I’ve gotten a lot of parts I’ve wanted through the years. I used to say I was “lucky” with casting, but there’s much more to it than that.
I’d often use that phrasing because usually when I’m bringing up this point, it’s in a very specific context that somehow seems to keep occurring for me. I’ll paint you an image: The day after the cast list came out. I’ve gotten the fantastic part I wanted, but I’m feeling bittersweet. You, and maybe many more of my friends, are in mourning, because you did not get the parts you wanted.
Almost always, the conversation that follows turns the same directions. It might take a while to get to this junction, and this might not be stated directly, but we often arrives at the same point nonetheless.
You: “I’m not talented enough to get this/that/any part.”
And every time I hear this, I sigh heartily, and say, “this is going to sound bad, but I mean it with all the love in the world.”
Here’s what I say every single time: Talent means nothing.
Often, this gets confused with “you have no talent”, which is not my point. Even if that were my point, it shouldn’t be offensive, because talent means nothing. You can be born with a beautiful singing voice, but that does not make you a good singer. No one has an inherent talent for technical ability– that is all learned. Breath support and neutral larynx placement aren’t god-given gifts, they’re habits cultivated with hard work. Even with a beautiful natural tone, bad technique will stunt your growth and can even ruin your voice from misuse over time. In a race, talent would get you out of the gate fast, but you’d wind up in dead last quickly if it’s all you had to work with.
No, you’re not too untalented. If you keep working, you’ll get better, and more parts will be in your grasp.
This is an optimistic view, but I fully believe it’s the correct view. Anyway, why would anyone want to resign themselves to a life where they’re destined to never succeed because the Talent Fairy didn’t bless them at birth? Even if my view is a fantasy, I’d much rather live in a fantasy where people can improve themselves than any reality where such is impossible.
I always think sharing this mindset will be helpful. It often seems to be not helpful to my hurting friend at all. Usually, this is what happens next:
You: “Well, you always get good parts/got the part you wanted/aren’t in the ensemble, you can’t complain/don’t know how this feels.”
And then, I’ll explain:
The statement that I “always get good parts” isn’t incorrect. What it does not mean, though, is “I have never been in the ensemble.” Of course I have been, such is theatre life. Ensemble is a “good part”. I’ve been cast in the ensemble plenty of times, and often have just as much fun if not more fun in shows playing bit parts and mute townspeople than I do playing lead roles.
Maybe I got the lead role I wanted, maybe I’m not in the ensemble this time. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like, and I’m not going to be dragged into ragging on ensemble roles. Ensemble isn’t a punishment. It is not the “untalented persons” dropbox.
I understand that people want to step out of the ensemble and show off their stuff– that’s natural. Landing ensemble role after ensemble role can become crushing, because it feels like no one sees your ability. Take solace, this isn’t a personal slight. Sometimes, your ability just doesn’t match up with the director’s vision, or with the demands of this particular show or role. Sometimes your ability is best used in the ensemble, where you can be a leader in keeping up the show’s vitality.
But let’s be honest, too. Sometimes, ability just doesn’t measure up.
See what I said above: this isn’t a condemnation. It doesn’t mean you are not untalented, but even if you were, that’s no big deal. This is a call to improve, however you can. Mourn when you don’t land your dream role, grieve it as you must. Once you’re done, it’s time to get into action. Auditions and callbacks teach you a lot about your competition. Sometimes it’s easy to spot where you failed. If you use these as learning opportunities, you get easy insight into where your weakest parts are, and can then train and armor them appropriately.
The important thing, in all of this, is that you keep working. If you want to be the best person for the part, make yourself the best person for the part. Hone your craft by sheer tenacity. By anger, by bitterness, even, if you must. Just keep getting better.
And then, quite often unsaid, but very often felt:
You: “That’s easy for you to say. You got the role.”
The weaponization of my attitude against me has always struck me as profoundly unfair. People always seem to think my mindset comes from a place of privilege.
When does privilege inspire people to fight harder? Is privilege known to inspire people to dust off their bloodied knees and keep plodding onward? If my advice were “rest on your god-given gifts,” that would be privilege speaking. I’m telling you to rip your opportunities right from the jaws of fate and take your odds into your own hands– these are the forged-in-hardship words of someone who has struggled too hard to let circumstances beyond their control dictate their successes.
At this point, I struggle to offer any more words, because now this is personal, and my response would be personally offensive.
I got this role because I have this attitude. I got this role because I scrambled, panicked, evaluated, analyzed, and practiced, practiced, practiced my way into that audition, and into that callback, and onto that cast list. I took my own advice and patched the wounds on my ego and then went right back to working for next time. I have a drive to get better, do better, be better at theatre. If this attitude isn’t clear in my actions, it’s proven in the way I perform.
My attitude does not come from the privilege of past parts. My past parts, and all my future ones, too, come from my attitude.
As long as you nurse your bruised ego and wallow in mourning forever, your parts will also come from your attitude.
They will probably not be the ones you want to receive.