Dealing With Audition Rejection

One of the hardest, and most gut-wrenching, elements of being an actor is facing audition rejection. “What went wrong?” and “Why did I fail?” race through our minds. Audition rejection is a terribly self-analytical moment. All too often we beat ourselves up over not picking up the role we worked so hard for…

The audition process is one of the most exciting and nervous time periods for any actor/performer. It is also the most controversial and often-times infuriating periods. I know. I’ve been there…

As a professional performer I attended a large number of auditions – some were superb experiences where I felt I learnt as much as I worked. Others were not so great. In fact, some auditions were truly atrocious experiences. Partly because I had not prepared enough, others because I had no idea what I was getting into. Usually the atrocity of the audition experience was centred entirely on the rejection at the end. That hollow pit that erupts in the stomach as the auditor utters the death-knell of the audition “thank you”. Time’s over. Job’s done. No matter what else you feel you could do, your time to prove it is gone (in fact, in some cases this “thank you” full stop can happen before you have even had the chance to introduce yourself (my worst audition ever – and entirely based on the way I looked)). And following the “thank you” comes the waiting period to discover if you did actually prove yourself enough AND meet the director’s specification.

Why Did I Get Rejected After My Audition?

Auditions are the dark side of the performing arts. Performers are herded into a small space under the watchful eyes of a panel of auditors, then tested through a range of ‘experiments’ and trials, scrutinised incessantly for:

  • the way they look (do they ‘fit’ the role?)
  • the way they sound (do they have the appropriate voice?)
  • emotional application to being someone they’re not,
  • and an exhausting examination of skills applicable to the role to be filled.

Auditions are, in their very essence, tournaments designed to assess ability and appropriateness to roles. Conducted in a measured methodology akin to meat-markets/cattle-markets.

Let us review what an audition is. It is by its very own definition an evaluation of something – a test with a required outcome. An auditor is there to conduct the evaluation and verify the tested elements fit purpose.

As a director (usually intrinsic as auditor) there are a great many elements that may be required from the herd that present themselves in audition. Character type, vocal skill and stamina, appropriateness to role, physicality, physical ability, emotional integrity, and finally casting against others. All are important in achieving the director’s vision (and sometimes can become even as pedantic as just fitting budget…). Interestingly, the choices behind certain castings can rest as much upon suitability against another casting choice for another character as it can upon your own skills.

The director means nothing personal in their final casting, and by the wayside those who will suffer audition rejection. For them it is the OVERALL effect of the casting in line with the artistic vision of a piece of theatre that is at the forefront of the process. And the fact is that there are just not enough roles available in any theatrical outing. Speaking as a director, I can state categorically that there is no joy in announcing a cast and having to reject performers from roles they have worked so incredibly hard to secure. Granted there might be a bias in me: the actor in me empathises entirely and understands the dedication, discipline and effort combined to the preparation of audition material. Having spoken with a number of directors and casting directors though, I know I am not alone in feeling empathy when rejecting potential cast members.

Why Does Audition Rejection Feel So Bad?

The hard part for any performer is the rejection. And yet, these are often more likely to occur than an actual casting. So why does rejection from any type of performing opportunity (theatre, musical theatre, dance, variety etc) never get any easier? As performers, it is the requirement of any audition to expose our abilities to their fullest extent. Show all of our strengths (and by counterpoint) all of our weaknesses. Performers must be picked apart through the process – analysed fully. We are naturally exposed, naturally broken and often (if we have worked hard throughout the casting process) absolutely knackered (emotionally and physically) by the experience. We have demonstrated who we are. We have given our all.

Just as happens in a relationship – time, blood, sweat, tears, passion, dedication, emotion, and physical expression – have all been shared. We are open and wear our hearts on our sleeve. We do similarly in auditions. We engage with the process showing our warts and all. There are highs and lows, but we feel the possibility of a future every step of the way. We have to. We have to show commitment. And as the possibility of that future we have clung on to vanishes against our will, we are left feeling hollowed by the experience – a part of us is left behind.

The fact is, any director/auditor does not WANT to make a performer feel that way. But they have to make a decision. And it can be a hard decision. The final casting decisions must be made without any emotional attachment. Audition rejection does not come lightly, and it is never personal.

Ultimately, the show must go on and to the strongest standards and appearances that the audition harvest has yielded.

Why am I harping on about this right now? When I first wrote this post I had just cast Chess – the Musical, which I was directing for their final production. An audition process lasting a full week and drawing on the talent exposure of some thirty three musical theatre performance students who all worked solidly and highly professionally throughout. It was a long journey for them, simulating open casting and the workshop and recall processes that can be encountered arriving at a the final inevitable conclusion of casting roll(or should that be role?)-call. The casting announcement was made and there was an oppressive feeling of disappointment in the room. A number of disheartened performers seemed crushed by the news. All very understandable: their efforts had been immense throughout the week. But in the announcement of names, their lover had bolted leaving them raw and their relationship broken.

Harder still, I am sure, is finding you have received a principle role but having to hold back the jubilation because of the disappointment of cast peers (again, using the relationship analogy it is like friends; where one just found the man/woman of their hearts while the other has just lost theirs). Audition rejection is a fickle beast.

So, I started writing this to extend a hand out to my disappointed audition candidates. I do understand. And I have words of guidance and wisdom for them all, and others out there suffering audition rejection.

Firstly, I need to express that your sensitivity to the situation is well-founded. But you must try to dust it off and continue on your way assured in your own abilities even if they were just not quite right for the role(s) you were just auditioning.

How To Cope With Audition Rejection…

Always be aware that the performing arts industries are just that: industry. It is a business (the business part of show…). Everything in that industry is about arriving at a marketable product that suits purpose for the audience and the director’s vision for that paying audience. Your casting is often not based on anything within your control as a performer. It is not strictly about talent or ability.

Following EVERY audition experience NEVER dwell on the negatives. Consider them of course (being critical about our own work is vital to continued development), but do NOT dwell on them. Instead, give yourself a break and reflect on a minimum of three things you did in the audition that went well FOR YOU. Think about these as positive ways in which you demonstrated yourself. This will also go some way to reminding yourself of good, solid audition technique.

NEVER base your entire performing career on the basis of one audition (or indeed on a string of unsuccessful auditions). The assessment of an auditor is based ONLY on the project in hand – it is not a sleight nor reflection on you as a rounded performer.

Finally, consider the audition in this manner: an audition is NOT the same as a job interview. A job interview gets you work. An audition itself IS the work. You work hard to reap the rewards – and sometimes the work does not lead you there. In which case, you assess your approach and move on to the next project, with stronger determination to succeed. A job interview failure puts a full stop on the process. Audition rejection or a bad audition experience is only a step before a positive audition experience – a process still in continuation. Always think about the next one. Again, back to my relationship break-up analogy: there are plenty of fish in the sea!