Voice Acting And The Unrelenting Myth Of Rejection
By Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins
June 30, 2021, Revised article originally published in Backstage Magazine
As a voice actor, you may sometimes find yourself carrying the weight of rejection as a necessary price of admission into the field. This burden results from unreturned phone calls, auditions you didn’t book, agents who’ve said no, or a teacher who says, “You’re really improving but there’s still work to do.” It’s exacerbated by observing other actors booking gigs while you’re waiting to catch a break, or watching a great TV spot whiz by, only to recall that you auditioned for it?! It can be a difficult pill to swallow. After all, you too have bills to pay, family obligations, and a host of unexpected “stuff” coming at you at the speed of life. Then, there’s the constant doubt about your talent or whether you really have what it takes. Worst of all, you may be comparing yourself to others and feeling smaller and smaller by your perception of their success. At a certain point, without the encouragement or affirmation of an actual booking, all this crap gets lumped into one bad feeling actors like to call rejection. Marilyn Monroe summed it up this way: “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.”
The bizarre reality of the rejection phenomenon is that no one is actually being rejected in the process of auditioning. Casting is a process of selection, not rejection. To illuminate the point, imagine that you are attending a red carpet event and are given the opportunity to choose an outfit from the Armani collection. Every outfit is exquisitely designed but you can only choose one. To make the best choice you must consider the type of event, the season, your body type, and the accessories to be worn with the outfit. When your criteria are satisfied you select the outfit and you’re on your way. It’s not that you’ve rejected the other outfits. They were all amazing! You selected the one that accommodated your criteria. The casting process is the same. From a group of fine voice actors, only one can be selected for each role. Casting is the art of selection. Rejection, on the other hand, is something actors invent for reasons we will try to explain a little further. Of course, we must first put aside the obvious situations where an actor shows up intoxicated, late, inappropriately dressed, or in a foul mood. These actors are and must be rejected in the truest sense of the term before a selection process can begin.
If, as we assert, there is selection without rejection, why then is rejection one of the most commonly discussed issues among actors? “Actors search for rejection. If they don’t get it they reject themselves.” is how Charlie Chaplin once put it. There must be a perfectly rational reason as to why so many actors hold on to the idea of rejection as tightly as they do. And when you consider how painful rejection can be; triggering childhood trauma, depression, self-loathing, etc., you can surmise that that reason is a very powerful one. From a psychological standpoint, we’ve learned that it’s not rational at all. It’s an addiction. The actor embraces rejection, however painful and destructive because there’s a temporary payoff. In the case of rejection, the actor wears it like a badge of honor for having fought the good fight. They feel they attain public admiraion for being a martyr for the art. That might appear to be a noble stance, but it’s actually a cycle of denial that leads to a deeper state of psychological trauma. There’s nothing noble about choosing to be in denial. There is nothing noble about choosing self-doubt, depression, and anger. Carrying these subconscious thoughts into every audition is a kind of self-torture. Why not put on a hair shirt and call it a day?
When the actor is not selected for a role, after putting our heart, soul, dreams, and vulnerability on the line, it can be very hard to accept. There’s a tendency, cultivated within the acting culture, for the actor to go into the morass of their own imagined reasons as to why. Being left in the morass of our own negative thinking is not a good place to be. We are far too brutal on ourselves. In two minutes we can go from contemplating what we could have done better to a total condemnation of a universe that has conspired to keep us from happiness. “Why does God hate me?” is what one actor friend exclaimed after being placed on hold for a national TV spot, given a recording date, and then released without explanation. That he went as far as to blame God, is an example of how far our own minds will spiral out of control—triggering negative ideas and feelings having nothing to do with what actually went on during the audition. The casting directors consider only the degree to which the audition meets the criteria for the role. So, what actors refer to as rejection is not the reality. And yet, the misguided idea that one has been rejected can lead to very deep, depressing feelings which are then misplaced under the umbrella of rejection. “That, in a nutshell, is the paradox of rejection. It isn’t intended as personal, but it’s impossible not to experience it that way,” says Dennis Palumbo, a psychotherapist who was once a screenwriter pounding the Hollywood pavement without success. Palumbo, was describing his own psychological trap. It is not “impossible” to experience the truth for what it is. The truth is what sets you free.
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Granted, the audition process is hard on the actor because the act itself is deeply personal. IT’s not some inanimate product you’re selling. It’s you! If the actor were unable to close the deal on selling a car or vacuum cleaner it wouldn’t be quite so dramatic. Even if they’re a mediocre salesperson, they can at least place some of the blame on the attributes of the product: It doesn’t function properly, doesn’t come in enough colors, costs too much money, etc. As a voice actor, however, the actor is both the product and the salesperson. They’re naked with no place to hide. That’s a very courageous challenge to take on, and it’s up to the actor to be realistic about the nature of the selection process and the odds if they are to go out there day after day with a joyful attitude. The good news is that by looking carefully and honestly at the casting process, the actor will find it easier not to take it personally. The actor will find it far more useful to direct his energy toward constructive endeavors like expanding his performance repertoire through practice and training and taking special care to nurture their emotional wellbeing. Develop self-love, dedication, unstoppable tenacity, enhanced preparation, and a love of the craft. These are the remedies for the vagaries of the casting process.
The myth of rejection is a diabolical spell, cloaked in a martyr’s armor. When under its spell, the actor becomes addicted to the admiration they receive. Admiration is quite possibly the most desired status in the human experience. But alas, “Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche
Admiration is a temporary high—an addiction that blinds the actor from the truest pursuit of the art. And yet admiration, as is the case with any powerful narcotic, is not easily given up. Some voice actors hold on to it for its own sake, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of their own demise.
“Until I become famous, at least I shall be admired for taking the slings and arrows required to become so.” —Unknown
What is the actor then to make of rejection? First and foremost, that it is a myth, a wayward concept that is out of touch with the actual reality of the casting process. Keep in mind that what we hold out to be a rejection rarely has anything to do with what happens in an audition and everything to do with the personal meaning we assign to it. Secondly, the very real feelings and ideations associated with rejection are a well-documented area of psychological study. Negative feelings can drive the mind toward self-destruction, anxiety, and physical sickness. It is not a state that you want to engender in yourself or hold out as honorable. Find a qualified therapist to help you deal with it. ♦♦♦
Joan Baker and Rudy Gaskins are the co-founders of the SOVAS (Society of Voice Arts and Sciences) and columnists for Backstage Magazine. In addition, Joan is a working voice actor, author of Secrets of Voiceover Success. Rudy is an and Emmy award-winning TV producer and former brand consultant for American Express, NBC Sports, Delta Airlines, and Lexus, where he wrote, produced and directed commercials and promos. He is currently the CEO & Chairman of SOVAS. Both Joan and Rudy available for private voiceover coaching and brand consulting. Contact: Joan@sovas.org or Rudy@sovas.org
From Society of Voice Arts and Sciences