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The Actor’s Self-Esteem

August 20, 2013

How often do you find yourself on top of the world when you book a job, only to find yourself crashing to the ground once that job is over? It’s a tough business, especially when the product you are in business to promote is yourself. How to unpack the actor-ly, business-y you from the you you is the real feat. It is hard to separate our own self-esteem and self-worth from how we are doing as a professional actor.

Figuring out how to separate the highs and lows of this business of show from our personal lives is an ongoing struggle for every theatre person I know. The ones who have figured it out seem the happiest, the most settled — and, oddly, the most employed. So how do you join that club? ‘Cause that’s the club I want to be in: happily employed, or not, and completely comfortable in my place in this business, even if I am not currently employed in it. Here are a few observations from people whose self-esteem seems not at all tied to which jobs they have booked recently.

1. Engage in something else.

I’ve read many a blog by casting directors, agents, fellow actors, and the like that recommend having something else to do after an audition, even a post-audition ritual, so that you don’t relive and rehash and re-evaluate every single moment of it. That’s great advice. Of course, since I am often traveling to an audition, the audition kinda is my day. But I have figured out how to occupy my brain with things other than the audition on the way home, and mostly that is through having lots of other things going on in my life.

Volunteer! Explore other careers for your parallel or sideline career! Take classes that aren’t directly related to your job as an actor! Do something. Just today I re-read a portion of my journal from about this time last year. In it, I stated that – and I am paraphrasing here – I needed to find a job to half-ass, because theatre takes a whole-assed approach and I didn’t have time or energy to give to a whole other career. Finding something else to do can be quite challenging, but once I changed my outlook on that, my dance card got very full, very quickly. And I think it is because an actor who is not relying on an audition to go well to feel good about themselves and have something to do is a more interesting actor to watch.

I have also learned – thank you yoga! – to release the results of the audition. I cannot affect what the people in the room think of me, or whether my take on the character is what they are looking for this time around. Of course, it helps that someone involved in casting lives with me, I know intimately how much casting can have nothing at all to do with what happened in the audition room, but rather a myriad other things — you are too tall or too short for the role opposite you, for whom only one person was an option; one person on the casting team thinks you would be great for a role, but the other person on the casting team just can’t see you in it; you are an out-of-town union actor and the theatre just can’t afford the expense.

But the fact remains, having something to put in that brainspace, besides the constant loop of the audition, is vitally important.

2. Be truly happy for the good fortune of others.

Boy, howdy, do I struggle with this one! I am really, really trying to approach this business from a point of abundance, not a point of scarcity. But it’s hard. It’s hard when I look at seasons chock full of male-dominated shows. It’s hard when I see how few of the female roles are being cast Equity. It’s hard when there’s been a dry spell. But when I put my mind to it, when I sit down and really think about whether the good fortune of someone else really takes away from my ability to also experience good fortune, I am able to give my congratulations cheerfully. Because, really, there is an abundance. It’s just that sometimes we might have to create that abundance ourselves.

3. Find another passion

This one was really hard for me. Theatre has always been my passion. I couldn’t conceive how I could be passionate about anything else. That would have been akin to cheating on my spouse. With his best friend. And his brother.

But slowly, I began to see that even I had chinks in the armor, that I was passionate enough about other things to find fulfillment through them. Through work on my (theatre) project, Things We Say to Girls, I realized how passionately I felt about women’s issues, generally, and reproductive justice, specifically. I was reconnected to my interest in politics and activism. And I finally acted on that interest; I found a way to engage with others who had interests in the same subject. I don’t think it is completely coincidence that my bookings increased tenfold once I decided to commit fully to volunteer efforts in another arena. Suddenly, I had something else to get out of bed and accomplish in the day. I cannot express to you the difference this has made in my attitude and my self-esteem.

And you know what? The theatre is still there. And she doesn’t feel jilted. Not one little bit.

4. Remember that it is never about you.

I return to the fact that, in this business, we are selling ourselves. It is an intensely personal business, and one that already requires an armor of adamantium. But the people who are looking for talent aren’t concerned with you, they are concerned with the project. Do you fit into the project? If so, great! If not, well, maybe next time.

I cannot tell you how many times Hubs has said of casting an actor, “Yeah, I’m really excited to finally get to work with him/her. He/She’s always given us such a good audition, but I just never had a place to use him/her until now.” When a company is hiring a spokesperson, they don’t care how awesome you could rock out that spot, getting everyone in and out of the studio under time and under budget. Sure, that’s awesome that you have the skillset to get on set and deliver, but if you don’t look like what the company wants the face of their company to look like, well, better luck next time! You can be an amazing actor and still not get hired a lot of the time. The outcome of the audition is just simply not about you. The sooner you can absorb that into your psyche, the better off you will be.

Look, I know that reading this one blog post about how to reframe your attitude and outlook will not magically make things better, especially when you feel like your career is stagnant. Trust me, I’ve been there – oh, how I’ve been there! – and this kind of thing takes me diligent, dedicated work every single day. I think I work on my attitude about auditions and the business as much as I work on my monologues and scenes. And I think it is that important.

I hope that you can file some of this info away, think about it, mull it over, and see if you can find a way to make some room for a different way of thinking about the challenges of this career. While no one is promised constant employment, learning how to manage the ups and downs of being in and out of employment in this profession is one of your most important roles.

How do you maintain your own self-esteem and sense of self-worth through the feasts and the famines that are intrinsic in this business?


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