Fine Arts Column: Artists never fail


Just a few weeks ago, only three days shy of the spring semester, I went to a large audition. Each actor auditioning got 90 seconds to show the dozens of casting directors what they had. They could recite only monologues or include a short song. Some even got to attend the dance audition later for extra time to strut their stuff.

I was pumped, nervous, but most of all anxious to do my first big audition outside of community theaters and Franciscan University of Steubenville. I had my sheet music and I knew my monologue like the back of my hand. What I wasn’t prepared for was the harsh realization when I got my minute with the accompanist that my sheet music was two keys higher than I had been practicing.

The accompanist was extremely kind and tried to work with me as best he could, but my anxiety had already kicked into high gear. I couldn’t sing that high, no way. What was I going to do? Run out of the room? I had to do what I said I would, I couldn’t botch the song.

I went and sat with my group of 16 other young adults auditioning. They were all so amazing. By this time I had started thinking, “It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, I couldn’t top them.”

Comparing. That’s never a safe route. It was finally my turn now, I walked to center stage with a pleasant smile on my face that said that I was calm and a joy to work with, please pick me. I performed my monologue better than ever. Then the music started playing. I finished singing, if you could call it that, slated my name and number, and smiled all the way back to my seat where no one could see me bury my face into my messed up sheet music with one thought in mind: I failed.

I failed my family who have gotten me through college. I failed my friends who supported me. I failed my fellow drama majors who listened to me rehearse and give advice. Lastly and most crushing to me, I felt that I had failed my drama professors who had taught me so much thus far and had so much faith in me.

You might think, “But that’s just one audition! There will be others!” and you are correct. I see this now, but in the moment I felt like the scum of the earth after all I had done to get there.

I’m amazed that I still did the dance audition. I never understood those movies where artists question their whole career after one bad audition until I had that experience myself.

I laugh now because I know it’s rash, but you can’t imagine the heartbreak embarrassment I experienced. This is my dream, passion, calling, and I bombed it.

Or did I?

The next day I went to see the senior showcase in the Anathan theatre where I ran into both my professors.

The first professor wasn’t having my pity party, which I’m grateful. He kept telling me that I learned something, but I obviously wasn’t getting that yet. Even harder was telling the head of our department who approached me when I sat down. She knew the people at that audition. How could I tell her? How could I tell her that I screwed up and utterly embarrassed myself and her department?

To my great surprise, she was my biggest comfort through it all, perhaps because she was the one I wanted to please the most. In the maybe 10 minutes we talked, I became so relieved. She kept reminding me how proud she was that I auditioned. This wasn’t pity or just something to cheer me up, she was sincere. Just like my other professor, she reiterated that I can learn from it. I can learn from it … that’s important.

When I went back to my room that evening I saw one of my favorite quotes that I had printed and put on my wall by my desk, “As an artist, I never fail. I either win, or I learn … and learning is sometimes even greater than winning”.

I then realized the truth that everyone, especially my professors, had been trying to get through my thick stubborn brain. Any so-called “failure” is an opportunity, not a closed door.

I must choose to use it though. I can either sit and cry, “woe is me” or I can get up and proclaim with a sense of victory, “I stunk and I’m proud because I learned!”

I believe this applies to all working in the fine arts, and any career for that matter. We aren’t born to be perfect, we’re born to learn. How do we learn? By failing. But in the end, if you learned something, did you really fail at all?

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