What Rejection Really Means
Last night I held auditions for the next play I’m directing, Two Rooms. They were, by far, the biggest auditions I’ve done for a show of my own thus far, with more than 40 people interested in trying out for just four roles. It was not an easy process, and as I was sending out the emails that, to be blunt, rejected a lot of actors, I was basically repeating the old shitty trope, “It’s not you…”
And then one actor asked me for feedback. And then another did. And another. And that’s rare, in my experience. In fact, the last time I sent out a round of rejection emails, one actor stringently responded by telling me that I was in no way obligated to tell her she didn’t get the role. She’d rather not hear anything and figure that out herself, apparently. As someone who hates not getting “Thanks, but no thanks” emails when I apply for jobs, I always make sure that every actor knows that they didn’t get the gig, even if it’s not fun.
So you didn’t get the gig. What can you learn from that? What does it really mean?
One: Sometimes “It’s not you…” is totally true. The number of things that can be between you and a role are amazing. Some scripts are really rigid with age limits, there could be a line of dialog that calls for you to pass for a certain age, and I do small intimate plays where aging makeup isn’t an option. If the script says you have to be 40, but you look 25, your performance could leave me in tears, but I still literally can not cast you. That’s not to say I don’t value the opportunity to see your skill and make a note of you for future shows, but that’s sometimes the way it is.
As an extension of that, especially with a tight, four-person ensemble like Two Rooms, the various things to consider in casting really, really can cause lots of excellent actors to get lost. If one person is appropriate for one role, they have to then match, in looks, chemistry, presence, etc, the other three people. It could be we’re trying to build the cast around one role, so that affects who winds up being paired with them. The height disparity between you and another character might be too great or not enough. Same with age. Or weight. Or skin tone. It’s stupid, but depending on the show, all of these things have to be considered. I don’t like being that picky, but my focus is always on what’s best for my show, and sometimes that means being kind of a dick. And honestly, when I’m facing five actors who are all really good and all perfectly eligible for a role, sometimes you have to make snap decisions based on really small things just to get where you need to be. For me, that’s the hardest part of being a director, by a big margin.
Two: I like teaching. I’ve cast people who had a quality I wanted for a role, knowing that there would be a tough row to hoe along the way. I’ve made the commitment to cast someone knowing that I would have to help them with a dialect before the show opened. Or that they would lose 10 pounds. Or that it would require extra work to get them flawlessly off book. It does happen, but it doesn’t happen often.
Usually, as a director, you’re on a time crunch and you’re lazy. In the best cases, casting the right person can save you a lot of work as a director. And I mean a LOT. If you just come in and nail a character, it means once you’re off book we can focus on the minutiae, the character details and motivations that I love, and that is a distinct advantage. Not casting you doesn’t mean you couldn’t do the role, or even that someone could do it better than you. It could just mean they’re closer to what I have in mind, and casting the other person will save me work.
Sometimes my preconceptions go out the window when I see an audition and the character appears on stage before me. And sometimes when that happens it wreaks havoc on the rest of the cast, because something I was dead set on has to now be adjusted to fit this exceptional new person. I never mind that, it’s exciting to be so impressed, but it does create just one more factor that can get between you and the role you want.
Three: Maybe you messed up. Maybe you flubbed lines. Maybe you weren’t impressive. Maybe you just really weren’t appropriate for a role. These things are all worth considering. I’ll be giving David another blog post on specifically what I look for at auditions, and that’ll have a lot of information on what my red flags are, and how to avoid getting off on the wrong foot. If you can identify something that did go wrong, realize it, fix it, and move on. Don’t let it hold you up.
Four: Look for personal feedback. In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says the first big step to getting your work sold is when instead of just getting rejection slips, you get rejection slips with a personal note. Like, “We like you, so try again,” or “This wasn’t quite right for us this time, try next year,” and so on. So, if you get any kind of personal feedback after the fact from a director or a casting agent, it means you made an impression. And that’s the name of the game. If you hear, “They want to see you again next time,” or anything similar, you’re on the right track. Don’t blow it off or take it lightly.
I’ve invited some actors back to audition for me for several shows, and it must be very hard for them when I ask them to be there and don’t cast them, but when I finally do get to work with a certain actor, it’s incredibly satisfying to know we found the right project to do together. And yes, I do earmark actors that way. If you get personal feedback from me and it says I want to keep you in mind for future stuff, I’m not blowing smoke. However, I only do a couple of shows a year, and they usually have small casts, so… it takes time.
Remember, there are so many factors to consider that it’s not worth giving yourself an ulcer over what went wrong… because maybe nothing did. Maybe the lights weren’t right for your skin tone, maybe your scene partner sucked all the air out of the room, maybe it was something else stupid and shallow that has nothing to do with you or your skill as a performer. Your job is not to do forensic analysis on the audition that was, but to prepare to continue to give the best auditions you can. Trying to consider all the factors will drive you insane, so focus on controlling the factors that you can, which are all to do with YOU. I’ll talk more about that in my next post, where I will write about what I am looking for and what you can do to impress me, or at the very least, not get in your own way.