In a previous contribution to Backstage, I spoke about the virtues of preparing for every audition and taking chances on auditions for roles that may not seem like a fit for you. However, there are times when you should actually pass on opportunities instead. Deciding whether or not to pass is a fine line. You need to really dig deep to make sure your motives are not fear-based. No matter what stage of your career you’re in though, you need to remember you always have the power to say no and walk away.
In my experience, there’s something inherent in the process of auditioning that can cause actors to feel that they’re powerless and since opportunities can be stark at times, young actors particularly can fall prey to thinking they need to ask “how high?” every time someone says “jump.” This can lead to you spending lots of time on a project that doesn’t share the same commitment to the craft as you or with people who have less than your best intentions in mind and might take advantage of you.
While I realize certain compromises need to be made when you’re not in a position of power and choice, I also believe there are limits. While the criterion for “what’s worth it” is different from actor to actor, regardless of what your values may be, you need to figure out where you stand and what you’re willing to do or not do. This is the power of passing.
It’s a reminder of your self-worth and how much you value your time. While it’s true that, in many instances, work begets work, it’s also true that saying “no” to one thing keeps you available for something else that may be more beneficial to you. It’s also necessary to remember that, if you constantly allow yourself to serve stories or producers that aren’t a fit because they oppose your level of commitment or other values, your unique voice will eventually be muted and you’ll likely want to quit anyway.
While being selective can cause a slower rise in the industry at first it can also help you find your tribe of like-minded artists more quickly, thereby speeding up your trajectory in the long run. It’s certainly a dance and no one can tell you with certainty which projects to take or which ones deserve a pass. But it’s an option you need to be aware of.
All you have, particularly in the beginning of your career, is your own unique voice. There’s no one else exactly like you out there. So, while it’s tempting to want to mute yourself to fit in with whatever the flavor of the month happens to be at the moment or to tell your family that you’re “finally working” after months of waiting tables while taking classes, your real salvation comes from figuring out, preserving, and honing your unique voice.
That can only happen by valuing it and your particular perspective on the world. To do this you must be willing to walk away from auditions, offers, or solicitations that you know in your gut aren’t right for you.
*This post was originally published on April 10, 2019. It has since been updated.
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