“We think you should look in to pursuing a career as a puppet therapist”.

My response was a snigger, I had just spent the last 15 minutes telling my secondary school careers advisor how acting was everything I had ever wanted to do and she tells me that puppet therapy would be a more sensible career path. I knew that getting in to acting would be hard, I’ve always known that- I’ve always been prepared for that. I’ve always known who I was and who I wanted to be. I was the girl who got the top grades, the best parts; I work bloody hard- I deserve to do well! But now? After too many unsuccessful drama school auditions I’m beginning to doubt myself.

Over the last year or so, while the majority of my  friends have been preparing  to study law, history or accounting at university, I’ve been surrounding myself in plays and monologues whilst also convincing my family, friends and colleagues that of course acting is the right route for me to take and of course  I will be able to succeed. The responses, however encouraging are always laced with a similar tone as used when talking to toddlers: the “ah! You’re going to be a spaceship when you grow up… as well as a princess? Of course you are…” tone. But I never cared because I was always going to prove them wrong. But now I have to tell those family, friends and colleagues that actually no, I didn’t get in to this drama school and no I didn’t get in to that drama school.  And there’s only so many times you can say ‘its because I’m so young- I don’t have enough life experience’ to avoid those I-told-you-so looks without beginning to think that really, maybe I’m not that good after all.

I can’t help but feel that the opportunity to pursue acting is in the Lap of the Gods. Of course skill does play a part but for the most part, it is out of my hands. The idea of having enough ‘life experience’ becomes even more infuriating when the one question the judging panel ask is ‘What plays have you seen recently?’. I struggle to comprehend a possible answer to that question that could lead the panel to realise any level of maturity. And I could be a really good actor but I am a tall, blonde, neutral accented, female actor- what if there is another tall, blonde, neutral accented, female actor that’s a tad better than me? They don’t want a class of similar people- they want a variety. And however many times I tell myself that it isn’t a reflection of my talent, the rejection still stings. Plus the steep audition fees and train fares just rubs salt in to the wound. And fundamentally, it is unfair. It sucks.

Thankfully, pity is on my side. When I’m feeling sorry for myself and my failure, I resort to statistics. It’s comforting to see so many actors that got a degree first, the actors that got rejected from drama school, the high proportion of drama school alumni that were privately educated. Because of course! That is why I haven’t got in to drama school. I went to a normal comprehensive. It has nothing to do with skill! (or at least I can tell myself that).

In some ways I am happy that I spent £400 on 7 auditions (she says with a grimace)- I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what I will do next time around. I have learnt that however cliched and aggravating it feels, I don’t think I am ready for drama school- I don’t have enough life experience. The more I heard of the 50+ contact hours and the lack of social life, the more terrified I became. I want to drink vodka on a Wednesday night, I want to stay up all night with my friends, I want to travel and see new things. And maybe I’ll be ready next year, or the year after. This is, by no means, me giving up. This is me finding myself. This is something I need to do. I just wish it hadn’t cost me £400 in order to realise it.

Like all rejection – both in the arts industry and in any other – it’s only possible to carry on when you really love it. I could give up now just like someone else could give up after not getting a role that they really wanted. But we don’t. We cover ourselves in the rejection as if it were war paint. Because a life bereft of the liberation and euphoria I feel when performing is unthinkable. Drama school isn’t everything, without it I can still keep watching plays, attending open auditions, sharing my work with the world, trying to get representation. I can carry on growing as a performer without the £9,000 a year price tag.

Series 3 of the podcast is coming soon, including interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood and Jonjo O’Neill. Series 1 & 2 are available free on iTunes, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up interviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen

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Gemma Steele

Gemma is an ‘actor’ who hasn’t been in a single TV show, film or professional theatre production but she does make a mean Chicken Korma. Her blog – ‘Book Ends & Ticket Stubs’ – can be viewed via the link below.