Updated: Feb 11, 2019
What if every time you had a less than stellar day at the office you didn’t get paid? Welcome to the world we (not yet discovered) actors live in.
For actors who haven’t hit the big time yet, the job is auditioning. Literally. We spend most of our time in casting rooms trying to book work. So when we have an off day, our earning ability is on the line. Even if we go in and NAIL IT, we might not land the role. We’ve all been there.
What does this mean? It means our paycheck cannot be attached to our worth, and there is also another factor in play: The need for validation. Not Ego driven validation, healthy validation that comes from within. You may be asking yourself, “how can my pay have nothing to do with my worth?” We’ll get to that. First, though, stick with me while I try to flush out my point for you.
Let’s take a retail associate (a common job in our country) for example. A retail associate goes to work and has a bad day. Maybe they don’t make any extra commissions that day…..but, they have co-workers to support them personally and professionally. Their boss gives them feedback on their performance. Customers can improve this associate’s day, too, by being friendly and showing they have empathy The associate takes all this information and uses it to find closure, feel better and improve their performance the next day. This entire process creates an atmosphere where the retail associate is guided towards cultivating internal validation, and they get paid their hourly rate regardless of their performance. Now imagine an actor in the same position*. They have a bad day, i.e. a bad audition. They are probably in the casting room with no other actors (co-workers). The casting directors (bosses) rarely have time or desire to provide feedback to auditioning actors (this is NOT their job, people!). The producer and director (customers) are probably not even in the casting room. See where this is going? The actor who has a bad day loses their paycheck, major bummer, but we also have to provide our own feedback and support while finding ways to solitarily create that all important internal validation.
It’s tough to self assess, especially with zero input coming in from outside sources. I think it’s particularly hard for artists to self-assess in general, at least in my experience. I know for myself personally my emotional attachments to whatever I create (a character, a photo, a piece of writing), cloud my ability to objectively critique. There’s also that little snag that the way you thought you looked and sounded on camera may not be the way the camera read you. Let’s look at this in terms of our retail associate scenario: While the actor wonders if they did a good job (audition), the retail associate either made the sale or did not. Either rung it up properly or struggled until they got help. Either knew the answers to the customer’s product related questions….or not. No guessing. Meanwhile, our actor is still trying to figure out if they even looked how they thought and most likely won’t know if they made the sale for days or weeks. Agony! And if they didn’t make the sale (book the job), they will probably never know why. Again, the retail associate can determine why they didn’t get the sale any number of ways and improve their performance. They can: 1) Ask the customer why they decided not to buy 2) Gather information from coworkers 3) Receive additional feedback/training from their boss. If an actor tries this….well, “highly inappropriate,” and, “wildly unprofessional,” come to mind.
Any actor who has throws their hat in the ring professionally quickly realizes they need to find ways to create internal validation both without relying on co-workers, customers or employers AND without attaching their worth to their paycheck for all the reasons we’ve looked at. But how to do it is a world away from knowing you need to. Here’s some tips that work for me or will once I master them: Value self-actualization over money.Train with people you respect and incorporate their feedback into your internal validation process. Consider them your bosses in terms of our retail example.Seek support and perspective from other artists i.e. your co-workers.Care more about the customer (the director) getting exactly what they need than about your paycheck.Learn to love the audition process regardless of the outcome. Remember regardless of whether you book it, you got to create today!
*Not all casting rooms are run the same way. Sometimes an actor will receive feedback on their performance from the people in the room. In my experience, though, this is not the norm. Usually actors are expected to come in, slate, perform and then get out.