Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Accepting Rejection

Yesterday, I went to auditions for the play Dracula to assist the director in handing out sides, taking resumes, and doing other stage managerly things I was not getting paid for. I sat behind the table and watched as the actors got up and read their lines, danced about like monkeys, and nervously tried to appear pleasant and professional. When it was over, the director turned to me and the other assistant and began to discuss whom he was going to choose. He asked me if I agreed with his favorites. I laughed and said, “No.”

The actress who I thought did best he waved away with a “puh,” and said, “Absolutely not. I was going to call back the whole group except for her.” I’m not positive about his reasoning, but I can see two. The more logical, her energy and characteristics were indicative of the wrong time period, she wasn’t playing “Victorian.” Or, the more likely, she had short hair and a nose ring. I'd like to point out this was changeable, but the director was going based on his gut, not his head.

Plus, she couldn’t make it to the auditions tomorrow when the callbacks were. I assume this was a factor because, as I found over the course of the night that every time he said, “This does not mean you’re not going to get a part,” he meant, “You’re not going to get a part.” So when he added this to her when she told him she had work tomorrow and couldn’t make the suddenly sprung callbacks, I translated accordingly.

He also continuously told us assistants, “You probably see Lucy with blonde hair, but I’m not married to that.”

Me thinks thou doth protest too much.

His casting choices were obvious. He favored the two men from Equity (the actor’s union) and SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, and the older man whom he had acted with many times before. His “absolutely”s hung around them, despite his friend coming in late, sitting down, cold reading in a monotone, and getting up and leaving. One equity member was the costume designer, and he had been terrible. The other I didn’t even remember. The only girl who he had "really liked" had gushed about his last performance in 1776. She had been good, but he loved her, and I think it was apparent why.

And there was one more thing that affected his answers. Ageism. Anyone who’s under the age of 30 and is trying to be taken seriously knows this can factor in. I’ve never been treated like an idiot because I was a woman, but I have because I was young.

The director clearly had Youth Envy. He is an old man, probably around 70, whose insecurities leads him to try and prove how much he knows about everything. When we were driving him home, he made a point to sing along with every single musical song, announcing their titles as they went, trying to establish that he was, in fact, an expert. To a bunch of theatre people.

I’m met a lot of these men, these older gentlemen with (perceived) failed careers still committed to their art despite being forced to become teachers or community theatre directors. A good number of them hate their students or any burgeoning actor who is under the age of 25. Like the cliché of the 30 year old ballet dancer, she looks to the young girls as the enemy: the people who will be taking her parts because she is just getting too old. They have the doors opening for them and hers are closing. Thus, she starts to subconsciously attempt to prevent them from pushing forward.

The director last night would not cast young. As I heard him speak, I realized his plans oriented around only looking at the men who were over forty. For Van Helsing, this made sense. He was a lawyer and a teacher, a learned gentleman, and someone who was clearly experienced in the world. But for Dracula and Reinfield, it didn’t. Reinfield was the narrator, an insane side character in the book who becomes the henchman of the vampire count. His age was nonspecific. Dracula’s age changed. Sometimes he was ancient, and looked it. Others, he was a handsome youth. It is easier to make someone older than it is to make someone younger.

He wouldn’t even look at the actors who were below thirty.

At the end of the night, when the other assistant and I were driving home from dropping the director off, he looked to me and said, “What kind of wazoo casting is that?”

Both of us found the “puh” girl to be the best cold read of the night. Neither of us were impressed by his friends. The assistant and I were more congruent on our choices than the old director’s. We didn’t get it.

My point is this: The girl we found as having the highest “quality” of work didn’t even get a callback. This is not uncommon.

Quality doesn’t get you there. It’s not what leads someone to pick up the book. You can’t go into a store and look for the best book; you won’t recognize it until you’ve read it. You go by reputation (Actor’s Equity Member) and head off to the bestsellers list, or the novel your friend recommended. You go by subject matter (the blonde hair) and look in the romance aisle. You look at the covers (the ages) and you grab it and hope it will be good. You can look at the back (the cold read) and glimpse the first couple of pages, but, in the end, you won’t be sure of the quality until you’ve finished it.

This is the same for agents, this is the same for judges. Look at the bad books that have gotten published and you’ll see severe similarities. They have a nice concept or they fit into a nice fad.

Or they were one of the few books that didn’t fit into a fad. I once heard about a contest judge who was reading through over 1,000 short stories. There she found a ridiculous number of them contained the same image: The leading male character, for whatever reason, was carrying around or reading, or just talked about, an obscure Russian writer. They weren’t similar enough to be copied, the moment wasn’t important to be some sort of weird trick. As she kept reading, she started to toss these pompous stories in a pile. Not a single one was even considered as a finalist.

Were they bad? Cliché? The reality was that it was just a freak occurrence. Maybe there was something in the air that caused a large number of people to think that was a good idea, but in reality, there was no way they could have known that that would be the issue. Had the same story gone to another contest, it may have won something, but because of the luck of the draw, they found themselves losing.

Stephan King’s Carrie, the book that made him big, got rejected over 30 times. Chicken Soup for the Soul over a hundred. Harry Potter couldn’t get published in England, which is why Scholastic Scholar makes it now. Seinfield’s pilot almost got the whole series pulled before it started, and Twilight got over 15 different rejection letters before someone liked it enough to try it. And get this, one of the main reasons the vampire novel even got made was because the new agent hadn’t realized that 130,000 words is a lot.

Some of these books you may consider terrible. Some you may consider great. The point is that vast rejection isn’t something that should make you give up. Many times things get thrown out for stupid, inane, obscure, or timing reasons, and they get thrown out over and over again. It doesn’t meant that it’s bad.

It also doesn’t mean that it’s good. It means it got rejected, end of story.