Sometimes, despite all your best preparations, you get thrown a curveball. It’s whether you swing the bat anyway that separates the amateurs from the pros.
I’ve been talking about some of the ways to taking your creative business to a more professional level on my monthly newsletter (if you’re not on my list then sign up here). But it’s in the day to day playing out of your creative career that you really get tested.
I’ve recently signed with a new agent and he rang me on Monday with my first audition – for an ice cream commercial. The brief was for a 40 year old dad… actually for laugh, for those of you who aren’t privy to these things on a regular basis, here’s a typical commercial casting breakdown:
“Dancing Dad 35-40. Our main character. He needs to be 35-40, white, of average build and not a model. Facially he needs to be very expressive, and friendly, approachable. Needs to look like the sort of normal guy you’d see on the train, or at the supermarket. He might be a teacher, social worker or librarian. Kind of cool, quirky and trendy.”
So there I am in a room full of men who more or less meet that description.
The brief also said we would be dancing to a very famous movie musical (which I can’t name). So I had a pretty clear image in mind of what was required.
I could guess they would either teach us some moves and see how well we picked them up, or we’d improvise. I was hoping for the former and not the latter, as improv is always so embarrassing… but nevertheless…. I was prepared to improv in this style.
I rock up in my normal but quirky/trendy chinos/cardigan combo and wait for my turn.
The panel are nice. The director explains to me what he wants – taste the ice cream and then basically dance.
“In the stye of [famous song & dance man] from [famous hollywood musical of 50s]?” I ask.
“Oh no,” he says. “We couldn’t secure the rights from [name of big Hollywood studio] so now it’s going to be [names a contemporary pop/funk song I’ve never heard of by an artist whose name I recognise but barely] but we’ll just put the music on and you can react.”
“So you’re looking for more of a ‘street’ style?” I ask. Inwardly shitting myself because while I can fake a song & dance man of the 50s’s I am way out of my depth with contemporary music video type dance.
“Whatever.” he says.
So, like a good actor I’ve done my homework. I’ve thought about what is being asked of me and how I can respond to it. I’ve travelled halfway across London and arrived at my specific time. I’ve dressed according to the brief and thought in advance about what might be asked of me. And now the parameters have changed. Now the goalposts have moved.
Two choices. (A) be stuck in what I had perceived would be asked of me (B) pivot on a sixpence, throw everything out the window and see what happens.
They put the music on, I danced around as best I could as a dad by the seaside might react to this music.
They ask me to do it again and be bigger. I do.
I’m sure I was awful. I was really struggling to come up with a physical language. I couldn’t shake [famous song & dance man] out of my mind and I struggled to replace that physical language with something else.
But I did it.
I didn’t run out of the room.
I didn’t tell them they were idiots for telling me one thing in advance and then changing the parameters.
I did the only thing that we can ever ask of ourselves. I did the best I could under the circumstances. I tried to go with the new information. I tried to make a hairpin turn and go off in a new direction.
These kinds of situations happen to creative people all the time. The client changes the brief at the last minute in all kinds of situations.
It brings to mind that old saying “he who pays the piper, calls the tune.”
In any situation where the creative person is trying to secure a job/a sale/a commission they are going to have to respond to the whims of the person with the money. Your ability to think on your feet, pivot on a dime, absorb new information and immediately use it to propel you in a new direction will be a determining factor whether you get the job or not.
It’s a double-edged sword. When you are given information in advance you need to treat it with the utmost seriousness. If they ask for Shakespeare, you better give them Shakespeare (not Marlowe, not Sheridan, not Racine). But having arrived with your Shakespeare piece ready to perform – with predetermined blocking, and emotional arc, shading, interpretation etc. You might be asked to throw it all out the window and perform it as if you are Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon for the first time. Or you might be asked to skip your Shakespeare entirely and juggle instead.
Sure, it sucks.
But it also is testing you.
And you either rise to the challenge and give it your best shot (even if you fall on your ass) or you don’t. And in my books it’s whether you are willing to try, or not, that separates the amateur from the professional.
Do I expect to get this job? No. Do I think it’s unfair of them to do a bait and switch? Yes. Did I do my best under difficult circumstances. Yes.
I can’t ask for anything more of myself.
Nor should you.
For more embarrassing auditioning tales, see The Downward Facing Dog of Shame
Want to know how to overcome a sense of failure in interviews, auditions or pitches? See Radio Silence: When Hearing Nothing Can Be Worst of All.
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