The Only Difference
I recently took this audition workshop class, every Monday for 5 Mondays. The first week we presented two pieces to the casting director who would guide us through the workshop, as well as an agent who was a friend of his. The agent was to return the fifth week to see what pieces we chose, how our work was progressing, and once again offer a second opinion, theater being one of the most subjective businesses around. The casting director stressed to us that the agent’s return in the final week need not add any stress. We were still working, rather than performing.
I chose to take the CD at his word, and showed up on week 5 in slight disarray as usual (running from yoga, or dance, or a coaching, or teaching, or heaven knows what else), although looking presentable and feeling pretty good about my material. The week prior had been rough for me- I chose one piece that I knew would be a challenge, and then (of course), felt angry and upset when it felt challenging. But 7 days had given me a new outlook, and as I came to class, I was thinking “Whatever happens today, I am enough. These are works in progress and are not a measure of my worth as an actor, and especially not of my worth as a person.” Lovely. Great.
So I walk in the door, and it feels like controlled pandemonium. People are running around frantically, applying lipstick and fixing ties. The very kind, well-meaning boy I have been sitting near says “I think he’s going to sign and everything today!” (referring to the agent). It becomes apparent that we all need a second headshot, which of course I did not bring, having prided myself that very morning on unburdening my shoulders by scaling down to a smaller binder. And I actually say to someone “Did I miss the part where we talked about all this?” Because suddenly, everything felt like a HUGE deal. I started to get caught up in the energy, sprinting to the office to copy my resume while convincing myself that hot yoga enhanced my hair’s natural curl.
What’s next is even worse. I thought “Okay, we’ve been doing all this work in class that’s really honest, speaking to a real person, creating important circumstances, letting it have emotional weight. That’s all well and good, but now I have to perform for the agent, so I need to give him what he wants to see.”
(See a problem here yet?)
And then, FINALLY, my brain kicked in. We’ve been doing work for a month in class, but now I think I need to throw all that out the window to ‘give him what he wants to see?’ The work I’ve been doing, honest, emotional, connected: that IS what he wants to see. THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SAME THING!”
And then I stopped.
I said it again.
They’re supposed to be the same thing.
And then I took a breath, handed over my photocopied headshot, sat down, and let the chaos continue around me.
As an actor, I constantly hear people “behind the table” say things like:
1. We are so happy you are auditioning for us.
2. We are totally on your side and want it to go well for you.
3. I so want you to be the right person when you walk in the door.
4. All you have to do is be yourself.
Or maybe you’ve heard similar things in some other avenue of your personal or professional life:
1. There’s nothing you’re doing wrong. Other circumstances beyond you are creating this situation.
2. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m the one with the issues.
3. We absolutely want what’s best for you.
4. I am here and available for you if you need me.
I’ve heard these things dozens of times. And in my head, I believe these people. I really do. But sometimes my fear tells a different story. Sometimes, although I understand-the-words-that-are-coming-out-of-your-mouth, I just can’t quite take them to heart. Because the ideas I already have in place are old, and ingrained, and they have deep, deep roots that prevent me from believing all the way.
But what I realized watching my fellow performers stand up is that refusal to believe is a tiny little rejection of the person who told you a truth. And that rejection, that distance, that refusal to believe, is what keeps us from truly connecting with one another. And THAT, to me, is ultimately much more terrifying than taking somebody at his or her word and risking being let down.
When it was my turn to get up in class, I sang my songs. They weren’t perfect, but I did what I wanted to do, which is a phrase I have been holding on to lately. And in the end, I didn’t sacrifice an entire 4 weeks’ worth of work in order to play into my fears of what a “performance” that “impresses” should be. And that single swing of the axe at the tree of insecurity, fear, and harmful beliefs, that tiny victory, became a huge accomplishment.