Occupational Hazard: REJECTION!

Rejection = A Fact of Life. Rejection in the Theatre = The Daily Reality.

Assuming a high level of talent and skill, the way a theatre professional handles rejection can determine the rate of success or failure in his or her career.

It took me too long to learn that I had a choice as to whether or not I responded personally to rejection. As a young actress in New York in the early 70’s, my fear of being rejected could be paralyzing; on occasion I would actually not show up for an audition. Knowing I didn’t want to sabotage my lifelong dream, and not wanting to piss of my agent any more than necessary, I gritted my teeth and “followed my fear” as if I was in an improv class.

“What do I gain from being terrified?” I asked myself.  It seemed that certain auditions didn’t scare me a bit and I wondered why they were different. After one such (rare) occurrence it struck me that I just didn’t care: the theatre was too far away, I couldn’t stand the director, and I got the offer. In contrast, when I coveted the role or adored the play or longed to work in a particular theatre, my fear of rejection kicked right in. I was afraid I might actually get the job. Bingo! Fear of success.

When I embraced my fear (one of the Six Principles of Theatrical Intelligence) I made friends with it as if we were partners venturing into unknown territory. More offers came my way, and I actually began to enjoy auditioning.

The fact is that there is no foolproof way to win a role in the theatre, or a production if you’re a playwright or a gig if you’re a director.  If my theatrical cohorts and I had known about my friend Mary Cantando’s “Five Approaches to Handling Rejection” back then it would’ve helped!  Of course she hadn’t written them yet – she was in North Carolina, accumulating the expertise to become the growth expert for women entrepreneurs she is today.

Here are Mary’s gems of wisdom:

Where Mary has written “sales call” or “sales meeting”, substitute the word(s) of your choice: interview, play submittal, backers’ audition, pitch, preview… the list goes on.

Just as Rejection = Reality, No Sales = No Career.

Thanks, Mary. Many of us could’ve used your handy tips way back when. Which is exactly why I’m passing them along today.



9 Responses to “Occupational Hazard: REJECTION!”

  1. Roger Morgan says:

    Another good post.

    Idea: Some people like to show off survival scars on their bodies with great pride. What if workers in theatre were to spin rejection in their favor? Let every actor who joins Actors Equity get a special card that’s punched at auditions. The more holes, the better the bragging rights.

  2. Ann Sachs says:

    Great idea, Roger! And United Scenic Artists could issue one to Designers, the Dramatists Guild to Playwrights, the Broadway League to Producers… Hmm, who would issue what to Critics?

    P.S. You still make me laugh after all these years.

  3. I love this, Ann. You always open my mind. Thanks to both you and Mary.

  4. Why not create your own rejection card? Instead of hole punches, you could stick on a star for every rejection…kinda like your mom used to give you for brushing your teeth or making your bed. Then when you receive a YES, you have to start over with a new card. If you saved all of these up, it would remind you that you had to go through several NO’s to reach each YES.

  5. Linda says:

    Rejection, if viewed as a form of temporary failure, can teach people — especially artists, I think — to be both persistent and resilient. “Failure studies” seems to be in the air. Perhaps you saw it in last week’s NY Times magazine. I’ve written about it briefly as well on my blog. We’re not born resilient, and while there’s probably a limit to one’s capacity to absorb rejection, it can be a great way to develop resiliency and a persistent “habit of mind” that ultimately leads to success. Thanks for the post! (and I love Roger’s punch card idea too!)

  6. Judy says:

    After recently losing an account, I was trying to find the silver lining and this article really helped! I do see us venturing into new territory now and would not have felt as “pushed” if not for that rejection. Thank you for such an insightful article, Ann!

  7. Eric Vines says:

    In our organization, we are often in the position of saying no to artists. Every year 126 artists apply for 26 spots. Most will be disappointed. But the ones who don’t apply, never even get considered. If your work is of good quality and you keep putting yourself out there, you’ll find a yes… resilience is a skill worth developing.

    Has someone developed a mental training exercise for resilience? That would be handy.

  8. The Observationalist NYC says:

    Great post; the biggest lesson I’ve learned since moving to New York and slogging through a career in design is that you just have to keep popping up, despite the fears, sacrifices, and obstacles. You can never succumb to rejection in this business…

  9. Ann Sachs says:

    What terrific ideas: a “rejection card” with gold stars (I’m starting one, Mary), “bragging rights” (all of us need ’em, right Roger?) and mental training for resilience (I’m investigating, Eric – will keep you posted). Mr. Observationalist, your blog is a model of the resiliency required of a designer in the theatre: 163 posts in as many days – keep up the good work and I look forward to meeting you for real someday.

    Thanks to everyone for posting comments. Not to sound sappy, but they are mucho meaningful to me.

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