Lessons in Drama, Part 3: Five Reasons it’s Not You

Several years ago, I got a call for my first musical theater directing gig: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The girl we cast as one of the lead females, Kaitlin, was quite possibly one of the sweetest, intelligent, most humble people I’ve ever worked with. She ended up touring the country and performing professionally in musicals as a dancer and singer.

When I think back to our interactions, I consider her thick skin to be the thing that sets her apart from the masses who succumb to everyday drama. Yes, there’s somewhat of a twisted, wretched guessing game involved when auditioning for a show; the ultimate round of Get Inside the Director’s Head and attempt futilely to figure out what they’re thinking.

It’s all for naught, though. Because the final decision could be based on something completely out of your control. Like a bad breakup, it really isn’t you. 

is your head on YOUR shoulders?
is your head on YOUR shoulders?


Here are just some real-life examples to drive this point home, some of which I’ve been a part, others I’ve only heard of or witnessed:

It’s not you, it’s…The Budget

Picture this: two candidates for the lead role who equal each other in acting / dancing / singing ability. The role may go to the girl whose main costume (which is already available to the company and is ridiculously intricate and high-maintenance) wouldn’t have to be taken in, costing a significant portion of the costume budget. If the truth fits…

It’s not you, it’s…The Other Guy’s Height

I’ve heard tell of an instance where the male lead had likely already been cast, and so subsequent decisions for female opposites were made by lining all the candidates up by height. The award went to the one whose height paired best with the male opposite. Damn you, genetic sequencing.

It’s not you, it’s…Precast

The seedy underbelly of the drama world. Yes, pre-casting happens, sometimes directly (as in, only specific roles are even open to the public), other times indirectly (the director won’t even look at other candidates if he or she already knows who they want in the role). See my previous post that refers to “Director’s Favorites.” It’s not really about favoritism. It’s about vision and risk, and unless you are the most fantastic dark horse candidate in the history of candidates, there’s not a lot you can do to change this except give a memorable audition (preferably one that doesn’t involve showing up naked).

It’s not you, it’s…A Totally Arbitrary Professional Factor

I’ve been in the lucky situation of having multiple awesome candidates for a role. Sometimes the decision came down to a combination of totally unrelated professional things: who was early, who had a performance resume, who attended a second round of auditions (even if it was unnecessary), who had the right shoes for the dance audition, who said “thank you” afterwards…the little things really do matter, and if a toss-up situation occurs, it’s likely that we’ll go with the person with the “it” factor. So get “it” together if you want to measure up.

It’s not you, it’s…Someone Else

This one seems the most obvious, but is the least controllable. Sometimes someone else just has it, and you are not there yet. Other times, you may actually be better, but the role might go to someone else because the director is willing to take a chance on one who has “put in their time” and appears ready for the challenge. Try not to cry yourself to sleep. It’s not you.

It’s not you, it’s…well, it might be you

Notorious drama-inducers do not please me. I’ve purposefully avoided casting someone who was a strong candidate (up against other equally as strong candidates) because of their history with the company. I was even approached by two other people during auditions that professed they did not want to be in the show if she was the lead. This is just the type of drama I try to avoid like mad, but at the same time, I couldn’t blame them, and all they did was vocalize what I was already thinking. Survey your contributions to any creative project – are you helping or hurting? If it’s the latter, it might be you. Read my previous posts and consider being better.

The moral of the story: make like Kaitlin, grow your skin, and don’t take it personally. It’s probably not you.

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