This blog is about failing

I decided to write a post between auditions, which I will probably do from time to time, because I had a thought that I wanted to share with my fellow performers.

I have a label in my Gmail email account titled “Failures”.  I created this because one of my favorite finance blog authors said he does this, and whenever he notices he hasn’t added anything to that folder for awhile, he knows it’s time to step up his game.

In this folder, I place all my rejection emails from jobs I’ve applied for, choreographer’s showcases and residencies I’ve applied or auditioned for, auditions I’ve been rejected from, anything really that I tried for and didn’t get.  Most recently, my work was rejected from WestFest.

If you haven’t seen it already, have a look at JK Rowling’s speech for Harvard’s 2008 Commencement. View Part 1 and Part 2.  In it, she talks not about all the amazing and fantastic things Harvard grads are going to go out into the world and do, but about the importance of failing.  Why would she talk to Harvard grads, of all people, about failure?

Now before you start to think “Gee Kat, why are you suddenly being so negative with your blogging here?”, remember the woman speaking above went from an unknown writer to a billionaire novelist in her 50’s, after a lifetime of many failures and living in her car writing her book in a coffee shop for crying out loud.

I really believe failure isn’t about not getting it as much as it is about going for it.  Check that post from another one of my favorite arts industry bloggers.

So let me make it clear, by writing this blog, I’m “going for” 100 auditions.  That means I’m expecting to fail at 100 auditions before I ever get cast.  Does that mean I won’t get cast before the 100th audition?  Not necessarily.  Does that mean I’m a terrible dancer?  No, not at all.  It means that the outcome is not dependent upon the result, but the journey and what I learn along the way.  It’s about what I learn from NOT getting the job from those first 100 auditions and then booking the 101st and having THAT be the one that really matters.

As performers, we get caught up in getting the job.  The stakes are high.  There are hundreds out there who look like us, who are better and younger than us and can do back flips, hit a high C, and twist themselves into a pretzel – all at the same time!  We have rent to pay.  New York rent at that.  We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives at the day job waiting tables or sitting behind a desk, and we don’t know how to get out of the hampster wheel. Before we know it, the weight of the world is on ONE AUDITION.  Why do you think A Chorus Line was such a poignant musical?

I’ve only written about Audition #1, but I’m already running into the work-life balance so many of us have.  I’m sitting here stressing about how am I going to get to these daytime chorus calls I have to sit at for hours and risk losing my 9-5 job that pays the bills – what a freakin’ catch 22, right?  I need to work to pay the bills but to leave the job I don’t want, I need to … risk getting fired in order to find the work I really want…  Can I see a show of hands for how many actors/dancers/singers find themselves in that situation?

The silly thing is that I’m afraid of failing at my current day job, which is exactly what I WANT to fail at!

But I’ve committed to going on 100 auditions for you guys.  That means I have no choice but to fail at something!  Over and over again.  And it might not even be the audition I end up failing at.  That’s when things get really scary.

The fact that I have committed to 100 failures essentially has given me such an incredible sense of freedom.  Yes, I have to step up my game and will most likely fail often and a lot, but I’m working for something bigger than myself.  I’m working for the journey, for my own journey towards becoming an artist, and not every audition HAS to be perfect.

Take the pressure off.  You wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t love it.  Go in and love it.  Being you is the only way you’re going to stand out from the younger/prettier/stronger/”insert-adjective-that-annoys-you-most-about-your-competition-here” performers.   Revel in any time you don’t get the job because those are the times when you learn the most, when you are being challenged the most, when you have no choice but to step it up, when you must be the most creative.

I know that is a hard thing to say to all of you since sometimes it does seem like our lives literally are at stake.  But when you take the leap and you fall, and survive, it gives you the courage to take bigger risks.

When you hear the story of almost any great actor/actress/dancer/singer or anyone else you admire, you find that the only real difference between them and an unknown is they hung on for just a little bit longer right after they reached their breaking point.  They were willing to fail just a little bit more than the average person.

I now find myself willing to take more risks and bigger risks.  I am willing to go out for things I wouldn’t normally feel ready for because I HAVE to average 1 audition per week.  It’s a project bigger than my own life, and a journey, and a learning experience, and an opportunity to FAIL and then brush myself, get up, and go to audition #62, or #2,062!

I know you all have been doing this steadily for years.  Probably longer than me.  But keep going.  Don’t make it about getting the job.  Make it about the journey.  Make it about the things you take along the way and KEEP GOING.  Celebrate the failures because each failure gets you closer to your next success and it means you are out there going for it.  It also keeps you in an absolute positive state of mind about what your are achieving.

Fail fast, fail hard, get better than ever before.  You will surprise yourself.

I promise.

Audition #2 coming up.  First, I’ve gotta get some of those nude fishnets…

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5 thoughts on “This blog is about failing

  1. Such an interesting point in your words: “I now find myself willing to take more risks and bigger risks. I am willing to go out for things I wouldn’t normally feel ready for because I HAVE to average 1 audition per week.” Just making the commitment pushes you to a new level. Sometimes it really is about volume–because hitting those quantitative targets (in your case, 100) both requires and generates velocity. And volume + velocity accelerate both the rate your learning (the no’s) and the odds of success (getting the yes). What a great project!

  2. Thanks for the blog post, Kat.

    The topic reminds me of a seminar I took last autumn in Chicago, for artists learning practical business skills so they can be more self-sufficient in their careers. There were a number of panelists there from music, theater, and design; and it was noteworthy that all of them had some kind of Major Failure in their biography. It seemed that this “failure” was necessary for them to learn some valuable lessons in their current, more successful, art-businesses.

    I think it was Winston Churchill who once defined success as “going from failure to failure without losing one´s enthusiasm.”

    Performing artists of all kinds–dancers and actors, choreographers and directors, playwrights and producers–work within a world inherent with uncertainty. There are so many factors outside of one´s control, and the ground is constantly shifting, from sources of funding to what is perceived to be popular in the market, to changing concerns by the practitioners about what is important to him/her (such as travel, family, venue, content of material, etc) to access to resources (auditions, talent agents, money, time).

    In my work as an individual as well as within the workshop-courses with my group Ensemble Free Theater Norway, our emphasis is on locating the things that we CAN control, amidst the groundlessness. Sure, we may not get the job from every audition; but if we don´t audition at all, then it is a guarantee that the answer will be “no.” Same with the risks involved in making a dance, making a play, or writing a book: of course there is a chance that no one will read it, no one will show up to the performance. But if the work is made, then at least there is a shot. And one can learn a tremendous amount by the attempt, by the “doing” of it.

    No one likes failure, of course. Everyone wants to get the job. But if you don´t get that residency, apply for another one. If you don´t get that grant, find another source of funding. If you don´t get that callback, find another way to perform and do the work.

    It´s not only about talent. It´s also about resilience, patience, and being stubborn in the face of incredible adversity. As well as keeping a good sense of humor about the whole enterprise, and wearing the whole pageant like a loose garment. Blog articles like the one you just wrote help with that, I think. Bravo!

    Brendan McCall
    Founder & Artistic Director
    Ensemble Free Theater Norway

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