I recently had one of those ridiculous experiences all actors have at some point in their careers. I spent an hour showering, styling my hair, putting in my contacts, doing my make-up, then spent forty-five minutes on the subway and finally arrived in a tiny downtown waiting room, surrounded by ten other women who look vaguely like me, getting ready to spend two minutes in an even tinier room with a camera and one other human to say six words:
“Please, you have to do something!”
And then it was done. Ok, I said the words twice; the sweet, young man in the room with me was nice enough to give me an adjustment and let me do it again. So twelve words.
“Please, you HAVE to do something!”
“Please, YOU have to DO something!”
When I walked out, I looked around the waiting room and there we all were – ten women who looked vaguely similar, concentrating on how to play six words. One woman was busy getting herself to cry. I couldn’t contain myself, I started giggling uncontrollably and declared, quite genuinely, to the room full of women, “What we do is so silly.”
And no one would even make eye contact with me. It was a real bummer.
When I later lamented about this refusal for connection on Facebook, a friend of mine hilariously posted a video in response, of a compilation someone has made of every time a reality TV star has said, “I’m not here to make friends.” (Another six words). The video goes on for over three minutes, which is astounding when you realize it only takes one to two seconds to say, “I’m not here to make friends.”
In response, I commented that I’m going to start walking into audition waiting rooms with my arms out, shouting, “I’m here to make friends!” I meant it as a joke, but the more I think about it, the more I’d prefer to approach my career this way. What if we all did? What if instead of eyeing the auditioner next to us as potential competition, we accepted the crapshoot of this lifestyle and found a new buddy?
Look, I get it. If you land this part you’ll get around a thousand bucks for probably four-ish hours of work – it’s a sweet gig! It feels important and real. But there were ten of us in that audition slot, and the same friend of mine who posted the reality tv video had been at the same audition that morning with ten more women! For six words! Maybe if we all took the pressure off ourselves, laughed at this ridiculous industry and were present with the ten other humans sitting in space with us, we’d all be a little happier in the daily grind.
One of the most challenging concepts of Buddhism is Sympathetic Joy. Basically the opposite of Schadenfreude, Sympathetic Joy is the practice of rejoicing in the happiness and successes of others. It’s near enemy is Envy, the prescribed cure for which is contemplation on happiness existing in the world without constant quantity; someone else’s successes do not preclude your own. As actors, though, looking at the short-game, it can feel like happiness is, absolutely, in constant quantity: if you book the part, that part is no longer there for me to book.
But check out the long-game. The long-game is highly interdependent: you don’t book this but they call you next week for something better; you run into a friend of yours at the audition who’s also a writer and they stick you in a reading; you get to ask the casting director how her mom is doing because you heard she wasn’t well and you watch a flicker of humanity pass between you; you have that sweet exchange with the old man you gave your seat to on the subway on the way there; you happen to have a protein bar in your bag when someone needs food on the street; and maybe you smile at, laugh with, and touch the shoulder of the woman next to you who looks vaguely like you, before she goes in to say the same six words you just said. The long-game is ultimately all that really matters.
It’s not easy. I struggle with Envy every day. A friend of mine had to cancel plans with me recently because she booked a pilot. My first response was the usual – a storm that starts in my abdomen and rises to my throat, with a lot of heat and some tightening in my chest. Envy sucks, man. It hurts. Physically. But then underneath – and it really had the somatic quality of existing “underneath” something in space – I felt a tiny memory of the feeling I get when I receive a “You booked it!” email from my manager. I had this microscopic glimmer of the joy she must be feeling, and I stoked that fire as hard as I possibly could, crawling through the mire of acidic envy on top of it.
The long-game is, “I’m here to make friends.” Ultimately, that’s all we can ask for. There are so many humans in the world, if we were to invest ourselves in their success, then our chances at happiness,
“are enhanced six billion to one. […] Those are very good odds.” – The Dalai Lama
Be here to make friends, the rest is gravy.
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