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  • John Vessels

Winning the game

Actors: The performing arts is an EXTREMELY competitive field. There are a zillion of us, and there are three roles available. What are the strategies for landing the most gigs and crushing your artistic foes?


Sorry. Can't help ya.


We as artists would benefit greatly from abandoning the "scarcity" model on which an army of artists before us have based their lives and careers. "I have to get the job. There will never be another job." The model serves to instill a constant state of panic (doesn't sound great), create competitors out of potential colleagues (not especially appealing), and muddy the reason we got into the arts in the first place (strike three).


We don't do our best work while eyeing the competition. It draws our attention from the task at hand. We don't do our best work while we're scanning our potential employers for any possible clue about how they feel about us. Again, it only serves to detract from the work we set out to do. Do the work you set out to do. Your job is to walk into the room, tell a well-rehearsed, fully-realized truth, and walk out without tripping or hitting the door facing. The focus and concentration that simple task requires is like unto brain surgery. Why bring the weight of comparison and paranoia into the mix? So concentrate on the very important work of telling your character's truth. That gives you an edge without putting you on edge.


*Art does not thrive in the comparative. So just do your thing; without heed to the things others are doing.*


A couple of words about the competition: They aren't. Don't treat your fellow artists like the enemy. It's serves nothing but to create strange animosities where friendships would otherwise grow. You have the same interests. You share similar dreams. You GET each other just by the virtue of the weird thing you both do. All that sounds like friend stuff. So nurture a relationship rather than a rivalry. BECAUSE it's possible you'll work together at some point. Put yourself in a position to create with other creators. Art on some level must be an act of generosity. So, enter the audition space planning to be generous and willing to accept the generosity of others. First, it's just better form. Second, that kind of energy shows on a performer--and it's appealing to the folks doing the hiring.


*Directors like casts that look like they'll get along with each other.*


Artists don't usually enter the arts because they're competitive. "I'm going to draw the best damn flower that was ever drawn and subdue all other flower drawers," isn't really a phrase you heard your 9-year-old self utter. The constantly competitive model of capitalist thinking pervades most aspects of our early lives. We take standardized tests, and the grades are broken into percentiles so we know who the best is. We play sports that categorize us as winners or losers. We are encouraged at younger and younger ages to start working hard to make it into competitive college programs. We are urged to have the best and the most at every turn. Consider the arts a haven from that grind--not another example of it.


I sing & act & dance because they are momentary reprieves from the weights of the world--both for me and for the people with whom I share these tasks. I don't perform to be the best performer there ever was. Sure, I work hard. I certainly mean to be the best performer I ever was. But I haven't much interest in being better than the performers around me. Because that's not part of my original goal. It's not part of my mission statement: Bring joy and perspective to others. That task--that directive, there--is enough to keep me busy for an entire career. It is my goal when onstage. It is my goal when with others. And it is my goal in the audition space. And I think there is appeal in its sincerity. I think directors pick up on it and hire it. So hook into WHY you wanted to do this in the first place. And see to it that you stay on that track--or modify it as needed to optimize your joy in your work.


I get it. The gig is important. We need jobs. We have rent to pay. We have the artistic need to work. We have the urge to be doing the thing. I just think we can satisfy that need without dimming the joy we and others derive from it. This means we must be willing to lift each other up--even as we seek work in the same spaces.


*I want my job. I want you to get your job. I hope we all win and work together.*



Competitive models don't serve artistic endeavors.

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