That would be me

That would be me

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections on the nature of feedback

Feedback is by definition “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. used as a basis for improvement.”   

Feedback is what we use to get better at just about anything. When we were learning to walk we got our feedback from sore bottoms as we toppled to the ground. As teenagers we got our feedback from the approval (or disapproval) of our friends and classmates. In relationships feedback takes the form of returned affections or smacked faces. Once in the workforce we got our feedback from bosses and co-workers in the form of quarterly reviews, raises or office gossip.

Feedback is how we learn. How we grow. Life, without some form of feedback, becomes stagnant.

I have always sought out feedback regarding my acting work. Whether I was taking a class or practicing a monologue in front of peers or requesting feedback from directors, I have always felt that any form of feedback allowed me to take that information and use it to fix any issues with my performances or store it away for future use.

Recently (as is my practice), I asked a local director for feedback on my audition. I usually wait until AFTER casting decisions have been made so they do not feel that I am in any way trying to press for an answer. Keep in mind that I ask for feedback whether or not I have been cast (although if cast, I wait until a few weeks into the process or after opening to get that feedback). I know when asking for feedback that I won’t always like what I hear – I have been told I am too vulnerable in one audition only to be told weeks later that I wasn’t vulnerable enough in another or I get very specific feedback on monologue or song choices that may not be what I want to hear. I take these all in stride though because I know full well that my auditions aren’t perfect (which is why I ask for the feedback in the first place).

I expected a harsh assessment of my audition (it was a singing audition after all and I admit to not being the strongest singer on the planet) but what I received felt just short of a character assassination. This director seems to dislike everything about me. My personality, my decision to be friendly and personable at auditions (as opposed to business-like), my use of recommended marketing strategies (as advised by a NYC casting director), my Facebook activities and even my admittance to fears and nervousness. 

What I thought would be a blunt criticism of my skills turned out to be a harsh and somewhat mean-spirited criticism of ME.

I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. Asking for feedback is a scary proposition. Most actors I know just plain don’t want to know. They want to go under the assumption that the director is an idiot and move on to the next thing. THIS is what most actors FEAR they will receive. THIS is the boogeyman.
And I came face to face with it.

What was most sad about it was that in the middle of all of the vitriol was a rather positive critique of my audition itself. That almost got lost in the maze of ugliness. Fortunately, the writer was kind enough to bold that particular section so it popped out a bit.

After catching my breath again (and showing it to a few trusted friends – just to make sure I wasn’t blowing it out of proportion), I sat down and dissected it. I was advised to throw it in the trash. I was told to ignore it all.

But it was feedback, wasn’t it? Isn’t that what I asked for? 

I gathered a few things from it that I felt I could use and apply to my life and auditions, threw out a bunch of stuff that didn’t make sense for who I am as a person and then chose to focus on the good aspects of it.

And then I deleted it.

My friends asked me if I planned on never auditioning for this director again. They all assumed I would be scared or intimidated or feel that auditioning for this person would be a waste of time.

“Are you kidding me,” I responded. “It takes more than that to scare me away.”

Realizing that I could know someone feels that way about me and yet not back down proves just how far I have come and how much more comfortable I have become in my own skin and THAT is the best feedback of all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No such thing as a “sure thing”

I get a lot of flack for psyching myself out before auditions by telling myself I have “no shot in hell” at a particular role/show/film. Friends and acquaintances feel that this is bad self-esteem or false modesty on my part but truly it is a self-defense mechanism. This allows me to go into auditions without any real expectation of actually getting cast so I might as well have fun. When I have fun – it usually works out in my favor. The lack of nerves allows me to relax and permits me to take chances and make choices I might not have otherwise.

Sometimes though there is a show/role/film that I want REALLY BAD.  Sometimes there are shows/roles/films that I make myself crazy thinking about/scheduling around/prepping for because I want them. Sometimes it is because I just really like the show or the director but on a rare occasion it is because I feel I am absolutely right for it. I think so and all of my friends thinks so.

Never in my life have I encountered this as much as I have in recent weeks. A show came up that I wanted badly (mostly because of my profound respect and admiration for the director) and everywhere I went I heard how excited people were to see me in that role -  as if it was already mine. One friend even mentioned that a lot of actresses she knew weren’t even auditioning because they all assumed that role was mine. I will admit – that was an amazing boost to my ego. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear that?

I prepped that role as if it was already mine. I researched it and worried over it and learned it and internalized it and I was just shy of performance ready.

I am perfect for that role.

I don’t say it often but this time I knew I was perfect for that role. I knew it in my gut. My friends knew it. People I don’t even KNOW knew it.  I think even somewhere down deep the director knew it.

Yet, I didn’t get that role.

Casting is such a slippery thing. I have been to many auditions where I was by far the strongest one there and don’t even get a callback and the opposite has also been true where I was sucking the air out of the room and yet somehow managed to land the role. Who knows why that is. Having directed shows myself, I have made casting decisions that have confused even me only I somehow knew that it was the right choice.

I feel that I gave a very strong audition. It is one of the few auditions where I left it feeling confident and sure that I did the best job I possibly could.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t what the director needed or wanted. I am disappointed but I can’t be angry. It is no one’s fault. Really. Maybe I was too tall/short/redheaded/strong/weak/heavy/thin for the dynamics of the casting pool. Maybe it just wasn’t my time. What I do know is I WILL play that role someday. I just know it.

That much IS a sure thing.