The Darker Side to My Arts Addiction

I started acting in this ridiculous field when I was a kid. Next year is my 25th anniversary of jumping off into the deep end. My parents–both veterans of the theatre world in different respects–warned me from the get-go not to fall into some of the common traps of growing up in theatre. They’d seen it all–the egomaniacs, the obsessives, the bad-mouthers, the creepy men. I lived in fear of becoming one of these spoilsports among an otherwise-supportive and wonderful community. But my parents were always–and remain–very supportive of my choice to follow this crazy business. In a nutshell, my mom often came back to quoting Stanislavski at me: “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cure to what seems to be a much larger problem in this oversaturated field today–not so much the over-confidence, but the opposite–the constant feeling that you’re banging your head against a door that won’t open. The complete disconnect between effort and results. The fruitless pep talks after your 3rd audition of the week that leads to nothing but silence. I see less and less puffing of the ego feathers in audition spaces and more exhaustion, self-deprecation, and encouragement of unhealthy habits.

The audition hangover

I left a particularly stressful audition the other day, one with a jam-packed studio of hopefuls frantically switching between their Shakespeare outfit and their dance attire for two auditions happening simultaneously next door to one another. As always, there were no windows and it was super smelly, but everyone was a good sport about it. I was lucky enough to have an appointment, but many people had clearly been sitting there for hours–if not the whole day–hoping for an unexpected opening. This is the norm. Actors are reminded every day that they’re part of the pack, not individuals.

By the time I’m lined up like a sad cattle and given strict instructions of how to behave in the audition room, my position in this machine is clear. I am not a unique flower, being here is a privilege, and I am not–under any circumstances–to take up too much of anyone’s time.

Though the representative in the audition room was very kind, my audition was cut short and I went on my way. It is what it is. After these instances, no matter how hard I try, I feel as if I go into some sort of withdrawal. My adrenaline plummets, I feel disoriented, unsure of how to jump into the rest of my day. Even the possibility of a good audition is like a drug, and the moment the audition doesn’t pan out, the hangover kicks in.

I get this same rush of endorphins in other theatre instances with specific things: the notification from Backstage that I have a message, the booking of an appointment, and from that beautiful sentence, “Can you try that again but with {insert direction}?”

Once I’m in a show, the “feeling special” endorphins fly high with every costume fitting, the look of a new script on a square of folding tables, telling someone I have a rehearsal. These little moments become confirmation–dangerous confirmation–that at some point, I did something “right” to deserve this high.

So what happens when you don’t get your fix of these moments? If I’m not careful, I jump to the opposite conclusion. Without any signs from the actor gods, I must not be special and I must have done something wrong. I deserve to be snapped at in the audition line, I should be at this painful day job, I haven’t done enough, blah blah blah. And so I crash, over and over and over again.

Art vs. #ActorsLife

Sometimes costume fittings are less than glamorous

But there is a difference between art itself and these drug-like moments. Let’s call them, #actorslife moments. If you’re blissfully unfamiliar with the term, it’s a hashtag used on twitter and Instagram (and yes, I’ve been occasionally guilty of using it), to highlight these little moments of living in the theatre.

But! When my supply of artistic outlets run low, something else fills the void. Without a show, I write more. Without writing motivation, I go for a hike, I read a book, I watch Grace and Frankie, I plan a time to meet up with an actor friend. I refill my empty artistic tank. This leads to larger projects and bigger ideas. It eventually gets me off my butt and learning a new monologue or seeking out a new class. I do not crash from a lack of art because it’s always in me.

But what about the #actorslife moments? The callbacks, the Facebook announcement, the shareable Playbill write-up: these are fun and enjoyable perks that do not reflect my artistic worth. They are something else.

The dangerous in-between

So how do you detox from #actorslife moments without denying yourself the genuine enjoyment of these little details? Because in the end, it’s okay to feel special, to appreciate all the little beautiful victories and perks of this odd life path. As an artist, you are unique as you are a person. Even within the pack, there’s no way you can be like that girl across from you wearing the same damn dress. You are different humans, and so you are different artists.

It comes down to recognizing the “dangerous in-between” of what’s really within your control.

We all know how it goes: stuff within your control includes training, your attitude, your preparation, building your community, etc. Stuff outside your control may be: the director’s vision, if the show is pre-cast, union requirements and budget, etc.

But what about the gray area: your financial situation (which relates to how you dress, how much training you can afford, taking off time for auditions), your geographical location (more on that below), a broken-down subway, your health, or your connections? These have the potential to get tricky. They could all be labeled with “well what if I just tried a little harder?” bullsh*t.

For example, I was supposed to have an audition in Western Jersey this morning. But when I woke up, the forecast in that area was for 10 inches of snow. Still, their auditions remained on. So I have to decide: am I dedicated enough to risk my safety for an audition? I, personally, was not. I canceled my appointment and felt guilty for the rest of the morning. My adrenaline built up from the night before crashed; I wouldn’t get my fix after all.

But I cannot control the weather, and trying a little harder may have lead to a stupid decision to drive in the storm. Replace “snow storm” with broken subway, flu-like symptoms, or family emergency, and you’re in the same boat. It’s not about the art, it’s about getting the adrenaline rush of getting an A+ in your career.

You are not your callback

When we enter the territory of “it’s within my control but I can’t simply make the decision to change it tomorrow,” we start to feel inadequate. The uncontrollable factors of this business make our careers hard enough without the adrenaline crashes and self-flagellation.

So, a new goal for myself? Still apprecaite these little precious moments of acting, but recognize that they do not make up my art. My art is safe from circumstances outside my control or in the dangerous in-between. We are not our callbacks, we are not our dance numbers, and we are not– under any circumstances–all the disappointments in between.



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