The best stories I have are the ones where I experience rejection or embarrassment in its most toe crawling glory. The sorry stories I can repeat to friends that have them crying with appalled laughter. The ones that still have mileage years after the fact.
Examples include drunkenly and publicly lunging in to kiss a boy at a party who had no intention of kissing me back, and having him actually reel back in surprise and confusion. Giving a terrible ill-prepared job interview, asking the interviewer an impudent question and then confidently telling everyone that I had done pretty well and expected to get an offer, which then promptly never came.
I now have the privilege of experiencing rejection on a semi-regular basis. 6 months ago I became listed in the talent section of an agency. (which i probably shouldn’t name.) I joined for a slightly different reason which through a spasm of oh-alright-then, somehow expanded to ‘talent’.
For the record, I am not an actor and I cannot juggle or dance. I do not crave the spotlight or want to be recognised for any particular performing X factor. The aim I suppose would be to get paid some pocket money to be an enthusiastic amateur in the background of some advert or tv show, and enjoy the vicarious thrill of show biz and production people as they go about their business. That’s about the extent of my ambition as ‘talent’.
The other day I got called for an audition, I was to play the wife of a (insert brand here) chainsaw owner. The part didn’t involve speaking – so I interpreted it as more of a miming role. The sort where the story is played out in subtle degrees, best demonstrated by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins in that movie where they are both working in that big country house and have the hots for each other.
The casting agent was tall, well built and fairly attractive. He was also in a hurry.
My single task was to walk a few steps holding a tray, give a shocked/eye rolling expression to my disheveled and dirty husband who had been working in the garden (with his chainsaw, natch) and then gaze approvingly around the newly improved garden.
The tape rolled. I was not remotely in the zone. The first take I gave a pained expression, as if I had wind, then i looked wildly around with a variety of random expressions in the way that a newborn baby might involuntarily practise facial motor skills … I then ‘broke the spell’ by querying, ‘excuse me, how long I should look pained and then how long after that I should look delighted?’
‘You can’t talk while I’m rolling the tape’ he said. ‘You can’t use that take now.’
‘Can you cut it out?’ I pleaded. ‘Well I can, but I’ll have to edit it out later’
The way he said it clearly indicated that he had no intention of doing so, as it would be a further waste of the time he was currently wasting, in real-time, with me.
The hunky casting agent talked me through it again, and suggested I use his head as the eye-line. Apparently I had previously been gazing somewhere between the light switch on the far wall and his waist.
My embarrassment mounted. I felt a funeral giggle rising in my neck and gave an even worse performance, if that was possible, than last time.
With literally nothing more to lose, the third take was marginally better. It was approaching competent – but only barely. the hunky casting agent generously crooned ‘good!’ as if he were congratulating a toddler peeling a banana.
I slunk out of the room not even remembering the exact order of my words and whether I said goodbye properly. It took the rest of that day to stop cringing and wishing i could ring my agent and apologise for wasting everyone’s time and could she please take me off the books?
But I didn’t.. Because I can’t help thinking I’m on to something. These experiences are worth having purely for the retelling at the pub factor of course. But they are worth more than that. Rejection is about about brazening it out. Having the guts (or the insanity) to watch an awkward moment unfold with sure moment by moment excruciation. Being okay with being inspected, exposed, vulnerable, incapable and in a particular moment, not worthy.
Put another way, if failure is going to take place, then surely it is worth making a spectacular and utter balls up of it. There is satisfaction in that, among the ruins. The skill in being able to execute a total f*ck up.
I truly believe that if we can become primed and able to weather as much high level rejection as we can handle, while using the humiliation as fuel to improve – then eventually good stuff happens. The stuff we really want happens.
The boy at the party kisses back, there is a job offer, and lo and behold, the gig as an extra on a medieval science fiction TV series suddenly becomes available.