Why is it that you always hear the same story of last-minute success among actors? You always hear of despondent actors ready to hang up their gloves and leave the business, but they audition for just one more project, which ends up being the game changer. Then before you know it, what would’ve been their last audition snowballs into a prosperous career. How true are these widespread stories? Are they, dare I say, dramatized? Don’t most failed careers fizzle out tenuously?
—Flummoxed in Florida
I’m not sure about the fact-to-fiction ratio, but I’ve been pondering your first question. Of course there’s no scientific answer. We both know that. But we actors tend to superstitiously seek out signs and patterns, trying to decipher what it is exactly that leads to getting work. I’m of the opinion that the whole thing is far more random than we’d like to admit. Nevertheless, I’ve observed the same pattern you have. It seems like actors who’ve decided to give up on their careers often book work that keeps them in the profession. The same holds true for actors who audition for jobs they don’t want, or for which they’re unavailable. So...what gives?
Well, here’s my thought. We’re actors. That’s what we do, what we’re good at. Unfortunately, when we attend auditions, many of us take our attention away from acting, displacing that focus by concentrating on trying to get work, which is a mysterious, illogical, uncontrollable process. So instead of simply going in and playing a character, we start auditioning instead of acting, and as a result, we don’t do our best work.
On the other hand, when we have auditions that, for one reason or another, we don’t really care about, we take a completely different approach. We just go in and play the role. That’s the only goal, so it gets our focus. We’re just there, doing what actors do. Period.
In the same way, when actors are ready to quit the business, their expectations are low; they’ve given up on booking anything. So at that “final” audition, they’re just acting for the sake of acting. These discouraged artists have accidentally gotten out of their own way, allowing the casting people to really see what they can do.
Say…wait a minute. What if we attended all our auditions with the goal of just acting, and made that the only task we ever assign ourselves? What if we stopped trying to break the code of how to get cast, and just shared our work? That’s the approach I recommend in my audition workshops, and I’m constantly getting reports of great results—not just bookings but better enjoyment of the whole process. It’s worth a try, right? If nothing else, it’s a lot easier than having to be constantly on the verge of quitting.