After weeks of watching your child agonize and prepare for that audition, the news finally comes in. And it’s not good. Your child did NOT get the part. There are tears. There is upset. There is drama everywhere, though not the kind you were hoping for. You feel powerless. Your natural instinct is to try to fix. Comfort. Explain. Though your instincts are well-meaning and entirely normal, there are definitely some pitfalls to be aware of as you negotiate your way through this temporary setback.
I have experienced this kind of loss from every perspective — as the disappointed actress, the director whose decisions resulted in disappointment and, most recently, as the parent who experienced disappointment vicariously though my child. In light of my multi pronged perspective, I am in a unique position to be able advise other parents and young actors who find themselves wading through the muck of rejection.
Please keep in mind that my advice presumes two things about your child:
1- That your child put forth, at the very least, a nominal amount of effort in preparation for his or her audition (practiced singing a song, memorized a monologue, researched the play, etc).
2 – That your child chose to audition with minimal prompting or ultimatums from loved ones and caregivers.
If 1 and 2 are true in your case, here are some suggestions to help you with the post-audition blues.
DO allow them time to grieve. We don’t like to see our children upset. It can be time consuming, heartbreaking and even downright exhausting. But, when it comes to feelings, it’s better to accept than to resist them. I’m not saying to enable your child to wallow or encourage them to stay depressed for as long as they want. But, if your child really wants to be an actor, then feeling her feelings is going to serve her better in the long run than trying to hurry up and get over it!
On the other hand, actors (and I dare say human beings in general) need to be able to manage their emotions. I know it’s ironic, but telling your child that it’s ok to be sad and actually accepting that she feels sad will subtly and gently expedite the grieving process.
When my son is upset, his default position is to contradict everything I say and try to make me wrong. But if I adopt the position that I understand his feelings, I accept them and then give him reasonable space to work though the situation on his own, it will take only about 20 min (or less) of him sulking in his room before he seeks me our for hugs and cuddles. I suspect that the duration of the grieving process increases in proportion to a child’s age. So keep that in mind if you’re the proud parent of an older teenager.
DO NOT disparage other actors, directors or individuals who are involved in the production. It is simply toxic to discredit another person to your child or enable your child to gossip about another person for the purposes of assuaging your own disappointment. We’ve all read the sour grapes story. No one likes a spoiled sport, but it’s difficult for us to be honest with ourselves when that spoiled sport is looking back at us in the mirror. Regardless of the reasons, and even if your perceptions are accurate, it still won’t change the outcome of your audition and cultivating an attitude of, “it’s not me, it’s them” could negatively impact future auditions.
Life is not always fair and no one gets everything they want all the time. But, life does become a lot easier once we accept this difficult truth. No matter how hard you work for it, you are not in control of the outcome of an audition, job interview, college application process, etc.
Right now, your child is hurting and mean-spiritedness toward another person will take the focus off of you and your child not to mention the potential for modeling cattiness and unhealthy competitiveness. Do you want your child to get back on the horse and be better next time or do you want her to be so busy picking other people apart that she fails to improve her skill?
Which brings me to my next point….
DO encourage him to keep trying. Lee Strasberg, an early director of the acclaimed Actor’s Studio in New York City said, “75% of great art is hard work — only about 25% is great talent.” No matter how much talent anyone has, it is worthless without hard work. And, as Mr. Strasberg points out, talent is only 25% of the equation. If you have talent, but you are not practicing or putting in the work, is it really going to get you anywhere? And, alternatively, if you don’t have a ton of innate talent, but you are the hardest working kid in show business, you’re ahead of those who have talent, but don’t work at it, by 50%. I know which of the two situations I’d rather be in!
So, encourage your child to keep trying if he really loves it. Professional actors who are in between gigs will continue auditioning, taking classes, attending theater, reading plays and doing whatever they can to keep up with the industry. Pursue whatever resources are available. Work on the 75% that is in your control and the remaining 25% will inevitably catch up.
Do NOT pursue the casting director, teacher or anyone else who was conducting auditions for an explanation as to why your child wasn’t cast.
Any information that you might unearth from this exchange is crazy-making and besides the point.
Speaking for myself, the phone call, email or “accidental” meeting prompted by a disappointed parent is awkward for me (even if they are nice about it). I know going into auditions that I can’t give everyone what they want, certainly I don’t love that about directing, but it’s a necessary component to the process and I accept that. Once the cast list becomes public and everyone is on board, my biggest priority is to move forward and direct the play — a process that is both time consuming and time sensitive!
There’s little to nothing I can do to “un-disappoint” people. If you ask for it, I could give you my honest advice, but I will most likely keep my advice concise and safe to avoid attaching more hurt and drama to the situation. I’m human, after all, and I honestly don’t want to cause you further suffering.
My son practices karate and, in his most recent tournament, placed 4th in a category that included over 50 participants. We knew going into the tournament that medals were only awarded to first, second and third place. How frustrating that he came in fourth out of 50 kids and walked away with nothing! The reason I know that he came in fourth is because one of the judges, who happens to be a friend, offered the information. (I swear I didn’t ask.)
I was already proud of my son for participating and doing his best. He truly did a great job! But as soon as I found out how close he came to receiving a medal my protective-mama brain went into overdrive — well, how many points away from third was he exactly? Was he evaluated differently because he was on the older side of the age range? I mean, I was so busy trying to figure out the formula for the next tournament that I probably didn’t do the best job teaching him how to have a winning attitude even when he doesn’t win!
DO NOT speculate or try to figure out why your child didn’t get the part. Remember, in the performing arts, talent is important but personality and looks also count! If the play is about the trials and tribulations of being the smallest kid in your class, for example, but your child is medium height or better, then no matter how talented your child is, chances are, he was never right for the part to begin with and there is nothing you or your child could have done to change that. Your better off avoiding speculation and working on the things you know you can control.
A few years ago, I took part in a “Young Actors on Broadway” workshop that was provided by Mark Schneider, the Resident Director of the Broadway musical “Billy Elliot.” He was accompanied by a few of the child stars from the musical and took them through a variety of exercises and techniques that he uses in casting and working with young professionals. It was a wonderful workshop and a great opportunity to see young Broadway actors in action.
In the question and answer session that followed the presentation, I asked Mr. Schneider what is the number one thing he looks for in young people when casting a show like Billy Elliot. And his response to me was, “Be a nice person. Be the kind of person that other people are going to want to be in a room with.”
Dancing, singing, acting can be refined as needed in the rehearsal process. “Being a nice person” has to be taught and refined somewhere else…(hmmmmm, I wonder where) and this “talent” has to accompany you into every audition or rehearsal you ever attend! I believe this is the most important way you can help your child with his or her audition moving forward.
So rather than wasting a bunch of time problem solving a decision that is done and out of your hands, or managing feelings that will eventually run their course on their own if you let them, I suggest working with your child on acceptance — acceptance of themselves, acceptance of others, acceptance of this learning experience (however unpleasant it may be) and, if they love to perform, move on to the next thing sooner rather than later.
(c) Valerie Remillard Myette 2014