Songs for the Struggling Artist


What I Wish I’d Said to the Losers

While judging the semi-finals of the English Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition this year, we, the judges, were asked if we wanted to say anything to the participants after the winners were announced. Without a moment’s hesitation, I exclaimed, “No!” – somehow horrified at the thought. About two blocks away, however, I suddenly realized exactly what I wanted to have said. I found I wanted to have spoken to the students that hadn’t won, to the ones who had worked so hard on their monologues and sonnets for this competition and suffered a big disappointment at the end of it.

This is what I imagined I’d say to the “losers”:

I was in EXACTLY your position many years ago. I, too, lost my region’s ESU Shakespeare competition and now I’m here judging it. And frankly, the experience of losing something like this will better prepare you for a life in the theatre than winning ever will.

No one in theatre wins all the time. Even the most successful people, the ones who seem to work constantly, will go through periods of profound rejection, of unemployment and loss. There is no way you can win more than you lose in this business. And when you’re winning, you’re still losing. Let’s say you book an amazing Broadway show, for example, but accepting it means you have to give up the play written by your best friend that you’ve been promising you’d do for ages. And that’s the best case scenario. Most actors have to get rejected from hundreds of gigs before booking anything at all.

From where you’re sitting now, it might seem possible to keep winning and winning and winning. I know that’s what I thought I’d do. Look! I made it to Nationals in Dramatic Interpretation! I won Best Actress at the State Drama competition! I got the lead in one school play after another, while simultaneously conquering college and community theatre shows. I really thought I couldn’t lose. So this ESU Shakespeare loss really cut me deeply.

But losing was the best thing for me. It gave me fire to win at the next thing. And if I’d been dissuadable, it would have dissuaded me from pursuing theatre and Shakespeare. (Oh, if only I’d been dissuadable. It is such a heartbreak rollercoaster world out here. It is the worst. And also the best. And also the worst.)

So to the losers of this thing, while I know it feels terrible to lose (it really really does) take some comfort from knowing you’re getting a head start on this whole life-in-the-theatre thing that the winners won’t have. And winners, don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to lose in the future.

 

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