It’s no secret that showbiz is a pretty competitive industry, and there will be times you’ll be faced with pretty crushing rejection.
I always get a little confused when people feel the need to tell me that there’s a lot of rejection in this industry. And I usually reply with something along the lines of “Oh my God – really?! I had no idea! I wanted to do Med but my parents pushed me into this for the job security, what should I tell them?”
I think it’s fair to say that none of us entered this industry for the stable work or the pay (unless your parents did genuinely talk you out of Med for this, in which case I think there needs to be a conversation happening there).
Rejection sucks – regardless of whether it’s not getting that second date or not getting that dream role. And we, as a collective species, don’t like to be rejected. But we, as performers, love this industry and love what we do, so it’s something that needs to be thought about and strategized when it does happen. So here are a few pearls of wisdom from my own experience of rejection – things I’ve felt personally victimized by. That and Regina George, but that’s another story for another time.
Pitfall #1 – Not getting into Drama School.
This can feel really shitty (I know, because I’ve been there) – you prep for months, picking out two perfectly contrasting songs and a witty (yet touching) nuanced monologue. You’ve even got the outfit down to a tee. You’re convinced you’re everything they want – and still, nothing comes of it. You’re left on the waitlist – or, even worse, you’re the only person not taken into the course out of the final call-back group (this has happened to me. Twice.)
Something that helped me through these tough times was, as Janelle Monae and Sesame Street (the oracles of all wisdom) preach – The Power of Yet. Every time I had a thought that I wasn’t a good enough singer/dancer/whatever they wanted me to be, I just added the word “yet” to the end of the sentence, and it reminded me that this journey I was on was just that – a journey.
I’m not a good enough dancer… yet
My singing isn’t strong enough… yet
I’m not good enough at taking direction… YET.
Just because an institution hasn’t taken you one year, it definitely does not mean they have written you off. I can name you countless friends who have gotten into drama school on their second or third go. One friend got into her preferred school of study on her fifth try. HER FIFTH. That’s serious dedication – and the panel saw that. So just keep working and embrace The Power of Yet. In performing, and in life, we’re all a work in progress.
Pitfall #2 – Not getting that dream role
This is equally the worst – When you see the brief and have to stop yourself from screaming out “OMFG THAT’S ME” and are convinced that it’s everything you’re about – and the team don’t want to see you. Or they do see you and nothing comes of it.
Something that’s helped me with this lately is an adage that my current fellow colleagues say – “it’s all about whether you fit the puzzle”.
These people aren’t just casting you, but an entire team to make up this production, and if you don’t match correctly with the rest of the team they’ve assembled (for whatever reason, and usually it’s something really mundane – like height) they’ll be looking for someone else. As crushing as this can be in the moment, I’ve actually found this quite reassuring after my tears have dried. Most of the time rejection in this industry is nothing personal, and not a dig at your talents or what you bring to the table, it’s just whether you fit that puzzle.
To quote Dita von Teese “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
Pitfall #3 – Getting a bad review
Reviews are everywhere. Whether they’re in the Herald Sun or the dress circle ladies bathroom at intermission – everyone’s a critic. And it’s true: we like to see art because it stirs something inside of us and we, as humans, like to be opinionated. Well, that’s just my opinion.
Reviewers are there to do your job, and that job’s not yours (and vice versa). But the reviewers aren’t paying your wage. It’s never great to have someone publish something badmouthing you – but don’t forget, you’re in a job. The only reviewers who count are the creative team (who probably think you’re doing a bang-up job because they haven’t fired you yet). Everyone’s going to have an opinion – a big part of making it in this industry is deciding which ones matter.
Pitfall #4 – Not getting work.
Feeling like you’re not working can be tough – especially when you look around and see your friends in the industry making it work, and your friends out of the industry married, pregnant and with a house (SERIOUSLY HOW DID YOU DO THAT SO FAST KATE – YOU ARE TWENTY FIVE, THAT IS NOT FAIR)
Something a friend of mine said to be once that I’ll never forget is this – “If you want to work, you’ll work”. And although it’s much easier said than done, it’s kind of true. Being a performer in the commercial world is all about fitting the roles that someone else has written. And if they’re not writing characters who look or sound like you, that can be really tough. But being in the unconventional industry that we are, it also means that you can create content to fill the void that you’re not seeing – you can write your own dream role. Will you get paid for it? Maybe. But you’ll find yourself more in the industry than you were before, and it will remind you that just because the perfect material isn’t being paid to be performed just at this moment, it does not mean you’re not a part of this industry.
So there’s a few tidbits of my own personal experience that I hope were helpful. Something that I like to remind myself when it gets tough is that this isn’t what I am, but it’s what I do. And at the end of the day, this isn’t a linear career trajectory – if you see friends in other industries getting promoted to that amazing position in that amazing company with job security and paid leave (no seriously Kate I am very happy for you), our industry doesn’t really work like that. So just remember why you started, and just keep swimming.