The other day I got a surprise e-mail from a casting director asking me to come to the invited call for an immediate replacement on one of their shows. This particular show I had been in final callbacks for about eight months ago but did not book. And ya’ll, I was really bummed when I didn’t book it. What I’m about to tell you is strictly for transparency purposes. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did this but I’m sure that many of you have done something similar. When the article came out with the cast announcement I literally stalked each member of the cast on instagram, comparing myself to all the beautiful, talented, “more successful” ladies who had booked the show over me. This is not good. I felt myself stuck in the claws of comparison and jealousy, and I did not like that I found myself there. I knew I had to take a good, hard look at myself and my values around auditioning.
I realized that about seventy percent of my energy around the audition process had been wasted dreaming of what it would be like to book the job. I dreamed with such vivid detail what it would be like to get the phone call, how I would tell my parents, how I would let my babysitting and teaching jobs know I’d be unavailable after all. I budgeted a fourth of my would-be weekly salary towards expediting the process of paying off my student loans and another fourth towards my travel fund for a big, beautiful, expensive vacation upon completion of the contract. I even knew what I would wear for the first day of rehearsal and the clever instagram post that would accompany the outfit. So when I found out I didn’t get the job, not only did I have to deal with the disappointment of rejection but also the realization that none of my wild plans were going to come to fruition.
In talking to some of my friends about audition coping strategies I’ve heard that dreaming of what it would be like to have the job works for some people. And if you’re one of those people I think that’s great. Similarly to how there’s no one way to have a career in the arts, there’s no one way to prepare for and stay sane during the highs and lows of auditioning. For me though, it only raises the stakes, adding unnecessary anxiety and stress. Here’s why: We. Have. No. Control. Over. Whether. Or. Not. We. Get. The. Job. Let’s say it one more time for the people in the back: We have no control over whether or not we get the job. Therefore, we also have no control over all the wonderful things we dream about having and doing if we do indeed get the job. This, my friends, is why I feel it is a waste of valuable creative energy when we allow ourselves to get swept up in daydreaming this way.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t dream at all. I am a dreamer. I have a very vivid, creative, fast paced imagination. I have played out making my Broadway debut over and over again in a multitude of different shows. I have accepted so many imaginary Tony Awards and given beautifully improvised acceptance speeches in the privacy of my shower. And let me just say, those shower speeches are ridiculously more eloquent than I ever am in real life. In real life, English is hard and I feel like I have the vocabulary of a three year old but in my shower... damn. I say some pretty profound shit. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I do love to dream. Dreaming can be a wonderful tool. Our dreams are what keep us working towards a goal. But when the dreaming becomes overly elaborate and obsessive, when the dreams become all we can think about, when achieving the dreams start to feel like life or death, that’s when we begin to function from a place of desperation. Or at least that’s when I begin to function from a place of desperation. And desperation does not breed creativity. Our creativity is what makes us unique individuals. It’s our artistry. It’s what makes us interesting and ironically, cast-able.
So the other day when I got the e-mail about the invited call I decided I was going to treat things differently this time around. I wasn’t going to allow myself to get swept up dreaming about how magical it would be to book this job. I decided I was going to focus on only what I could control. I prepared the sides from a place of joy and not from a place of "needing to get it right.” I gave myself permission to play and experiment with these characters. In the 72 hours leading up to the audition I gave myself mantras to repeat to myself whenever I started to feel nervous or felt myself slipping back into obsessive desperation dream mode:
“You belong in that room.”
“You are a star.”
“You have permission to play and have fun.”
First of all, I think it’s impossible to think these things and not start to feel really good about yourself. Second of all, I started to get really jazzed for the audition. For the audition! Not for the possibility of booking a job. Because again, in case ya’ll forgot, I have no control over that. So by the time the audition rolled around I felt grounded, calm, excited, and worthy of my place in that room. I’ve danced that choreography many times and have been coached on it from just about every associate and dance captain on the show. However, I am a different artist than I was last time I danced this choreography so I allowed myself to learn it with fresh eyes and an open heart. Also, I wasn’t nervous. I never got nervous. If you look at the situation objectively you would think it’s a high stress environment: the stakes are high, there were only 32 women in the room, all 32 of those women were around the same height, all 32 of those women were highly skilled dancers, they were only looking for one girl to fill one spot, and whoever they chose would start rehearsals in four days. But to me it never felt that way because of the thoughts I chose to focus on. I actively chose to focus on only what I could control and only what would make me feel really good. I use the phrase “actively chose” because yes, every now and then my mind would start to wander towards obsessive desperation dream mode. I don’t want to give the false impression that this kind of work is easy or natural because it’s not. It takes thoughtful concentration and a mindfulness practice. So rather than let myself go down the rabbit hole of unhelpful thinking, I would actively choose to bring myself back to those mantras I mentioned earlier.
“I’ll have a job through the rest of 2019 and the start of 2020 at least and…wait…hold on…” I would take a deep breath and refocus. “You are a star. You have permission to play and have fun.”
And like I said, it seriously worked. I was in such a good, healthy mental space that my body was able to access its creative center. I was able to, like I said, enter the audition with an open heart. I was able to play and have fun. Truly enjoy my time in the room. I watched the other ladies when I was waiting on the side, admiring their talents as equal to my own. Raise your hand if you’ve been the girl that does one of two things at a dance call: 1. You try and block everyone out and focus on only yourself for fear of getting distracted or 2. You watch the other girls when they’re dancing and compare yourself to them by either A) Coming up with all the ways they’re all so much better than you and why are you even there because you could never get the job over them anyway… or B) Inflating your own struggling ego by coming up with all the ways you’re so much better than them. Come on, don’t lie to me, I know I can’t be the only person who has ever felt insecure in an audition room and has found herself coping in one of those two ways. But these coping methods are actually detrimental to our growth. When we ignore everyone else in the room we miss opportunities to be inspired by other people and to learn from watching someone else. And don’t even get me started on how comparing ourselves to others does more damage than anything remotely helpful. So yes, not only did I have fun dancing myself, but I also thoroughly enjoyed watching my fellow dancers do their thing too.
The title of this blog is “auditions aren’t actually about booking a job.” Okay, yes, technically the reason auditions exist is so that a creative team for a show can find their cast of talented humans to be in said show. But from now on I am making a promise to myself that I will not think of auditions in this way. When I first got the e-mail I explained to Jon that I wasn’t excited about the possibility of getting the job but rather “excited that I am getting called in by this casting office. Building a career is about building relationships. This is a sign that this casting office likes me and believes in me even months and months after my last round of callbacks for this show. As I continue to grow throughout my career there will be hundreds of e-mails like this but only a small handful of them will result in jobs. What’s exciting to me today is knowing that I am building a network of people who believe in what I have to offer the industry. That’s what’s worth celebrating right now because that’s real and tangible and right in front of me.”
So no, auditions aren’t about booking a job. They’re about building a community of people (casting directors) who believe in you. They’re about being brave and allowing your creativity to shine. They’re about learning iconic choreography from people who were in the room when it was created. They’re about rising to challenges and going outside your comfort zone. They’re an opportunity to practice trusting that you belong in that room with very important people because you, my sweet, talented, beautiful friend are just as important as they are.