The question every performer asks at some point is something along the lines of, “am I talented?” And it’s hard question to answer. How do we know if we’re any good? I have known people trying to make it in the professional word who were literally driven to drink over this question. I’m going to address this article from the perspective of actors, but the points can be valid across the board in the arts.
The problem is that it’s really hard to find someone to tell you the truth, if you’re not talented. You realize pretty quickly that everyone always gets positive comments, and you start to wonder if you are one of the people they are lying to. Even in the professional world, it’s much easier to tell everyone how good they are, “but we just can’t use you in this show. Maybe next time.” Casting directors don’t want to have to deal with any bad feelings–much better to have you leave relatively happy. But maybe they ARE telling the truth. Maybe you ARE really good, but they’ve already cast the romantic partner, and you’re simply three inches too short, or too tall…or they’re looking for a redhead, or someone with a goatee, or a longer haircut, or…anything that you just don’t happen to be. Some people start trying to change themselves, to be what they think directors are looking for, but the problem is that next time, the director wants something else. And it can drive you crazy.
I’ve already talked about how we can’t trust mom’s word on this, or our friends. They don’t want to hurt our feelings. You will always be great to them. We certainly don’t want to hear them tell us we suck, but their positive responses don’t answer the question.
We can’t really use the opinions of strangers, either, because we have no idea if they know what they are talking about. A lot of people THINK they know what talent is, but heck, you likely have a lot more theatre experience and knowledge than any of those people, and you have been there for every single one of your performances, and YOU aren’t sure.
If you really want to hear someone else’s opinion of you, the closest you can get to a worthwhile answer, is to find someone whom YOU find really talented, and become good friends. If you’re REALLY good friends with another theatre person, you might actually get an honest answer. Or maybe not. They may really like you, but still not want to hurt your feelings. Or…if they tell you all of your deficiencies…maybe it’s true, or maybe you’re actually so good that they feel threatened by you, and want to undercut your confidence at the next audition, so that they can get the part. I’ve seen it happen. And honestly, even if they have no ulterior motives, they’re probably asking themselves the same question, so can we really trust their answer?
Bottom line, you really can’t trust anyone’s word. The best advice is that you ignore everyone. Be polite and smile and say “thank you”, when someone gives you a compliment. Turn and walk away, when someone says you’re bad. It’s all meaningless, except to your ego and your self-confidence. None of it really answers the question burning inside you. You’ll have to figure out your talent level on your own.
So, just what are we to do?
The hard truth is that you figure it out for yourself, by continuing to audition. Are you getting cast in the roles you wanted? Are you getting the parts you think are meant for you? If the answer is yes, then you must be talented. Or at least more talented than anyone else auditioning, and that’s all that matters for that production. And you keep going. You keep auditioning. You keep picking out the part you want to play, and if you get it more often than not, you must have talent. At some point, you’ll figure out just how big of a fish you are for the pond in which you are swimming.
If you want to take a shot at the professional world, and move somewhere with a bigger theatre scene, then you’d better already be one of the biggest fish in your small local pond, getting cast regularly. You’re about to jump into a much larger ocean, and will be matching up against all the “big fish” from the other local ponds. For all of you, the process of auditioning, and slowly discovering your talent level, starts all over again.
If you are not getting cast…well, that’s not the end of the world. Is there training you can do? Not just “acting classes”, but things that are arguably more important–vocal training (singing, dialects), and movement (dance, karate, Pilates, anything that gives you better physical control). And part of it is just a matter of putting in the time and effort. You can’t fail at three auditions and give up. Stick it out a few years. How long is up to you.
However long you keep at it, don’t change “you”. Even in the professional world, people with amazing talent, fail to get cast most of the time when they audition. The biggest mistake they can make is trying to become whatever they think the directors are looking for. If you aren’t already quirky, you can’t do “quirky” as well as the truly quirky person; or “tough” as well as the truly tough person, so you’ll miss out on those roles regardless. Meanwhile, you’ll miss out on the YOU roles, because you’re busy trying to be quirky or tough. The reality is that if you are just the best “you” that you can be, there are roles out there that call for that–roles where YOU are what they are looking for. Just keep being you.
But if at some point you decide that it’s just not going to happen–that you aren’t being cast in even the roles “made for you”–well, then it’s time to assess. Some people make a career at playing chorus roles, and they are quite good at it, often earning featured spots, but they never quite make it to “big” parts. They generally have the physical tools for acting, but are missing that un-quantifiable “spark”–the stage presence, or magnetism–necessary for successful work in the big roles. They get sought out for the bigger chorus parts, but that’s as high as they can expect to get. Many of them come to terms with that, and are happy. Work is work, after all.
The other option is to remember that there are a LOT of vital jobs in theatre. Some very talented technical people started out trying to be performers, and finally found their true calling behind the curtains, and ended up being very happy. They didn’t know right away that they were good at the technical work, but eventually they figured out that they must have a knack for it, and be better at it than the others. How? Because they kept being asked to do it again. They were getting “cast” for the tech jobs all the time, and found themselves doing those choice technical “roles”, play after play after play.
Find “you”, and be the best “you” out there. Audition. Stick with it. Work on your technical skills. Ignore the comments. Keep auditioning. Eventually, you’ll figure out how talented you are. Eventually you will find out where you fit best into this magical world of bringing make-believe to life.
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