So as some of you reading this may know, it is callback weekend for the spring semester shows at UArts. I've seen a lot of excitement, but also a lot of disappointment. And some reconsidering of major and career path.
Normally I'm all about the tough love, and what I'm about to say is actually pretty out of character because I really do believe you shouldn't let yourself get upset about casting (or lack thereof). I believe you have to keep trying. I believe you're in control of whether you succeed just based on how long you persevere. I will continue to tell my crying friends (and sometimes myself) to pick themselves back up, go to twelve more auditions, and stick it out until someone sees how amazing they are -- and if not, to create their own vehicle for their aforementioned amazingness. And I will continue to tell my friends they are amazing, because I honestly think they are, and I am of the opinion that any human can be a good actor. Everyone in my program, and really any acting program, is some of the way there. I really, really believe this and you should too.
With that in mind, I'm usually hard on people who are feeling down about their talent and self-worth. Normally, I would say that if you let yourself get upset by a single rejection, you straight up can't handle a life in this brutal business. But this past week, I've been thinking a bit differently. I've recently realized that inspirational messages, the words "you're valid," usually don't mean shit to a person who feels they have concrete evidence to the contrary. ESPECIALLY coming from someone who is consistently being recognized. That person can't really speak about being unsuccessful because they don't know what it's like to be in the other person's situation. (Honestly, this even applies to my writing this because I have been in a show here.)
Because we hear from all of our beautiful and inspiring teachers that we are valid, the only thing that can really confirm or deny our deep-seeded fear that we're not enough is casting. At best, one might feel that not being cast or called back means they're just not right for anything and don't have an identity. At worst, it means they're inherently inadequate and untalented and should just give up now and were just kidding themselves when they decided to go into theatre anyway. Perhaps a lot of people have evolved past this sort of doubt. I thought I had for a while. But even as a person who has been cast, I will never stop doubting whether I'm "good enough." It's human nature to rank ourselves. It's a basic evolutionary behavior. There's nothing we can do about that instinct, even if there are things we can do in the face of it.
All through high school, I hated myself. I couldn't sing as well as I wanted to; it wasn't easy for me and I felt like I would never improve. I was putting in so much time and energy and still felt like everyone else was effortlessly better than me. This was exacerbated by the fact that despite working with multiple directors and theater companies, I had exactly one role in all of high school that was larger than a cameo. Nobody knew what to do with me. I would cry after every voice lesson, and every time I practiced, hysterically. I was jealous of everyone I perceived as better than me. I considered myself an underdog. I felt undeserving of opportunity (I really, REALLY did not think I'd ever get into college for theatre). And the whole time, I took pride in knowing my place and being humble. But you know what? It fucking sucked feeling like I deserved nothing. It sucked all the happy out of the thing that used to make me the happiest. There was so much pressure on me every time I got up to perform that I would just break down.
After seeing how upset it made me, my parents told me theatre wasn't for me because I let my self-esteem depend on it so completely. That crushed me at the time, although now I know they were just concerned for my mental health and hated driving me home from voice lessons while I sobbed about my own inadequacy. But after repeated confrontations with the possibility of being unable to do what I loved, I realized that leaving theatre behind was simply not an option. The reason I was beating myself up wasn't because I needed to get out, it was because I needed to find a way to stay in. So I scrounged up some self-esteem. And wouldn't you know it, as soon as I stopped seeing myself as unworthy, it didn't really matter to me whether anyone else did.
Now I'm more or less on the other side of it, although I can't deny that self-doubt sneaks back in once in a while because I'm a human being. And I will tell you, it's NOT because I started to gain more recognition. It's because I stopped putting my worth in other people's hands and discovered that I had the ability to make myself happy. But sometimes, in the face of a lot of rejection, that's too much to ask of someone immediately.
Here's what you can do if you're a person who has been recognized more than your friend: tell them they're valid and unique and talented even despite the unlikelihood of them believing it. Tell them you're sorry they feel unappreciated. Don't attempt to explain why things haven't worked out for them. Don't tell them it's not okay to feel pain or doubt. Tell them that feeling some pain and doubting themselves only makes them human. And human is a beautiful thing to be. It's an artistic thing to be. And here's the beautiful thing about being an artist: you can put your humanity to good use. But there's no way you can really stop a person from perceiving this kind of thing as a confirmation of the fear that they are not good enough to succeed.
(Oh, and don't talk about all your callbacks around them unless they ask. Really don't. Yeah, maybe they're oversensitive, but if you don't know what it's like to feel baffled as to why you're not being recognized, you can't really say you wouldn't feel the same way in their situation. I'd hazard a guess that you probably would. Please be considerate.)
Here's what to do if you're a person who hasn't gotten recognition, or has gotten less than your friends: fucking wallow. Cry. Yell and scream and eat unhealthy food and drink and hide. Be salty. Be resentful. Feel gypped. Feel misunderstood. Feel unworthy. Feel like everyone is FUCKED UP for not appreciating you! For a couple of days. And then start working on the next thing. You don't have to deny your pain and frustration. You don't have to deny that it sucks. You don't have to know why it's not happening for you. You don't even have to trust that things will work out eventually (that's out of your control and it's a leap of faith not everyone is able to make -- I know I can't). The only thing that you can trust is yourself, and that you will find a way. You don't have to allow other people to determine your self-worth.
I had an acting teacher one summer who used to tell the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who didn't become real until he had gone through years and years of being worn and hurt and loved. I don't think I ever realized exactly how relevant that story is until I was about halfway through writing this article. Struggling with self-esteem isn't optional, especially for artists. You have to doubt and fear and hurt in order to get to any kind of payoff. Maybe some will struggle outwardly more than others, but everyone has to wrestle with their own ego. In fact, if you're not grappling with these tough questions, you're either enlightened or oblivious. Worrying about whether you're good enough literally comes with the territory of being self-aware. You're allowed freaking consciousness. It would be silly to be ashamed of it.
I can't tell you not to be disappointed after fruitless auditions or even not to reconsider pursuing acting because at the end of the day, you're the only one who can really tell yourself you're not good enough. I know it's a tall order to stop thinking about it, and you'll probably never completely train yourself out of it, but please know that you don't have to measure yourself.
Yes, it sucks. It sucks and a half. But I promise you don't.