The Secret to Showbiz Success

by Ruth Kulerman

Success highway sign

Expect many disappointments but remember that the journey toward success has to be as important as the goal itself.

This article is really eavesdropping on a recent telephone conversation between myself and a talented young woman who recently began a musical theatre career after five years in the opera world.

In the five months we have worked together she has had nine or ten offers of paying jobs, countless callbacks, and an audition for a Broadway show and a national Broadway tour.

We once worked 45 minutes just practicing how to enter an audition room, what to say, how to smile. Something must be working! She went from little mouse to mighty whirlwind. As a student she is ideal. She may occasionally balk, but in the long run she takes and absorbs advice--the exact advice being given here.

That being said, she is one pain in the unmentionable parts when it comes to handling the knocks of this business. And these "knocks" are inevitable. How you handle them is what this article is about.

All of you in this profession will inevitably have many disappointments and a lot of things will happen which will seem unfair. Here are some comments that our musical theatre star-on-the-rise said in a half hour phone conversation (and I'm willing to bet many of you have said them too. Certainly count me as one who did, until my dear husband insisted I was making myself (and him) miserable):

TIP ONE: Handling Knocks
The journey toward success has to be as important as the goal itself. Success, achieving the ultimate of your professional dreams, does not guarantee happiness. Somewhere along the route to whatever goal you have set, learn the lesson of happiness. The road to success, ironically, is a thing called "life." It is a waste of life just to wait for life to begin once you are successful. (Perhaps a cliché, but true.)

It happens to be true that the glass is indeed half full. I have learned the hard way that the journey must be happy. I deliberately do not use the word "fun." Happiness is not the same thing as fun in my lexicon.

Fun is watching Pepper, the diva cat, meow in different tones for different words. Happiness is a deep certainty that everything is OK. And no, I do not think you will become less actively engaged in self-promotion, open calls, mailings -- all the things we have spoken of which will help you attain your goal--if you figure out how to be happy. I do not think happiness decreases ambition or drive.

There is no question that some rain in your life will probably make you a more compassionate human being and thus a finer actor. But "rain" is not losing a role. "Rain" is the stuff in life which causes grief. Losing a role is not a genuine grief causer. There will always be other auditions and other roles. So don't make yourself an emotional mess because you didn't get a callback or an offer of a role.

Happiness in the journey to your goal does not mean a post-it smiley face. It means, for example, to stop being so miserable and stop fussing and meowing and mewling because you didn't book a job or get a callback. The word NEXT was invented for precisely this situation.

TIP TWO: Handling More Knocks
"The assistant to the casting director doesn't like me. I'll never get past her so the casting director will hear me." Thus spake our young musical starlet.

Answer 1. How do you know the assistant doesn't like you? ("I can just tell.")

This is what I call creating a fantasy. You cannot tell what crags and rocks lie on the landscape of casting people's minds. You cannot tell whether or not someone likes you. Who knows what slings and arrows hit the assistant casting director the morning of your audition? And if you have seen the same casting person at three open calls and every time thought you were disliked, then what? Either stop going or make a game called "You are not about to ruin my terrific audition. I do not yield my power as a performer over to your scowling face."

And because I have had to grow alligator skin (which we talked about in the past) I personally say to myself, "And if you could do it better than I am, then get up and do it!" But that's just me being Irish and feisty. Remember it is indeed said only to myself, and does not diminish that dazzling charm and smile one atom.

Answer 2. You should be so focused on what you are doing that you have nothing left over to start examining the facial expression, the aura, or psyche of a casting office member. You are there to present yourself, not to analyze their response. Analyze your performance, not their response.

Answer 3. If you are immediately revolting to them, it surely cannot have anything to do with you. You might remind them of their wicked stepmother. Who knows?

Answer 4. There is nothing you can do anyway if they don't like you. Your job is to perform. Not to analyze.

Answer 5: Even if you are a mind reader, own the world's most polished crystal ball, and pick up vibes as if you were a Geiger counter, you may still be doing a wrong reading in this instance. Again you are not there to "read" them. You are there to knock 'em dead.

REMINDER: No matter what subliminal messages you are receiving, turn them off. Close the incoming circuit. Stop the internal chatter. Most of it is the rampant disease called "lack of confidence." And do not for one second allow them to know that you think they don't like you. Grin and smile and be pleasant. Do a superb audition. That is why you are there.

The old "The casting director doesn't like me" syndrome is guaranteed to make you angry, hurt, create self doubts, and make the road to success unnecessarily rocky.

TIP THREE: Handling Yet Another Knock
"Why didn't I get the role? I wanted it so badly."

Answer: I, you, maybe even the casting office and director do not know precisely why they cast whom they cast. Or it could be a grocery list of reasons: The male lead is six inches shorter than you are. The other female lead is also a red head. The one they cast had better resume credentials. You remind them of detested Aunt Belle. You didn't do as well as you thought you did.

Who knows? You can waste a lot of life wondering, fussing, fuming, torturing yourself about the reasons you didn't get a role. It is past. Even if you found out why you didn't get that particular role, the event is over. It is done. You cannot please everyone and you can indeed twist yourself in a pretzel if you try to figure out what each director wants. Keep working. Keep learning. Keep growing. It sure beats flogging yourself.

TIP FOUR: A Final Knock
"There is a guy in the dressing room (of the current production our singing starlet is in) who always complains about not getting a role, about favoritism, about about about."

Answer: Oops. Go look in the mirror. Tape our phone conversation.

Want to be successful? Be pleasant, be happy, enjoy what you have--all the while aiming higher and higher. Make life as pleasant for everyone around you as possible. And guess what? The success as an actor turns into success as a human being.

If you will forgive something truly personal: I learned all the above from my best friend and fan, my husband, whom I have often mentioned in these articles. In honor of his memory, I wish to thank him for this most valuable life and acting lesson. I truly hope you too will learn that success in acting must include success and happiness as a human being. The journey to success and the way you choose to experience it--not the goal--determine happiness.
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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