Even your agent rejected you? That could mean you’re on your way

OK, so here’s the thing about rejection. We all get rejected and some rejections are worse than others. We get picked last for the volleyball team in phys. ed. Big deal, since we could care less about sports, but we feel the sting anyway.

We don’t get picked for the lead in the school play. Bigger deal, but we understand that there were other kids with more experience.

A boy or girl you like asks someone else to the Prom. Bigger deal still, since you had dated and you had every reason to think it was working out.

You are the experienced kid who everyone thought was a shoe-in for the lead in the high school play, but you ended up in the chorus. You are devastated. Bigger and bigger is this deal, and more painful the sting.

The love of your life leaves you. Biggest deal yet. You are heartbroken. Recovery time is gonna be long and painful. It is way past a mere sting.

Your agent no longer wants to represent you. Devastating, like falling off a cliff. And while you are in free-fall, you here those damned voices again, your Furies forcing you to agonize over all sorts of awful things. What did I do wrong? What is it about me? Am I not talented at all? Will I never have a career in theatre? Will I really have to get a full time job in some stuffy office where I’ll never be able to laugh or cry or be at all real?

Well, yeah. Sometimes life sucks. But here’s the thing I promised that could make it easier: WE ALL DEAL WITH REJECTION. If we didn’t experience rejection, we wouldn’t know the joy of being picked.

The other thing is: Don’t look around for something or someone to blame. Blame has nothing to do with it. Blame only keeps the downward spiral going and you and those damned Furies hounding you into the bowels of Hell!

So what do you do now?

You hurt. You experience the hurt, but without blaming yourself or your agent. Your agent needs to make a living and you, by not landing any audition he sent you to, are not helping his career.

The other side of that is, you need to make a living and by not landing any audition he sent you to, you got to see that maybe he isn’t the right agent for you.

So what do you do now?

Allow yourself to feel as bad as you can. That’s right. Scrunch up your eyes, make fists, and bring up all those bad feelings. Got it? How long can you keep your focus on that bad black hole? Not long.

It is too hard to keep that level of intensity going. All you can keep going is to make up stuff, letting your Furies think all sorts of made-up thoughts about the incident. These Furies would like to keep you thinking all sorts of things–true and not true–about the rejection, anything to keep it going, and sure enough, you can conjure up even more terrible feelings just by thinking more terrible thoughts.

Or.

  1. Take a deep breath. Take another. Dismiss the very next Furies thought and clear your mind of everything.
  2. Next, take this rejection and see what you can do with it. Look at it to understand how it wasn’t working.

You can only move on when you recognize this is a crossroads, and that there is no going back to business as usual. You need to do some things differently. Your job is to find out what you can tweak or change outright. For instance, if you were going on auditions for cute-young-thing parts and you were showing up with torn tee-shirts or bad makeup, try dressing for the part you are trying out for.

Maybe the material you are working with (scripts, monologues, special acting/workshop appearances) isn’t right for you. See if someone you trust can give you an honest assessment and change the material.

Maybe if you get who you are and what you are going for, you will realize the agent you had was not right for your goals. Find one who is. Do your research. Ask around.

Maybe this rejection is telling you what you have already glimpsed about yourself, deep down away from the blinding light of reason. Now is the time to bring it up. Should you be working in regional theatre instead of trying for a Broadway role? Do you need more acting classes?

Maybe you should consider that acting isn’t right for you and that you could, with a little more experience and education, be a stage manager and then aim for directing? Maybe your talent and interest really lay in design?

This is your golden opportunity to find other ways of breaking in. Talk to people who have done it. Read Martha Beck’s Finding your own North Star. Get a new direction to go in.

Oh, yeah. And wipe those tears. They are clouding your vision.

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Are you in “Woe is Me” mode?

You feel helpless, wondering where the old confidence has gone, the old I-can-do-anything! You feel deserted.

A situation I recently heard of brought it all back to me. I have felt like that and I bet you have, too. Or might some day.

You get your degree. All through college, family, friends, professors praised your work and the guts it took to succeed in the performing arts. You have big plans for the future. They will love you in (pick your destination) New York, Hollywood, Broadway, television, movies, Cirque du Solei. Based on past glowing reviews, you have it made.

But then IT, the Woe is Me, thing appears in the form of Stark Terror!  You just graduated begins to weigh you down. What do you do now?

Maybe you’ll delay the Big Career a little, get seasoned, whatever. You look at graduate school. You look at an acting studio. You pick one, and of course, with your undergraduate credentials and strong resume, you get in. You are safe. Again. For a while.

Again you graduate. And now you face….Square One (read more about this free fall in Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.) Nothing. You are nowhere and there is no direction, no safety net. Dad, who always thought you should be a nurse or teacher, something you can always fall back on, is out of money and just can’t support you anymore. It was that graduate school that broke his bank.

And here you are, trying to live on your own, and are faced with the dilemma of having to find a means of support. An acting job? You look at the want ads. Fat chance, they say, finding anything in the arts. You do, though, see an ad for job sweeping hair and cleaning hairbrushes in a hair salon.

But there is a problem. A mighty big one. Your confidence is gone. You aren’t sure you know how to sweep hair. Your resolve has dissolved. If you sweep hair today, you will never have the time, the energy, or even the will to go to auditions, much less prepare for them. And with your current luck and past successes, it is inevitable that you will soon be made manager of the salon and working 24/7 to keep the place afloat. Acting? When will you ever do that? Maybe, your diminished self tells you, you were never meant to act.

You don’t get out of bed. You get this storyline embedded in your head that you will never again see the inside of a theatre. You have no identity anymore. You have no roadmap, no direction.  Your life as you knew it is over.

Woe is you!

What do you do? What do you do?

Guess what? You are not alone. This is what happens to almost everyone when there are big life changes. You feel like someone set you adrift in a row boat in a huge hurricane and not only is your dream port nowhere on the horizon, you just realized that you never learned to swim, even though your sainted mother tried her best to get you to take lessons. “Who needs to know how to swim on Broadway!” you said, wishing now that you could take it back.

How did you get from confidently knowing you belonged on Broadway to worrying about how you’re going to convince someone that you’d make a swell hair sweeper and still have time to get to auditions?

What auditions? How will you find them? What should you do to prepare for them? None of these things seem to matter much now that just getting out of bed is something you: 1) Don’t want to do, 2) Forgot how to do, or 3) Just not an option today.

You are in a place that has never been on your horizon. And yet this is what happens when big life changes happen. You are set adrift.

So what do you do? I would advise spending a little more time in bed muttering to yourself, “Oh, Woe is Me!” and trying to feel just as bad as you think you do. Then let things settle. Then  put one foot on the floor and soon after, put the other one down. Head for the bathroom or kitchen taking baby steps. When you no longer have to think about how to walk and can do it on your own, I would begin to make plans for getting out of this situation.

  1. First, Butch up! Yes, you do have to take a job to support yourself. Get over it.
  2. Next, find others who were in the same boat and get their story or even their advice. (Yes, read Martha Beck’s books. They will give you heart, courage, and a plan.) (So will this blog.)
  3. Make a list of all the things you need to do to go on that very next audition. You probably know what those things are – the same stuff you did in college. Guess what? You also need to do them in the real world.

In case you need reminding, here is what I would do in your shoes.

  1. Whether there are auditions for you right now or not, prepare for them by having four two-minute scenes ready:
    1. Classic drama
    2. Classic comedy
    3. Contemporary drama
    4. Contemporary comedy

    Get someone who knows (a former prof, a working actor, etc) to coach you with the scenes.

  2. Get online to everywhere auditions are being held in your area. Remember that Broadway isn’t the only venue. There is probably a regional and other professional theatres near you. Be well-suited to. Leave out the parts you know you can’t play with your limited background. (For example, you would have a hard time convincing a casting director that you could play Hamlet in a classic version of the play if you are a girl.)
  3. Find out (contact the director/theatre) what the auditions require and plan for that.
  4. Heck, contact the theatre to see if there are other, part-time jobs you could take (working in the box office comes to mind or working in the costume/scene shop) while you go to auditions. The big advantage is that you are right in the middle of where you want to be; theatre people now know you. You fill in some more reasons yourself.

No matter what you think you know about success and the making of a career, it doesn’t just happen overnight. You do what you need to do to make sure you are at least in the running. You get out of bed RIGHT NOW and do it, even if you are terrified. Remember Babe Ruth? The Home Run King? He was also the Strike-Out King. You gotta be hitting at speeding balls all the time to finally hit one out of the park.

Courage, after all, isn’t possible without fear.

It’s time to get out of bed.

 

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What do you do when you don’t get what you want?

First you cry.

Then, as you struggle to get over the shock of realizing all your dreams may have just been trashed, you begin to realize that even though you are hurting, there are still things you can do.

If this realization doesn’t automatically occur to you, then it falls to me to tell you that one setback does not trash all your dreams. Just one small part of them.

How do you cope? You are already doing it. You are talking to friends and family, anyone who will be sympathetic to Poor You. You are reading this, which is not so warm and fuzzy. So spend a little time basking in everyone’s good wishes, then get back to this list of things you can do.

This list may not be the tea and sympathy you crave, but it could very well get you back on track.

You can:

  1. Succumb to the setback. Tell yourself that “they” are right. Maybe you should plan for a secondary career – a “just-in-case” career, like say something having to put in eight hours a day in a cubicle. It’s apparent you don’t have the right stuff – after all “they” are telling you that you don’t and “they” know don’t they!  You are a fraud. You knew it. Now everyone knows it. You will never amount to a row of beans, blah, blah, blah, and all the rest of that negative crap that just pulls you down and for no good reason except that’s what’s gotten stuck to your brain.

How you feel is a direct result of what you are thinking. You think you’re a fraud, so guess what? You become a fraud. If instead you think: I lost out, but I still have talent and desire. I am just someone who has struck out this inning. There is still more of the game to play out.

What would you tell your best friend if he had just been turned down for a part on Glee? Trash everything? Get an MBA? Think about it. You need to tell yourself what you would tell your best friend and those are the thoughts you need to cultivate.

  1. Take a hard look at your long-term goals. You don’t have long-term goals? You are defeating yourself if you don’t. So stop reading this right now, go somewhere quiet, and:
    1. Jot down some goals – like where you want to be in five years, then ten years. (You do carry a notebook around with you, l hope.)
    2. Then jot down some ways to get those goals met. (Pick the right college; get cast in something; take voice lessons; etc.)
    3. How does this setback point you in a slightly different direction? How has it actually helped long-term goals? (You need dance lessons; you need to find out how to play the classics; you need to maybe serve as an assistant director before taking on the director’s role; etc.)
  2. Think about your goals from a different point of viewthan your same-old same old:
    1. What can you learn from the setback? What kind of person are you becoming?
    2. What can you adjust or tweak because of the great lesson you just learned about yourself?
    3. How can you make the setback work for you instead of against you? It may seem the end of the world but is it pointing you in a different direction?
  3. Act on what you learn. This is only a bump in the road to where you’re going. There will be many bumps and it is all about how you deal with each one. Leave the lamenting and the “why oh why is Life so cruel especially to me” at the stage door.

Some points to ponder

  • You should have a strategy to deal with setbacks. Setbacks will always be part of your overall plan. Obstacles, challenges are part of the human condition. (Don’t have an overall plan? Keep reading this blog and you will.) You should also look within yourself for another way to get those goals. Keep the long-term goals in mind and see how you can slightly modify the short-term ones based on what you learned from the setback.

Setbacks are inevitable in all human endeavors. What you need is not to anticipate every possible setback scenario, but to have a strategy of what to do when any old setback occurs. A strategy might look like this:

  1. Stop moaning and groaning.
  2. Think about what you are learning.
  3. Make a slight adjustment because of your new insight.
  4. Move on to the next challenge.
  • What you keep doing over and over becomes a habit. If you keep overreacting to bad news instead of dealing with it in a positive way, that becomes your go-to strategy. Just have a melt-down and all the hurt and everything (including your career) will just disappear.

What you don’t want to do is to wallow in it. If you stay too long with negative thoughts you learn how to be someone who is easily defeated instead of someone who moves ahead.

Instead, practice taking a good look at what you can learn from the experience and use this insight to turn things around. To accomplish anything hard you need practice, so use this experience to practice being that person who finds a way to get it done.

If you can’t climb back out on your own, find people who can help you with it. Seek out the truth-tellers and the people who want you to succeed and who maybe have the skills and the experience to help you learn what you need to learn from it. Don’t waste another minute with self-pity. It won’t help a thing.

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