The Secret to Dealing with Audition Rejection

by Ruth Kulerman

Man screaming

The killer audition brings pride and pride cushions some of the rejection as a kind of ego parachute.

When I first entered this profession (after coaching for two or three years) I knew less about this business than Puff, my Persian cat. I hadn't a clue about how to get an audition.

At the time, we lived in Princeton. A neighbor who knew I was studying acting in New York suggested looking in the local papers for auditions, since there were several excellent community theatre companies in the area. I looked, I auditioned, got the role, performed the role, got my first review.

After moving back to Manhattan to pursue this delayed dream, I innocently assumed the pattern set in Trenton's Blithe Spirit would stretch out on an infinite yellow brick road of auditions automatically followed by being cast. And, by golly, it did--for two glorious years, always climbing up the career ladder.

Then one winter morning at an open call for a Beckett role I was born to play, I picked up a flyer in the foyer of the theatre holding the auditions, and there read that "my" role had already been cast--with no less than Jean Stapleton, Archie Bunker's fictional wife.

Close-up of woman in foyer: innocence dissolving. Goodbye assumption that "audition" led automatically to "cast."  A mach speed reality check. Yellow brick road becomes mud trail--rapidly. No matter how loudly the brain insisted, "Hey, I'd cast Jean Stapleton. She'd fill the seats"--no matter how the mind held to practicality--that flyer nevertheless revealed the scrim behind which our profession hides. The road to roles is potted with disappointment, rejection, hurt, unfairness, nepotism, and bottom line dollar signs.

I would love to claim that the idea of "NEXT" was born while holding the Beckett flyer--"next" meaning on to the next audition. It wasn't. "Next" sort of gradually evolved--from necessity. Nevertheless, almost each subsequent rejection hurt. And truthfully some of them still do. On the other hand, some roles I wouldn't cast me in either. But even those accurate rejections still cause small pinpricks. Alligator hide would help most of us actor types!

However, after the oh's and ah's and "You're what we've been waiting for" and "the costume designer will be calling you" and never hearing a peep from them later, pretty soon you really need some tangible life boat to climb into. We who experience rejection and disappointment, if not daily, at least weekly, have just one thing we can do to survive.

The one thing? Go in and do a killer audition. My husband invented a phrase which he says to me before every audition and every performance: "Knock 'em dead and give 'em hell." And that's what we aim for--every time. The killer audition brings pride and pride cushions some of the rejection. Pride is a kind of ego parachute.

If you walk out of an audition and can say truthfully, "That's the best I can do," then leave it in the lap of Zeus and announce NEXT. Just be sure that "the best I can do" is not self-delusion. In order to say it's the best you can do, you must be PREPARED. (Remember the entire past article on preparation?) In order to say it's your best, you must be in top PRESENTATION form. (Remember the entire past article on PRESENTATION?) In order to say it's your best, you must know how to audition. (Remember the three articles on auditions?)   

And then you go into the audition room to take over, to knock 'em dead, to walk out with pride, and on to NEXT. And never wonder for whom the call-back telephone bell is going to ring. Forget the audition. On to NEXT.

I have watched fellow actors as they wait to audition and without hearing a word of their sides or monologues could tell who was going in to kill and who was going in to be killed. Audition is a battleground and you yourself are both friend and foe. I have coached actors for auditions and could tell before the event who would and who would not get a callback and no, it has nothing to do with talent. Preparation. Presentation. Pride. NEXT.

So before you burst into inconsolable sobs, look in the mirror. Preparation? Yes? Presentation? Yes? Audition savvy? Yes? Then you have earned the right to proclaim NEXT. If one, two or all three are "No," then back to the drawing board. It is much more comforting to know that you yourself have blown the audition than to be told you're spectacular and never hear from them again. If you yourself created the rejection, then you can correct it.

What precisely is NEXT? What exactly are the steps to NEXT?

NEXT is forgetting about the audition. Do not look for innuendoes from the audition committee. A mere "Thank you" or even silence is as reliable as "You're great, superb, exactly what we want." Do not search for hidden indications of how they liked you or your work. Do not assume you have the role if they laugh in the right places or gasp when you are finished. Do not glow in their praise (that gives them too much power). Glow in pride at your own job well done--more than well done--your own job done the best you can do.

Review, repair, then start the three P's all over again (preparation, presentation, pride). In other words, work, grow, learn, watch, listen, experiment--maybe even do something as basic as picking a more interesting monologue. Be too busy growing to give rejection room to grow into bitterness. Then in you go and on to NEXT.

There are ways of handling rejection which I strongly do not suggest. You know them all. But there are healthy ways to cope with the hurt inherent in this profession: work out your feelings in the gym, jog, clean your apartment, go to a movie, take an extra dance class or singing lesson or coaching session. One famous film star fired her manager because she felt she was being rejected in favor of another superstar. When you reach that level, you won't need NEXT. Money buys lots of alligator hide.

In the meantime, the best net under the high wire we constantly walk is preparation, presentation, pride, and NEXT. And then another NEXT. Until preparation, presentation, and pride lead to CAST!

Ruth Kulerman is an actress and coach, known for "The Off Season," "A Walk in the Dark," and "Satan Hates You." Her series of articles is copyright by Chad Gracia and ActorTips. All rights reserved.
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Reader Comments

I HATE it when people say "at least you did your best." Really? All that means was my best wasn't good enough.

Posted by Jess (2009-12-02) 2225

Thanks for the tips, they really help me!

Posted by Louisa (2009-07-02) 1710

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