“I just came out and cried all the way home. I set my heart on this and then crumbled in there. I put so much pressure on myself for this one – I could feel myself cringing in front of everyone. It was awful, just awful.”
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, believe me: the audition in someone’s kitchen where I had to be ‘grapes exploding on the vine’, the audition where I arrived and they said “Oh, you’re way too young for this role, and the only other guy is meant to be really good-looking and sexy”, the audition where I had to be naked. We’ve all had those hideous, cringe-inducing, car-crash auditions.
It’s our natural reaction, when this happens, to head onto the tube and gently bash our heads against the window as the tears run down our faces. To get home and start looking for an alternative career. To ring Mum & Dad and sob “you were right, I’ll never make it”. To drink a bottle (or two) of wine and stare at the wall reliving the horror. Then we go to sleep (or pass out) and wake up the next day feeling a bit better and start to put it behind us. We f*cked it up. It was bad. The best thing we can do is forget all about it and NEVER think about it again. Right?
F*cking it up (FIU) isn’t just a daily occurrence for everyone, it’s also necessary. When we FIU we are forced to confront our own limitations. FIU sends a shockwave through our system and makes us challenge our perception of ourselves. It can be terrifying and frightening because it alters our perception of who we are. That’s why we binge eat chocolate, or get drunk, or just suppress that horrible feeling because, really, who wants to acknowledge that we are not always who we want to be? When we FIU we expose the secret we all share, that underneath the selfies and the perky Facebook updates, actually we’re flawed and ugly and scared. So we blot it out however we can, we force it way, way back in our psyche and hope it never bubbles up again. The trouble is in doing this we forget one crucial thing: we are designed to fuck it up. F*cking it up is an essential part of who we are.
There is, for all of us, a void between who we are and what we can be. We tend to avoid the space between these two shores, the no-mans land. However to develop fully we should learn to analyse that void and construct a bridge to connect them both. We always take credit for our success, but rarely for our f*ck ups. We tend not to own our failures. Which means, in terms of brain chemistry, we only associate ourselves with our success and so, when we FIU, we encourage our brains to look outside of ourselves for someone to blame – we externalise our failure. Over time, that’s incredibly damaging for an actor. We’ve all been that actor in the pub; externalising our failures; the CD hates me, my agent can’t get me seen, the pianist couldn’t play. It doesn’t make us bad people, we’re not selfish, we’re simply protecting ourselves as much as possible. Not taking credit for our own fuck-ups also makes us less generous. There’s scientific evidence to suggest that when we succeed, the positive reinforcement makes us increasingly likely to be generous and helpful. Failure has the opposite effect – it makes us less likely to help others, less open, less generous.Those are not aspirational qualities for anyone, but can be particularly deadly for actors. We need to build the bridge between the two shores, to not fear the void.
When we are worrying about being perfect, or making ‘right’ choices we are focussed on an outcome. What if you attempted to view every audition, not as a binary process with only two outcomes; success or failure, but instead as an experiment with any number of possible outcomes? The history of the world would be incredibly different if science worked on the binary outcome principle. Scientists would try something, mark it down as a success or a failure, and move on to another task. That’s not how the world works. Scientists conduct experiments, knowing there could be any number of possible outcomes. They are not focussed on outcome, they are observers, seeing what happens.
The next time you FIU, think of it, not as a failure, but merely as one possible outcome to an experiment. You tried something, now examine the outcome and try something else.
Be like a scientist. Document your mistakes, keep an honest and detailed account of the experiment and review it. Try to spot patterns. Recognise when repeated behaviours emerge. Are those repeated patterns helpful? (Do you always sing the same song, or always prepare your text in the same way?) Remember, like a scientist, you need data before you can decide something isn’t working. You need to try something repeatedly before you can quantifiably say ‘that doesn’t work’ – in order to build that data, to see how your patterns may or may not be helping, you’re going to FIU. Probably a lot.
Go out there and seize it. Place yourself in the void between the two shores. When you find yourself in that abyss embrace it, don’t run from it. Who knows what you’ll learn?