Being rejected is like a bullet to the heart. It wounds you, and depending on how big the rejection, it can destabilise you and completely paralyse you. As artists, we are on a journey of self-discovery. We are trying to get seats at some of the biggest tables in the arts industry. Throughout our journey rejection, unfortunately, will be a given.
It has only been a short time since we started the Leaders of Tomorrow programme, but already I have changed my mindset on how I view myself, my abilities and accomplishments. I have applied for producer and participation roles and writing opportunities – ones I would never have before, thinking I wouldn’t stand a chance. In the past eight weeks, I have had five job interviews and gone for 12 writing opportunities. I have been confident, self-assured and, well, felt like I’ve been slaying recently. I felt ready for a change, I felt brave and – most importantly – I felt that I could go into a room and was justified in being there. I turned 36 and felt blessed and grateful.
I didn’t get any of the jobs I applied for or any of the writing commissions and at the same time, work has become increasingly challenging. I started an all-girl theatre project and no one was turning up to the sessions. It felt awful, horrible that I was rejected on 17 different occasions. 17 different theatre companies or platforms didn’t want me as well as an empty rehearsal space with no attendees and didn’t believe in me or my abilities enough to hire me or give my writing a chance. The feedback I received said ‘we liked you, but…’ ‘with just a little bit more experience…’ ‘your piece was funny and insightful but on this occasion…’. This was still a blow but getting feedback doesn’t always happen, so I felt that I should be grateful and move on.
But how do I move on and turn this around? I want to be a leading figure in the industry, make a difference and inject change and passion. How can I do that if I fail at the first few hurdles? To change my mindset on feeling like a failure – especially when I was on such a high before – took work. I had to find my mountaintop and wail out to whoever was listening to realise that this hiccup, was just that – a hiccup. It has no reflection on who I am or what I am capable of doing. My mentor reminded me of what I have done thus far. Count your blessings she said. I had successfully been awarded Arts Council funding in February and began working with Tamasha Theatre, Purple Moon Drama, Company Arts and Generation Arts on a project which created new monologue pieces for Black, Asian Ethnic Minority actors to use in auditions. The book will be published in 2018 and showcased at Soho Theatre – I achieved all this whilst I had just come out of the hospital after having my first child. OK – so my tears were drying and I was feeling better about myself. She then reminded me that I got my first commission – a script about bullying for a theatre company based in Plymouth. She said to make sure I was there opening night in December to remind myself that I do have a place in this industry and it’s far from over for me.
That did work, and I needed to think of a way to turn rejection on its head. Because even though you know all the quotes and sayings about picking yourself up after rejection, what good is that if you don’t act upon it? It was time to get creative. A lecture with Tonic Theatre founder, Lucy Kerble reminded me of something: she said that when you are waiting for something to happen, make something happen for yourself. I needed to reposition myself. I had to think about what I enjoy and do well – write for young people, advocate for them, produce theatre, create events – and then, as a way to empower myself, come up with ways to move forward from the rejections. I wrote a list of some ideas and people who I wanted to collaborate with to gain more experience so that when I go for more jobs in the future, I’m in a stronger position. I had to think: what was going my way and in my control? I relooked at the all-girls theatre project and started there. I approached a school that specialised in performing arts and asked for a meeting with the head of the department. We arranged for me to run sessions with a group of girls for six weeks and I was to use their resources to create a short piece of work for them. Instead of trying to get girls to come to where I was, I went to them. I had 15 girls sign up immediately.
The next thing I did was search around for events coming up and find out if there were any volunteering opportunities. I emailed two women who were setting up a festival where there would be speakers and networking as well as Paris Fringe Festival. I was beginning to feel more in control and excited again. A few more opportunities came up and in a short space of time, I had already potentially increased my experience and skill set.
Think differently and turn rejection into creativity:
What do you do well? Come up with a pro-list of attributes or qualifications and skills for yourself. Make yourself feel better about what you can do.
Who are in your networks? Who could you work with to put something on? Create new work? Talk through an idea?
Get a mentor. This is something I truly believe in, especially whilst working towards becoming a Leader of Tomorrow. You need someone to help focus you and make sure you are on track.
I’ve had rejection before of course, but each time it comes around it still affects me and each time I have to change my thinking. To be in this industry for the long haul is about protecting your mental health and reminding yourself constantly that you wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Making sure that any rejection is short-lived is up to you. If you’ve come this far, that’s still far enough to keep going.
This blog post was first featured on the Leaders of Tomorrow blog