My Horrible Casting Story

Photo Courtesy of Beatrice Murch – CC-BY 2.0

Casting is what really held me back as an actor. Ok. Maybe it was lack of talent or laziness. But I’m going to keep telling myself it was casting.

I fell in love with the theatre in the fourth grade. Somehow, Gene Kelly dancing in Brigadoon rocked my entire world and I wanted nothing more than to meet a beautiful Scottish girl in a magical village in the highlands and sing and dance away the years together.

I spent years doing every show I possibly could. Shows at school shows at church — I was totally hooked. And then, as a sophomore in college, one of my Theatre professors pulled me aside and pointed out that the little liberal arts college I was attending was the wrong place for someone who wanted to be an actor. If I was serious, he told me, I’d drop out and go find an acting conservatory.

It was a put up or shut up moment and I took the leap. Over the next two years, I took a college course or two, but mostly I took acting lessons, dance lessons, voice lessons and I did show after show. And between shows, I sent off applications to conservatories all over the world.

In January of 1997, I arrived in Manhatten for the first time to audition for the Julliard School. It was the logical conclusion of all of my efforts to that time. I was well prepared, and I carried with me an excellent letter of recommendation from a group one graduate (the very first class of actors to graduate from the school).

At that point, I had been performing and auditioning for nearly a decade and in all that time, I’d only been rejected once. As a general rule, I didn’t go into auditions worried that I wasn’t going to get a part. I went to auditions worried that I might not get the part I wanted. But there was this one niggling little doubt.

You see, when I’d dropped out of college, I’d auditioned for a prestigious acting workshop. It was a video audition, so I never knew who watched my tape, or even if anyone did. All I knew is that I’d never heard back. The posters announcing the audition showed big photos of the man in charge of the program. He looked serious, important and absolutely no-nonsense. In my head, this grim-faced man was the only person who had ever not cast me.

On the day of the audition, I showed up at the Kennedy Center. All the young actors were herded into a room for a warm up. Various professors moved around the room, but it was clear who was in charge: the guy. The serious no-nonsense guy who’d rejected me. He was running this show.

I tried to shake it off. It would be okay. I probably wouldn’t even audition for him. What were the odds? Less than 20%? After the warm-up, they put us all in a room and we waited to be called. I should have been okay. I knew my monologues cold. They were rich with character arcs, subtext, and surprising choices. I had brought my A game.

I don’t know how long I waited. It felt like hours. There was a kid on a bench across from me who looked like he could have been Marlon Brando’s grandchild. He was so calm, I think he fell asleep. I stewed and worried and freaked out as person after person came and went. Some of them came back happy to grab their things and leave. Others were just silent. I didn’t talk to anyone.

Finally, it was my turn. I walked into the audition and there he was. He smiled at me, but it seemed fake. Did he remember me? Was he already remembering my audition tape from two years ago and thinking, “oh no, not this clown again!” I sat down across from him and he asked me about my background. I tried to impress him with the name of my acting coach, but he didn’t know her.

Finally, I got up and did my monologues. Sort of. I said all the words. I moved in the ways I’d rehearsed. But I felt nothing but my own fear. I lost the characters entirely and made zero connection with my audience. And it was like something broke.

From that moment forward, I walked into every audition with the same sick feeling that something would go terribly wrong. Preparation didn’t matter. I would be rejected again.

Virtually every successful casting experience I had after that was someone who already knew me and what I could do. Even when auditioning for directors I knew well, I would often suddenly forget the key I was singing in and lose the text of my monologue or the lyrics to the song I was singing. My fear of auditions wrecked me.

In an odd irony, six months later, I was accepted to the prestigious acting workshop. There I sat in a room full of actors and listened to a young director explain that when you walk into an audition, the director is hoping desperately that you are the one. They want to cast you as badly, or even more badly then you want to be cast. I didn’t believe him. Not for years. But having spent my time now on the other end of the table, I know it’s absolutely true.

We were watching audition videos today from actresses trying out for the lead role in our trailer. Every time I click play, I’m thinking, “let this be the one. Please. Please. Blow me away!” I feel as though I’m on their team, cheering for them to succeed. Because, selfishly, I want to work with a really great talent.

I may never be a great actor, but I can spot one. And I hope it’s you!

Have you ever auditioned for anything? I’d love to hear your casting stories in the comments.

Am I making a difference?

What if I’m that person?

For years I’ve been working in media production with the goal of having a transforming impact on the lives of people. It’s a difficult profession, especially in my obscure little corner of the internet. I don’t have analysts who tell me how effective my work is, nor do I get a lot of feedback from individuals. Over the years, I’ve heard and evaluated a lot of philosophies.

If you were having an impact, your videos would be going viral…

It all depends on what impact means. God has certainly blessed some people with massive platforms. But I don’t think that means that everyone else isn’t called. It just means we’re called to different things.

If you were having an impact, you’d hear from people all the time about how you’ve impacted their lives…

Every now and again, I do hear from someone who’s been helped by something I worked on. That’s a great feeling. But I think it’s the wrong reason to be in the business. Matthew 6 speaks about hypocrisy but also about the work that we do to be seen…

I always come back to the simple philosophy that if God told me to make it, it’s my job to make it. I don’t have to know why. I don’t need to see the impact. I just need to trust that it was for a purpose. And if God uses it in the life of just one person… then it was all worth the effort.

A number of years ago, I made this short film on my phone:

Spoilers ahead. So give it a watch (it’s only 4 min) if that will bother you.

It tells the story of Hosea and Gomer in a modern setting. At the time, I thought it had a specific market, but that never materialized. I made it on my phone specifically for a course I was scheduled to teach on mobile phone film production (I’d never done a film on mobile before). But I didn’t really feel like it had impacted my students the way I hoped.

Three years later, it still hasn’t achieved my most conservative expectation for view count. But I’m certain God told me to make it.

For a number of years now, I’ve been wrestling deeply with my relationship with God. I know he wanted to speak to me more. I know he’s trying to communicate and I’m not listening nearly as often as I should. Year after year, I struggle to overcome all of the roadblocks I throw into the relationship, and each one he destroys just gets replaced with a new one. It’s disheartening.

Why is a relationship with God so difficult?

That sounds like a deep and profound question, but the answer reveals the lie. It’s difficult because I make it so. I don’t have to struggle to hear from God. He’s here. Present. Engaged. I’m the one getting in the way. I struggle with seeing our relationship as a job. Some days I dread connecting with him… not because it’s unpleasant. It’s incredible! I dread it because to get there I have to come face to face with me.

At the end of the film, Jade confesses her belief that she will never be faithful to Sal. No matter how hard she tries to change, she’s always going to fall back into her old life as a prostitute. He tells her, “I don’t love you because you live up to my expectations, I just love you.”

She replies, “I don’t think I can accept that.”

He says, “Then I’ll love you anyway.”

I remember when we were shooting the film, one of the girls working on set exclaimed, “Who loves like this?” It’s so extravagant. It feels impossible.

Over and over again this year, God has echoed those words to me as I’ve wrestled with my own struggles. “I’ll love you anyway.”

It’s funny because when I was writing the script, I felt like her position was almost unimaginable. Who would ever turn that kind of love away? The answer is that I would and do, almost daily. Though I couldn’t see that at the time.

What if that film really was made for just one person? And what if I’m that person?

Do you ever struggle to accept God’s love? Do you ever wonder if you’re making a difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


My Uneasy Relationship With Modern Worship Music

I don’t want to ignite a “hymns vs modern” worship music debate. I think those are silly. My wife is a devout lover of worship music and listens to almost nothing else. My son is a worship leader and one of my daughters leads worship periodically. We attend a church which does modern worship extremely well and I’ve experienced for myself how the right worship song can move me emotionally and position my heart for worship.

Today, we were visiting the international church which meets very near our home. The guy leading worship is a friend and he did a great job. We were singing “The Stand” by John Houston. It has some great and moving lyrics. But the chorus always troubles me:

So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned…

There are moments when this is easy. When I’m there. But those are rare. One of my beefs with modern worship is the performance aspect. I’ve often wondered if worship wouldn’t be more easily facilitated with the band in the balcony behind me and nothing but a plain screen with lyrics in front of me. I’ve certainly talked with a few people over the years who have been distracted by a worship leader because of the way they dressed, behaved, how attractive they were, their tattoos… whatever. And, don’t hear the wrong thing here. I’m not saying churches should hire attractive, tattooed worship leaders or anything like that. I’ve also talked with plenty of worship leaders who were themselves distracted by the performance, losing focus on God and putting on a concert for the faithful…

The devil doesn’t really want us to worship, and he’ll seize at every opportunity we give him to derail us.

There is a peer pressure that often manifests in worship. I don’t ever remember it in the hymn singing of my childhood, but maybe it was there. (I can remember a time or two in high school competing with friends to see who could do better sight-singing their harmony part from the hymnal.) I feel like the pressure to get into worship in some visible way is high, and I’ve talked with enough other folks — especially young people — to know that this can be really derailing.

So there I was today, singing that I would stand with my arms in the air and my heart abandoned… but I didn’t feel like God wanted my arms in the air at that moment, and my ability to abandon my heart was utterly stymied by the sudden conflict between my feeling of pressure from all the eyes behind me when my arms weren’t going up, and my desire to follow the leading of the Spirit as I felt it. I’m confident no one intended that conflict to befall me, but I wonder how often others feel this same way. When a worship song says we’re on our knees before the Lord, we don’t kneel, but doesn’t it feel odd to sing it then?

Don’t get me wrong. I know almost everything I’m sharing here is about me and the condition of my heart and has little or nothing to do with the type of music or how the worship is being led. If you hear me suggesting there’s anyone to blame other than myself, you’re hearing me wrong. I’m just musing. What if it were different?

I wonder, what would it be like to turn the lights down, close our eyes, and worship in community. To have the band play from a part of the room we can’t easily see. What do you think? Do you ever long for a different experience of worship?

Slaying the Most Evil of Dragons: Project Organization

Today, Alex the Intern revolutionized our productivity. One of my struggles as a creative is to stay organized and track a vast number of tasks. “Struggle” may actually be a colossal understatement. My organizational skills are slightly less developed than my actual dragon slaying skills. Unfortunately, I get called to use them far more frequently.

I do okay with traditional to-do lists, but they aren’t great for helping me to see the shape of a project. Or to break down tasks into their component parts.

Alex took the work we need to accomplish over the next six weeks and laid it out into several projects in MeisterTask. They aren’t paying me for an endorsement, and I haven’t even used their product for a whole 24 hours yet, but I’m already really excited at my ability to see the project as a whole, break individual tasks down into checklists, and assign tasks to various members of the team. (I’ll admit, I’m less thrilled with Alex’s ability to assign tasks to me. Who told him he could do that?)

So far, I’ve not found a way to deal with daily tasks, but I presume that’s more the learning curve than a lack of capability. I’m also still on the fence about the candy crush aesthetic. Could I pick my own colors?

What tools have you found to help you organize your creative endeavors?