These words were spoken to me upon the completion of the singing portion of a recent audition.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve really improved a lot since last year.”
The director said this and caught me completely off guard. A few hours later, he apologized, and caught me even more off guard. He explained that he’d meant what he said as a compliment, and hoped it hadn’t sounded rude.
My response was basically, “yeah, of course it’s a compliment, duh.”
Actually, I was taken so aback when he mentioned my improvement since the year prior because I’d forgotten it had been a year since I’d last auditioned for him. Since then, I had kept so busy performing, practicing, and learning that it didn’t even feel like a year had passed. I’d replied, after his initial comment, that I had felt there was an improvement, too, and that was the truth. I’d worked really hard over the last several months, and though the improvement felt at times marginal, it was really good to hear from someone outside myself that my effort had not been in vain.
So then when he thought I might be offended, I was floored. It was one of the best compliments I’d gotten on my performance skills in a while.
Once I’d assured him I was definitely not offended, we started talking. As he noted, lots of performers want leads, but not all of them are dedicated to improving their skills. He said hearing genuine improvement and seeing someone dedicated to their own growth was exciting.
It might be feedback from only one director out of a handful I’ve auditioned for, but it affirmed something I’ve felt for a long time: that any improvement, and any effort toward improvement, will be visible and appreciated by the powers that be.
In my adventures co-directing middle school theatre, our staff has been blessed to come across a lot of raw, untrained, natural talent. However, lots of young actors lean only on that natural talent and don’t seek opportunities to improve their skills. It happens with disheartening frequency. This gives ambitious ensemble members a chance to practice all year and blow our minds at the next round of auditions, improving their chances purely by virtue of showing us something new and exciting– and proving their they’re willing to work. Any director would sit up and take notice.
Lots of adult actors do the same as our talented young performers. In adulthood, it’s easier to find excuses– lack of time, financial means, or energy after long days of work being chief among them. Frankly, these excuses are valid. But that also means genuine effort to improve in adulthood is all the more thrilling.
Being told that I had exceeded the expectations I’d previously set for myself was exciting. How could anyone feel that was an insult?
The director was quick to note that he wasn’t saying I had done poorly before. My response was, effectively, “I’d really hope that what I did a year ago was poor in comparison to what I did this time!”
What you’ve already done should never be your best work. Otherwise, you may as well quit altogether.
It’s important to take pride in your previous work. However, it’s just as important, if not more, to look forward to the next performance and think about what you can do better. Even if opportunities for growth are out of the hands of many adults, a mindset of growth is always attainable. When one adopts the view that they should always be improving upon their past work, they’ll be more apt to find any chance to do so. Even small attempts, like listening to a new podcast or picking up a new book, can provide a wealth of helpful knowledge that pushes you to do better.
Resting on your laurels– deciding that your past body of work is indicative of the best you can do, and that you can not or will not improve further– means you will stagnate quickly. Others who are dedicated to personal growth will quickly find themselves ahead of performers who make no attempts to grow.
If nothing else, as my experiences have suggested, directors will be quick to spot those who work to improve themselves over those who do not. Even if your attempts at growth don’t immediately equate to better casting opportunities, they’re likely to be noticed and likely to help you the more you continue with your efforts.
Don’t be offended if someone tells you you’ve grown. That’s a sign you’re doing exactly as you should be.
Practice and improvement is a subject I hit a lot on this blog– feel free to read some of my other posts on the subject if you’re interested. (Note that each one of those words is a different link!)
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