One would be hard-set to find a show which better epitomises the myriad of mixed emotions which accompany theatre, and the arduous task of auditioning, than A Chorus Line. The opening number is in itself a tribute to the insatiable desire, intense fervour, and overriding passion associated with the performing arts, every sensation depicted sublimely through each choreographed step. At the same time, the self-doubt and anxiety also have an unmistakable presence. One only has to listen to the lyrics of “I Hope I Get It!” to perceive such uncertainty. A Chorus Line is just one example of how powerful the hope to win a role can be, yet the stark reality of the industry is that hope doesn’t necessarily eventuate in its achievement.
There is an inextricable link between theatre and rejection. As an increasingly popular and competitive field, rejection is an inescapable fate endured by even the greatest of performers. It is so much the norm that performers are acutely aware that they will undoubtedly endure it at some point in their career. However, from personal experience being conscious of the dreaded ‘R’ word plays no part in lessening the disappointment when it strikes.
My most disheartening encounter with rejection was an audition for Beauty and the Beast. After thorough preparation of songs I had ensured were perfectly suitable to the show, I felt absolutely groomed for success. The audition went swimmingly well in my opinion. I had hit every note, endeared myself to the production team, and departed with the conviction that I would receive a call back. Needless to say, I was not cast as the sweetheart Belle nor did I get the opportunity to portray a magical piece of crockery. Hell, torch wielding villager number five didn’t even cross my path! Instead I familiarised myself with rejection and we’ve been friends ever since.
The revelation that my audition had been unsuccessful was comparable to a whack in the face with a two-by-four. A hearty roundhouse kick in the guts which I was unable to overcome for days. According to psychological findings, the pain associated with rejection is experienced in the same area of the brain that activates physical pain. Thus the metaphorical assault endured by yours truly could be construed psychologically as literal. Though it cannot be cured by over the counter drugs like others of its kind, rejection is a resilient ache and naturally, the greater one’s attachment to the cause, the greater the ache they are likely to bear. To participate in theatre is to have a definitive passion for the craft. It would be an understatement to conclude that a performer’s relationship with their livelihood, or a beloved pastime, is an intense one.
The more connected we are to theatre, the more highly reactive our response to our perceived failure is likely to be, and the more likely the retort is to be irrational. Arguably, it is inherent to human nature to want to bite back. During the heat of the moment my immediate response was not to purchase the rejecters a fruit basket, my initial go-to was anger. For others it can range from withdrawal, to feelings of inferiority, to self-pity. Regardless of which depressing cocktail of emotions one subscribes to, none are easy to swallow. Although the cliché of when one door closes, another door opens may be an optimistic reminder, no-one ever raises the issue of the period between the two entries. Unfortunately the purgatory between the anticipation of the next success, or for our pal rejection to pay another unannounced visit, is rarely confronted.
Ultimately rejection will always be a detested inevitability of those in theatre, yet one’s reaction to the experience needn’t be so uniform. Rather than crawl under the familiar and comfortable rock of ego, performers need to embrace the prospect of frequent self-empowerment and improvement. The corridor between the next audition should be regarded as an opportunity in disguise, not a mourning period. It is another chance to enhance one’s skill-set, to broaden one’s knowledge of theatre and all it has to offer. Rather than succumb to the irresistibly tempting urge to hurl insults at the culprits, or to permit the fear of another knock-back to consume one’s enthusiasm, bridges must be built rather than burned.
My reaction to rejection could have easily been fury. Instead I thanked the team for their time and consideration because to participate in theatre is to love it for all its idiosyncrasies and its setbacks, including the possibility of rejection. In the end it may be a hideously predictable final remark but one will always regret what they didn’t do, never what they did for love.