February 5, 2021
I waited outside in a dingy hallway of a casting agent’s office somewhere on the lower west side. The lighting was dull fluorescent and it smelled like a mixture of old shoes and a hundred years of dust. I sat with other wannabe actors. All of us nobodies just trying to get a break. I don’t remember anything about them other than I wasn’t alone.
I vaguely remember my agent getting me this audition to try for a soap opera or tv pilot. I was excited because this was one of my first opportunities for an on-camera acting gig. I walked into the office which had two large windows overlooking the avenue below. The back half of the room where the casting agent was in the shadows. The blinds were lowered darkening the room and the large desk where she sat. It made me think of a troll peering out from her cave.
She was heavy set with large black cat-eyed glasses, gleaming red lips, and a shock of orange hair. She was eccentric. NY eccentric.
“Take your mark. Start when you are ready.” She wheezed.
I fumbled to my spot.
“It’s a funny thing…wanting to die,” I began.
I launched into my full-blown toolbox and gave that monologue everything I had. I probably even mustered up a tear or two. As I finished, I pulled myself back together and waited to see what she would say. If anything.
In the acting world sometimes you get “Thank you. Next.” Sometimes you get nothing. You have to trust your own instincts. After all, auditioning as a professional actress isn’t SCHOOL it’s your job. If you book the gig you did a good job. If not, you might not have been the right age, weight, hair color, voice quality, vibe…etc. However, you might just be bad at acting. Rejection becomes either something you overcome, or it causes you to quit. Those are your options.
Sink or swim.
The casting agent made a few notes then removed her glasses. Her eyes were sunken under too many restless nights.
“Clearly, you are talented,” she said.
I managed a polite smile but I was bursting with positive anticipation.
“But, you shouldn’t expect too much without making a few adjustments to your appearance if you want to do television. First, your teeth. They must be straightened. Second, your nose. Lastly, it wouldn’t hurt to lose five pounds or so.”
All of the things mentioned were physically impossible without a doctor’s intervention. Even losing five pounds. I was 5’5” weighing in at 120lbs and rail-thin, a starving artist.
“Thank you for your feedback,” I muttered.
Dejected I walked out of the room. I put my coat on and walked as fast as I could out into the fresh air. A burst of winter air swept through the buildings blasting me in the face as I stepped out of the building. I cursed.
I ran to the nearest subway, slid my card, and jumped on the next train. I slid down into the bright orange seat and let my heart rate begin to slow. My brain was still dwelling. What went wrong? Did I really need to lose weight? I never liked my teeth but they weren’t any worse than Kirsten Dunst or Jewel. (Celebrities at the time.) My childhood orthodontist wouldn’t even give me braces because he said they were completely unnecessary. Then I began to pick myself apart. I began scrutinizing my physiology. Every inch of me was not good enough.
I shuffled home from the train station and I called my Mom. I cried. As I was talking to her I was reminded of something an acting teacher told me. She said, “In order to survive in this business you have to care more about being authentic than conforming to a casting call. Just be you, you are enough.”
This was something I choose to do. If I was going to make it I had to believe in myself more than anyone else. I had to know that even though I wasn’t “perfect”, I wasn’t supposed to be. My imperfections made me who I was.
I resolved that the casting agent had eaten bad sushi for lunch, hated her own life, and wanted to destroy everyone else’s dreams as a vendetta for never reaching hers. It might have been a bit harsh, but it helped me move on. I continued to audition, a lot. I booked a lot. I loved acting. I loved the rush of the audition. I loved seeing what would unfold in each rehearsal. There was always something new to discover. A new tone, glance, touch, even new depths to my own emotions were waiting to be found.
That was the worst feedback I ever received from anyone in the industry. But truthfully, I probably just don’t remember them. That day I faced merciless rejection but it forced me to a fork in the road. I could quit or carry on despite what I might face. I loved acting too much to quit and deep down I realized I was special. I might never be famous. I might never be featured on television but I wasn’t going to quit.
The rejection never became pleasant. It just stopped rendering me powerless. It didn’t freeze me to the seat of safety. I took every piece of feedback from that day forward with a grain of salt. After all, it was an opinion in most cases. Some valid, some garbage. I learned how to sift through the trash. Rejection can be helpful if you are willing to get your hands a little dirty.
Rejection isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Quitting on your dreams is.
Such wonderful insight, Jess! In this spoiled day and age, quitting isn’t even enough, some need a puppy or a teddy bear or an injection to face the next day! Your experience shows the value of the climb after the bump has taken it’s toll! This message is so valuable.. at some point, we all will face rejection of some type…you certainly took the high road.. bravo and thank you Jesus👏🥰🥰