Q: Ever since childhood, I’ve loved acting and I can’t imagine living without theater. I used to constantly get lead roles at a children’s theater, but now that I’ve outgrown it and started auditioning at community theaters, my confidence in acting has been less stable.
I’m getting ensemble roles, and sometimes not getting in shows at all. I know I have some talent because I’ve gotten occasional callbacks and compliments, but I never seem to be close to the top anymore. And I know that most of the reasons for not being cast should not be taken personally. Yet none of this makes me feel better.
While I still have fun, when the show ends and the cast goes to greet the audience, my self-esteem always drops when I see the audience members ignoring me and the other ensemble members on their way to congratulating lead actors.
Sometimes when I feel rejected, I’ll try something else that might make me stand out. Since I love writing, I try to write stories, but I either don’t finish them or realize that publication is often even more difficult than landing a lead on stage. Deep down, I know that nothing can replace theater.
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I know that wanting to feel “special” and “stand out” makes me sound shallow. That’s not my intention. I don’t want to be famous or star on Broadway. I don’t want to be recognized everywhere, but after a performance, I wish somebody would see me as an individual.
In the least shallow way possible, I want to have SOMETHING to remind me that there’s a reason I was granted some talent and that someone other than myself will verbally recognize it.
A: Be happy that you are only being ignored. Many actors get treated far worse — picked apart and criticized — a more crippling blow to one’s self-esteem than not being noticed.
If you seek consistent approval in the theater and your confidence is dependent on it, then you might have picked the wrong career. Tenacity in the arts is more powerful than talent, Miss Manners has observed. And she has witnessed many a talented actor give up in frustration, while less accomplished ones succeed, merely because they stuck it out.
If you truly love theater and are not in it (purely) for the recognition, then you must accept being an ensemble member as the opportunity that it is. Working your way up in the ranks and not getting recognized for it is a necessary stage of life — and is certainly not limited to the theater.
If you want to succeed, then you must harden yourself — not only to the lack of constant accolades, but to worse: the constant critiques. (Miss Manners had a talented acquaintance who was told as a teenager by a casting director that she had a face like a chocolate chip cookie. She ignored the insult and went on to an extremely successful and lucrative career in voiceover work.)
You stated that you enjoy writing – another field that requires perseverance and tenacity. So write yourself a lead part. Many a current star has done so – and even if it never gets produced, it will afford you an opportunity in a field that you could wait forever for someone else to grant.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.