEAR ELIZABETH:

First things first: Give this audition no more thought. Stop beating yourself up about it and move on. Casting people see all sorts of strange things in a day's work. Someone forgetting lines or turning red isn't anything out of the ordinary. And apologizing and breaking into tears? I'd bet money that this casting director, who has called you in before, thought something along the lines of "Aw, she must be having a bad day" and then forgot all about it. So let it go.

Now, let's go back to what led to this unfortunate moment. You say you've had nine auditions this year? While in a subsequent email you said you live in a small market, I'm concerned that with so few auditions, you're letting each one take on monumental significance, which is an unhealthy attitude. Auditions are—and must remain—just a part of your overall work as an actor, like getting new headshots or going to acting class. They should not take on epic proportions.

It becomes debilitating when you look at any audition as your potential "big break." In fact, most successful actors didn't have one single "big break." Rather, they benefited from a series of events that slowly led to greater and greater success. And most—maybe all—actors must continue to prove themselves throughout their careers. No single audition will allow you to quit your day jobs. When you've reached the point of being able to support yourself through acting work, the decision will be quite logical. Not the emotional roller coaster you describe but a simple math problem: Is the sum of your yearly acting income greater than your expenses?

If your day jobs themselves are causing you grief, search for a new one. Don't wait for the acting gravy train to arrive. Success in this field is an ongoing, fluid process, not a magic moment. If you're lucky, you'll have hundreds of little breaks and many a magic moment, and most likely you'll recognize them only in retrospect.

In dealing with the other actors, I suggest the following: Should they actually laugh and stare—which I hope for their sakes was an exaggeration on your part—simply look them in the eyes and say, "Are you guys laughing about that audition I blew last month? That was insane. I was so exhausted and nervous, and then I just blew it. Hopefully, today will go better." Say all this with a smile. Throw in a laugh if you can muster one. These girls will likely be taken aback by your directness and reminded of their own blown auditions (we all have them). If you can't bring yourself to talk to them, take along a good book and resist the urge to pay one iota of attention to waiting-room banter. Rest assured, the chuckles will soon fade.

There are so many factors determining who books an acting gig. Most of them are outside your control. All you can do is work as hard as you can—by training, studying, and performing whenever possible. When you get to an audition, try to enjoy it as an opportunity to act, however briefly. Reflect on your audition progress in a journal (also a great place to keep track of your mileage and acting expenses). After you leave an audition, sit for a few moments in your car and write down anything you learned or felt great about or would like to do differently next time. This should take about five minutes, max. When you're done, close the book and forget about it. Reflection's usefulness will have run its course. When you start your car, get back into the present and move on.

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