Tomorrow I have an important audition. Unlike the typical process of strutting your stuff for a particular theater, this one is a mega-event: thirty Atlanta companies represented in one place, three-hundred actors vying for attention. Each actor has a total of two and a half minutes to show the casting people what they've got. In most cases, that means two contrasting monologues (one comedic, one dramatic) and sixteen to twenty bars of a song, if they can sing. Two minutes thirty seconds isn't much time, but Ethel Barrymore once said that if an actor is good, one minute is enough. If an actor is not, it's too long. She had a point. Once an actor opens his mouth it's clear very quickly whether or not he has the chops.
Since the age of fourteen, I've been to a gazillion auditions. Some have been grand, like the time a director stopped me in mid-song and told the assembled waiting competitors, "That's exactly the voice I'm looking for." I got the part and sang the then-top-forty hit, "Day by Day" in "Godspell." On another occasion I auditioned for a major company in a large city. The two auditors, one wearing a backwards baseball cap, were about fifteen years younger than I. They greeted me with a bored hello. Once I began my pieces I couldn't help picking up their vibes; they looked at me quizzically, like I was from outer space. Many auditors are friendly and seem genuinely happy to see you. Others, like those rude ones, seem perturbed you even walked into the room. It runs the gamut.
Like any other practice, I do better in these situations when I've been performing frequently. I faced a roomful of metro D.C. theaters just days after finishing a season of summer stock. I was lucky to follow a woman who did an overwrought monologue, complete with crocodile tears. My one-minute zany selection brought the house down. I got eight callbacks. Much of the time, for a lot of actors, the audition leads nowhere. You rehearse long hours at home for very little, if any, return. You're not the right type, you're too old or too young, too tall or too short, thin when they want heavy, heavy when they want skinny. Frustration abounds: you know you did a damn good job, you're perfect for the part, they give you great feedback, but you still come up empty.
Rejection is, as everyone knows, germane to the pursuit of a career in show business. An actor has to accept the terms of the deal (85% unemployment, a constant for as long as I can remember) and resolve to do better the next time, to keep at it, never give up. The same is true for writers. The old saw about Hemingway papering the walls of a room in his house with rejection slips (or was it Fitzgerald? Faulkner?) isn't a myth, to my knowledge. It comes with the territory, which is why writers tell would-be authors, "If there's anything else you can do, do it." They're warning you of the stark facts---that the likelihood of getting published is slim to none, at least until you're really adept at the craft and find a suitable home (publishing house, literary review or journal) for your work. (Or you write cheesy books about vampires, zombies or the same tired love story recycled over and over.)
I have the misfortune to be both an actor and a writer, which must make me some kind of masochist. I think the reason I stay with it is that while the payoff may be elusive, when you hit the mark, it's glorious. Tomorrow, even if I do my best, it's entirely possible that nothing will come of my time and effort. I'm used to it. I'm like the pessimist who says, I'll assume the worst and if something good happens I'll be pleasantly surprised. I never had a choice. I knew I wanted to be an actress from the age of five. I began writing at eleven. No, you'll never see me on the Red Carpet, at the Globes, Emmys, Grammys or Oscars. But I'll keep on trying to crack these professions because I have to. It is, as those sage men and women of letters or the theater will tell you, a compulsion.