When I was looking to move from my comfortable community in the San Francisco Bay aria to New York City, I had several good friends take me out for coffees, lunches, and drinks. After a few laughs and light conversation these good friends had one thing to ask me. “Tim, what do you think is going to happen when you get to New York?” and in a calm clear voice I would simply say “Oh, I’m going to get my ass kicked”. Then my friends would tap me on the leg and say “Ok, you’re ready.” It’s true, is it not? All of us have big dreams, and unless you’re one of the very few who book Broadway or the next streaming sensation right out the gate, then you’re going to have to be resilient.
When I hear the word resilient, I tend to think of nature. There are so many things that have to fight to survive in the wild wilderness of the world. One plant in particular tends to stand out to me. This plant can survive harsh droughts- some surviving as long as two years without water! Their thorns fend off animals that would try to eat them, and they can withstand temperatures as low as 34 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 110. I, of course, am referring to the desert native plant the cactus. We can learn a lot about being resilient from this plant.
As performers we often go through times of drought. Perhaps your “type” isn’t popular, your skill set isn’t needed for the current season, or you’re simply a Man of La Mancha swimming in a sea of Hamilton’s. Whatever it may be, we have to learn to hold water till the rain comes again. That can look like a lot of different things. For some it’s simply the joy of auditioning. Finding fulfillment in the fact that for about five minutes you get to do what you love! For others, it looks like taking classes. Working with a person you respect… a person who inspires you. Or maybe it’s putting in the effort to make your own work! I have a friend who holds a dinner party once a month, where actors get together and perform readings of plays. Get together with friends and hold mock auditions! Put up a concert with your friends! There are places all around New York that are looking for shows and cabarets just like yours. Find joy and excitement in your hobbies. Pick up that guitar that’s been getting dusty and learn something new. Look at opportunities like this as your water pouch to get you through a dry season.
One of the most important things I’ve had to learn on my path to resiliency is to have a thick skin. This work isn’t easy and you are going to hear the answer “no” a lot more than you are going to hear “yes.” I know you just read that, but did you really hear it? If not, go back and read it again… because it’s the truth. Like the cactus, we have to learn to defend ourselves from getting beaten down. This can be hard, but there are a couple of tools you can implement to make it a little easier. First, try to not take things so personally. When you don’t book the job you want, it can either break you or motivate you. Choose motivation. Don’t let the rejection deter you from your goals! So many factors in the realm of auditions are out of our control, and we can’t allow it to tear us down.
This goes for outside the audition room, too! City life can be tough. Heck, LIFE is tough! We can’t let someone else’s bad day destroy our peace of mind. When we give our joy over to a result or a person, we lose our power. I want you to instead find joy from WITHIN. The (not so) simple action of claiming your happiness for YOU truly makes all the difference. Remember, you are enough, you are loved, and you are whole- without the approval of a job or another person. Remembering this is how you remain resilient, even when the thing you love to do isn’t in your life.
Now, being resilient doesn’t mean getting your quills up all the time and fighting every day of your life. The people who make it through the droughts don’t do it alone. You see, though a cactus does have sharp spikes, it can also grow beautiful flowers that attract birds and helpful bugs. We need to have the courage to show our flowers. Being vulnerable brings people closer together. Having a community will make you strong. Knowing that you have people beside you who will catch you if you stumble will give you the courage to try. To get up when you fall. No one does this alone. Admit to needing help, reach out, let others in, and watch your flowers bloom!
Life as an actor isn’t easy. Droughts will come. When they do, remember to fuel your thirst with opportunity, to protect your joy, and to bring others alongside you who will help you grow. Be like the cactus- be resilient. Before you know it, the drought will be over.
Tim Fraser is a New York City based Actor, Singer, and Musician. Tim has been performing in workshops for new musicals, teaching students in theatre performance, writing cabarets for fellow performers, and concerts at Feinstein's 54 Below and the new Green Room 42.