Thursday, March 05, 2009

Get Used to Disappointment

"It's just life!", as everyone will tell you.

Everyone, that is, who's not in on the disappointment. Because it's so easy for them to say.

Herein lies yet another of life's opportunities for laziness: Using words to indicate sympathy, while not putting forth a lot of effort to actually become sympathetic. Am I implying that a lot of sympathy is feigned? No, of course not. I'm saying it straight out. Not that I haven't been guilty of the same thing, and will likely fall into the trap again. That's not my point. My point is that we'd probably get along together much better if we tried to understand more precisely why something disappoints a person in a particular way and to the degree that it does. It tells you a lot about the person. Things that perhaps we're better off not knowing in some cases.... but those are the risks.

Take, for instance, my recent disappointment at not getting a part I auditioned for. To anyone who knows me a little, this must seem like a big deal. I'm an actor, after all, and this is what I do. So, my fate having rested in the hands of the director, I awaited "the call" and did not receive the news that I was looking for; a project that would have dominated my life through the end of May is now purely academic. Big part? Sure. Large musical show, plenty of attention, it was a play fairly unlike any other I've done (a big plus in my book), and even a chance to perhaps work on the same project as my daughter, which doesn't happen often.

Not to be. That is the question. Well, not the question, but the answer, but putting it that way didn't dovetail with a line from Hamlet. To say "Not to be, that is the answer" is to risk infuriating millions of Shakespearean scholars, all of whom read this page, by declaring that I have divined the answer to a debate that has raged for over 400 years, to wit: What was Hamlet really talking about in his famous soliloquy and what did he decide? You could start a riot by going there.

Besides, anyone who knows what they're talking about can tell you that the answer is obviously "to be" (otherwise the play makes a sudden, heaving halt right then and there), and that what he's talking about is taking on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, getting off his dysfunctional royal butt and doing something about it (NOT about committing suicide; that comes later in the speech). Hence, the rest of the play ensues, and the price of the ticket seems more reasonable.

Let the riot begin.

But I digress. Hamlet was not the play in question. For one thing, there's no musical version of Hamlet, except in old reruns of Gilligan's Island. Which, to anyone of a discerning theatrical bent, does not count.

But back to the main point: Not getting the part. Most people's reactions to this are split: About half just don't get it, one way or the other, because they don't understand what artists do. The other half is in on the idea that you just didn't get a job. While there's (hopefully) more to it than that, this is technically correct. I say "hopefully" because not every acting opportunity is a gem. Some of them are; some are great parts in fabulous plays, a challenge of some sort, or something very new to you (such was this most recent case). Others ARE mere jobs. If you want me to do The Sound of Music, for instance, let's get right to the business of how much cash you're talking, because there's no other reason for me to do it.

There's no avoiding it; not getting the part is annoying on several levels, but one learns to cope with it and to live with the fact that this is part of the territory. The reality is, most of the time, if you're out auditioning on a regular basis, you don't get the part, whether it be a play, a commercial, or whatever. It's just like the stream of rejection slips that writers get; nasty and unfriendly, but part of the game. If you're going to play the game, you'd better have your coping mechanisms in place. Here are some of mine: First, it's not brain surgery! No one is going to die (well, probably not) if I don't get this part. Keeping a sense of perspective is a good idea. While I'm not rife with self-esteem, I do realize that "how good I am" doesn't rest on getting every single role I go for. Second, I don't spend a lot of time looking behind myself; this one's over, learn what I can learn from it (in this case, I need to get my singing voice back into condition, I haven't kept up with the discipline it needs for the style of singing required. Therefore most of the "blame" is mine), and move on. Which leads me to the third tactic: Always look ahead to the next things coming up. If possible, convince myself that these will be better projects anyway. Sometimes that's true; sometimes, it's something special that's passed me by. However, how I feel about it is, after all, largely up to me.

Would that I could apply this same rational thought process to more areas of my life. However, for some reason, it doesn't work as well. Maybe it's because I've spent so much focus developing the attitudes towards theatre. Maybe "real life" simply isn't as easy. That seems likely.

So, it may be just life, it may be life or death (see reference to Hamlet), but it's all relative. While I can't quite live like according to the Italian rules of driving ("What's behind me is of no concern"), I do think that it's healthy to keep yourself looking forward. After all, if you spend life facing backwards, the next opportunity that comes up will not be one that you see; it'll smite you in the back instead. Then, while you're trying to turn around to hook onto it, some other actor has already moved in and sniped the part. That won't do at all. Since a lot of actors are guilty of looking back, that creates extra opportunity for me.

And what's good for me is good for me. And that, as Martha Stewart says, is a "Good Thing".