One of the fun things I once did in this life was acting in TV commercials, movies and modeling in print ads.
You can see me in Jurassic Park: The Lost World as a dinosaur rustler. I did ads for barbecue sauce, restaurants, satellite TV providers and Dell.
My agent told me something very early on that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “The audition is the job, John. The work is bliss.”
When you are an actor or performer, you will do far more auditioning than real work. The average competent commercial actor will book one gig for every 20-30 auditions they do. The vast amount of time is spent selling yourself to the clients.
The funny thing about choosing this profession is that you’re at an advantage if you don’t have a job. You are on-call all the time because the audition appointments are at various times of the day; sometimes you might have two or even three auditions in a day. One afternoon I had to dance in a tux for a video game, wear a flannel and pretend I was a trucker, then slide into a wet suit to audition for Nash Bridges as a navy seal!.
I didn’t get any of the parts.
The gigs I did get were mostly really fun. I met some interesting people, made a few bucks and got to add those little jobs to my resume.
I had to learn how to audition to get jobs.
Life is a series of non-stop auditions. We perform for our employers. We practice our manners for first dates. We negotiate with clients and contractors. We have to do a song-and-dance for many things we want in this life.
If you sing and/or dance, you have tremendous pressure to get it right the first time, to nail it, to bring the greatness on demand. It’s not much different when the boss asks you to cobble together a PowerPoint deck for a client pitch, with ten minutes notice.
We are constantly auditioning our skills and our strengths. Over the past few months I watched an acquaintance reinvent. She has successfully transformed her physical being into a spectacular current version of herself. I occasionally caught up on her social media broadcasts on her progress with interest as not only a quiet supporter but also with appropriate admiration. I wondered what precipitated her reinvention. I wondered if she looked in the mirror and believed the lies that self-reflection tends to uncover. The mirror is no friend for many of us – it’s a frenemy who taunts us and tells us and shows us things about ourselves that no one else’s eyes see. What we perceive about ourselves often doesn’t jive with the view our universe.
She has a “straight” day job, but a part of her, her passionate center, is an artist. In a world where, thanks to reality TV, everyone thinks they are a singer (“My friends say I’m really good!”) this woman actually can sing. She sings sweetly, her voice full of feeling and emotion. I’m not a professional voice coach, but I know she’s pretty good. Still, she hit a roadblock. She tried to land a job as a singer for a cabaret show in her city. They passed on her. She was devastated.
But she’s still singing. She didn’t give up on something she loves to do. Her voice, to her, is how she expresses her authentic self. While the job she desired so much didn’t come through, it didn’t silence her. She seems to understand and accept that she still has opportunities to perform her art, and she continues to search for the right kind of forum to sing successfully.
I think that’s fantastic.
We are constantly attempting to prove ourselves to bosses, producers, colleagues and clients that we are the solution to a challenge they face. Sometimes we hit it out of the park. Sometimes we flat-out fail. It doesn’t mean that we’re done. It means we have to find ways to cultivate our talents, to apply our skills in ways that give us fulfillment in a realistic way. We need to continue trying, understanding our talent is unique, and where our talents could be applied might not have revealed itself to us – yet.
Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a long journey. We all have something special inside us, that thing that is our unique contribution to our world.
Keep auditioning, keep going, keep trying.
Woody Allen once said “80% of success is showing up”, and he’s right. If you never audition, it’s a 100% guarantee you will not get the gig.
John Scott is a media instructor, national online education coordinator and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels individuals and groups in the art of reinvention. John’s debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be available during the holiday season.