On Rejection (Again)

Some people have commented to me, at workshops or online or in person, that how cool I appeared to be with regard to rejections. That I was able to look at the big picture and keep my eyes on the end goal.

The truth is, it isn't always that way. Yes, through experience, I have gained some understanding of what rejections mean and how to handle them, because as an actor, I've been through many rejections. I've had my fair share of rejections as a writer, but in comparison, I've had much better success with my writing than with my acting, especially as I started out.

I used to take rejections rather harshly.

It came with expectations. The more I expect to get something, the more crushed I became. As an actor, I know my limitation and where my talent is. I must be totally delussional if I thought I would be the next Lawrence Olivier or Chow Yun-Fat. So I wouldn't be crushed if I lost a juicy part -- I didn't have enough passion to accept that challenge anyway, had I won it. However, I do have a certain look and certain special skills and when I am up for a part that seems perfect for me, naturally my hopes and expectations go up. And that's when a rejection hits the hardest.

I had it easy. Really. They say for every 25 auditions, you may get a job. I got my first real (paying) acting gig almost immediately, playing Henry in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of South Pacific, directed by Rob Marshall. I was star-struck, and I felt lucky. At the same time, I felt like maybe I could do this. I didn't quite realize I wasn't the best person for the job, but fate led me to the role, and I was the only person available at that time -- they needed an Asian actor in my age range who could speak some French. I happened upon the right opportunity at the right time, and I took it. It's not to say I didn't work hard on it; I worked very hard. I spent three weeks learning French, and I delivered those lines perfectly. Even my co-stars told me I spoke wonderfully, like a real Frenchman would. I was proud.

But this pride also jaded me. I didn't realize much of what I had accomplished had more to do with my looks and ethnicity than my actual talent. I was no actor.

The problem is, I got my second break almost immediately after the CLO show. I got cast in the movie, Roommates, playing a Chinese graduate school student. That must have been my fourth audition to date, and I got the part. What's all the talk about this being difficult? I became cocky.

Until I got a rejection. Then the next one. Then the next. Then the next. I started to realize I wasn't a very good actor. It hit me hard, to know that I had been cruising on my looks and I had been lucky. I got these roles because I was one of the few Asian actors in town -- there was always a 50/50 chance I would get the role. But as more and more Asian actors came, with real talent, I needed more than just luck.

The hardest rejection came when I auditioned for the role of Lun Tha in The King and I. I really thought I nailed it. I sang beautifully and the casting director was impressed. I had two callbacks and was asked to sing to the director. But I became cocky. I thought I had the role for sure, and I didn't give it my best at the final callback. I started to think, "Oh, maybe I could do it this way and show them my range." So instead of using my normal voice, I sang like a pop star -- because I thought that was what they would like to hear. I goofed. I ended up not showing my best voice, and the casting director later asked me why. I shrugged and couldn't answer.

I still thought I had a chance though, because I thought I was simply perfect for the role. I was cute. I was young. And by God I could sing. What's not to love, even if I goofed at the callback?

Weeks went by and I didn't hear anything, and I got upset. I called the production company and heard that they had cast the role, and they gave it to an Indian actor from a local college. I fumed. I wrote a scathing letter to the director and asked him why, because he made it sound like I was the sure thing. Days later he wrote back, apologizing for not letting me know, but also telling me something that humbled me...

He said, "Ray, you're a great singer and I love your voice. And if I had a choice I would have cast you, and I would like to cast you in my next production of Auntie Mame, but you know what? You have to work hard. You have to hone your skills, and you have to believe in yourself and do your best everytime you put yourself out there. It doesn't matter if it's a rehearsal or an audition or a performance. Every time, it's real. You have to give it all and believe in what you're doing. You have to know your abilities and your limitations, who you are and who you are not. And don't expect people to give you anything back."

To some people, acting is their life. They breathe it; they live it. They'd die before they give up their craft, and they don't expect someone to give them a break just because. They know they have to earn it and even if nothing happens, they will still do it until they die. That's the kind of passion that drives people either to success or insanity, but that's the kind of passion I lack when it comes to acting. And people with such passion and talent will beat me every time at auditions.

I still act, and have had minor successes. But I now know it's not where my passion lies, and the experiences of all these rejections have taught me a valuable lession: You've gotta love what you do and do what you love without expecting someone to reward you for your effort. Because the only thing you can control is how well you do something, not how someone else will treat you, or whether you have talent at all. But when you do what you love, it may become irrelevant whether someone else loves what you do. Because you will be happy.

The truth is, if you truly love what you do and do what you love, good things will follow you. It's inevitable. It's a tautology. And before someone calls me out and says, "Bullshit, what about all these artists and writers who suffered for their art and died penniless?" I have an answer for that, but I am not sure if it's an answer you'd like to hear.


Zonk said…
You've been Tagged. :-}

Blame Dawno, she started it, lol
You have to share 5 little-known facts about yourself, and then ask 5 other Bloggers to do the same.


Good post, btw. I stop by here often, but don't post much...
Anonymous said…
oh no, you little bugger...

Ann Onymous ;)
Anonymous said…
Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing your experiences with acting, and I agree wholeheartedly with "If you love what you do and do what you love, good things will follow you."
Ray Wong said…
Thanks thomma lyn!
Unique said…
Hello? Is there anybody home? I'm looking for Ray. Have you seen him? He's supposed to be doing something but he won't tell any of his friends what it is. They are getting really impatient for his return.

Would you give him a message for us?

Kathy said…
Hi Ray,

Enjoyed this blog entry. I've been writing for the newspaper and I talked to the editor recently at his home. He ended up saying something like, "You need to have more confidence." That kinda bothered me at first but I went home and thought about it. In my case, I wasn't demonstrating ENOUGH confidence when I was talking about my wriitng. So now I'll make sure I watch that.

Come back soon to AW. There is an empty space.
Ray Wong said…
hi Unique and Kathy! We should have a mini gathering here. :)
Ray Wong said…
Maybe it's time for a funeral for Ray at AW...

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