What to do with the heartbroken...
Over the years, I have done a lot of auditions, and cast a lot of shows. Every show, there is at least one child who is absolutely heartbroken over their part. They usually have a pretty good part. Something with lines, most likely. It might even be a semi-lead part. But it's not THE PART...
This child, more often than not, will become for lack of a better word, an emotional tornado, with a huge damage path. Feelings get hurt, social media blows up, drama (and not the good kind) ensues... And that's just the parents. (I'm kidding. But not really.)
How do I know so much about these juggernaut children? These heartbroken adolescents?
I was one.
It's embarrassing to admit, but each child that came to me with their angry tears was just a reflection of my own younger self. But because of that, I could smile in the face of their accusations and insults, and hand them this letter...
This sucks. I know it does. You’re not just upset. You’re heartbroken. You wanted that part so badly. I get it. I’ve been there. And the one thing I can tell you, is the theatre will break your heart. Let me tell you a little story...
Like most teenage girls, I was a heartbreaker. But it’s not what you think...
In school, it’s all about what you do, where you belong. I belonged in the theatre, or more specifically, I belonged to the theatre. The first time I made an audience laugh, they owned me. I was just smitten. I was in love.
Years later, I still love the theatre. I am a playwright. I’ve worked with hundreds of kids over more than a decade. I’ve directed more than a dozen shows, half of them my own scripts. And if there is anything I have learned it’s that the theater will break your heart.
Backing up a bit...
Before I was a playwright, I was just another young theatre geek. I lived and died by the annual plays and musicals. I became each character and they became apart of me— the Gershwin showgirl and the Miller puritan alike. Nothing else mattered. It was all about pressing forward to the next show, the next play, the next audition.
The audition is both a magical and horrible experience. It’s nerve wracking, overwrought, anxiety inducing, pee-in-your-pants fear mixed with utter joy. You put your heart and soul into a song and dance, with hope that the director will see just the right set of steps to get you that part. Hear just the right note, to give you THE PART.
The peak of any audition is the Cast List. It’s a simple bit of paper. But unlike any other piece of paper, it has the ability to thrill you or destroy you. And when it thrills you, you ride that high for months, years if the show is a success. And when it destroys you, well—there is only one person to blame... The director.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. That as a director, I have been the scapegoat for the pain of many unhappy teenagers. And although that may be true, that is not the moral of this story. This is about the heart that I broke.
Like I said, when I was the teenager, I was in love with theatre, and I was lucky enough to get some great parts. But the problem with a little success is that you get hungry for it. And as kids of the American dream, we think that if we give it our best, and work hard, we will get THE PART. All that any dream requires is your best, and you will attain it. Right?
The ugly truth is… everyone’s best is not equal. And if you don’t get THE PART, it’s because it was never yours.
Let me repeat that. It was never yours to take.
But years ago, when I was a girl in high school, I did not know this basic truth. I had one show left and had not yet attained the lead role, THE PART. It was my last chance, seconds on the clock, the ninth inning, and all the other played out player metaphors. This was not only THE PART, it was MY PART, the LAST PART, and I was going to have it! The audition came, the audition went, the cast list was up AND…
I didn’t get it.
So, I thought about it. And I realized that some things just aren’t meant to be. Then I went and congratulated the person who got it….
Right. That’s totally how it went…
That is what I would like to say. In truth, I went nuts. Like crazy-go-nuts, like Jekyll and Hyde crazy. I cried and cried. I got mad. I yelled. It didn’t matter that the part was nothing like me. It didn’t matter that my voice was completely wrong for the part. I had been robbed. And there was only one person responsible…. The director.
Here’s the part…that embarrasses me. Here is the part that makes me ashamed…
I went to my director, and I let her have it. I shouted all my hurt, all my pain and expectation in her face. I used any talent I had for words to make her feel awful.
And I broke her heart.
Some years after that, when I had directed a few shows for myself I began to experience this heartbreaker phenomena: the possession that takes over kids that used to love you— turning them into emotional assassins bent on your personal destruction. (Admit it. That’s what you’re here for, isn't it?) It always made me think of my old director. So, I wrote her a letter. In that letter, I told her how sorry I felt. That I wished I could take it all back. That it had been a burden I had only begun to understand. And my director said something I will never forget.
She said, that there was nothing to forgive. That I was just a girl growing up. And how could she fault me for that. It was the most gracious and compassionate reply I had ever heard. One that I have tried to earn ever since.
As kind as my director was… she was also wrong.
It’s true that I was just a girl growing up—but what I did was unforgivable. We are responsible for the pain we inflict, no matter the pain we felt when we did it. We are responsible for our part. And if we don’t do something to change the way we act, our part will always be to hurt the ones we love. Not just our directors, but our cast mates, and our friends.
I ask you, young theatre geek, please, when you are standing at the Cast List, when “the worst” happens to you...
Take a breath. Stand back, and find the joy.
The kid in their first show, who’s just happy to get a chorus part. The girl who finally got a solo. Live in their joy, and know that if you get past your disappointment, you will find your own.
Not getting the role you wanted is hard. It’s heartbreaking. But the theater will break your heart. Whether it’s at the Cast List, or in the Curtain Call of your last show, it will make you cry.
But if you love the theatre, like I do, you know that it’s all worth it.