I’ve told some of my classes this story, but right now it seems most pertinent. A little over a month ago, Gavin was auditioning for The Sound Inside at the Tony Award winning Pasadena Playhouse. According to casting, thousands of actors auditioned, which is a little unusual unless taking into consideration the Hollywood actor’s strike and the number of actors currently looking for work. Stage work falls under Actors’ Equity Association, not Screen Actors Guild, so there are no restrictions.
Gavin was originally asked to submit a self-tape; shortly after, he was asked to audition in-person in Pasadena, California. This required Gavin to pay for a hotel room and gas to get back and forth to the in-person audition. Between gas, food, and lodging he probably spent around $500 just for a callback. A few weeks after, he was asked to do a chemistry read over Zoom with the woman who would be playing opposite him, Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy, Heat, The Old Man, Fear). The director couldn’t have been more positive in his feedback about the audition. But when it was all said and done, the role went to Anders Keith, a relatively unknown actor who will soon come to prominence through his role in the reboot of Frasier (a role Gavin also auditioned for).
Ouch. That one stung a little. Have you ever been down to the last three actors for a role and spent over $500 of your own money on a callback? Have you ever been willing to relocate to another city, knowing full well that you would lose more money than you would make if you got the job? Have you ever thought, I don’t care about the money; I just want to work opposite of that actor because of all that I could learn working with them? And then, with all of that on the line, money spent, and the emotional investment made, the answer is, “Casting loved you, the director loved you, Amy loved you. We’re all big fans of your work, but we’re going in another direction.”
I guess that’s our sign! The heavens must be sending a message: It’s time to quit!
But that’s not how it works in my family. There is no “quit,” because quitting is losing and we don’t lose, we only win or learn.
After we took about 24 hours to feel disappointed and let the sting fade, we went to work on what we needed to learn from this experience. So, we reached out to casting through Gavin’s manager to find out if there was anything he could have done better so that he can work on that for future auditions. The answer was, “Nope. He was great. Nothing to work on.” Wait?! What?! The answer to, “Could Gavin have done something better?” was, “NOPE.” What?! Well, that certainly helps us in no way whatsoever.
Maybe we should investigate this Anders Keith fellow, the one who got the role. What’s his background? That’s exactly what we did, and here’s what we found:
So, Gavin got down to the end with none of those connections or credits? What?! That rocks! Wait, no! We can’t just stop there. While it feels good to know he can compete against some pretty overwhelming odds, the question became, “What can we actually do with all of this information?” Training. While I’m a member of AEA, SDC, and have my MFA in Directing and my wife, Colleen, is a member of AEA and has an MFA from BYU in Theatre for Young Audiences we needed to figure out how to get Gavin more training that went beyond what we could offer.
Like any father, I want my son to be successful in whatever he chooses to pursue—which means he needs to work with the right people, the ones who can get him where he wants to go. The sad news is that those people don’t exist in Utah. Honestly, if I thought there was anyone here who could give him an edge, and not create bad habits and diminish his chances, I would have sent him there already.
Colleen figured it out! One of Anders’ professors at The Julliard school offers workshops in New York City! Yes, it’s going to be expensive. No, we can’t afford it. But Gavin booked the class, the hotel, and the plane tickets and we’re headed off to New York this coming Wednesday. While I’m there, I will be meeting with faculty from The Julliard School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Every night after Gavin’s workshops I’m going to grill him on what he learned. When this adventure is over, we’re going to turn this chapter of our lives into something productive. I can’t wait to come back and share everything I learn.
I couldn’t be more grateful for the word, “Nope” because it served to remind me that “nope” can sometimes lead to “quit.” But if you really want something there should never be a “quit.” Quitting is losing and you can’t lose if you get back up and try again. If you get back up, you only win or learn.
"Success leaves clues. People who succeed at the highest level are doing something differently than everyone else does." - Tony Robbins
What do you want to do? Who has been extremely successful in that area? How can you learn from their journey?
My father was in the military, and we moved a lot when I was a kid. I don't think I stayed in one location for more than two years. When I was twelve, we moved to Mesa, Arizona. That year I attended Mesa Junior High, and like most kids my age I had a P.E. class. One day we were outside, and the teacher put us on the basketball court, gave us a ball, and said, "Choose teams and play." I was pretty small then, and I was new—which didn't help get chosen early in the team selection process. But, even with all of that going against me, I got picked! The very first play of the game, my team had the ball. I got the first pass of the game, and I immediately put the ball under my arm and started to run. I didn't know how to play basketball at that time, and I didn't know dribbling was involved. They stopped the game, replaced me with someone else, and I was never selected for a team again at good old Mesa Junior.
I was so embarrassed; I swore to myself that that would never happen again. So, I saved up my money, bought a basketball, and practiced every day. I started watching professional basketball on television and began to learn a few things. I did my best to interpret what I saw and use it in my own game. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving (Dr. J.) were three of the biggest names in professional basketball at the time, so I spent every moment, that my parents would allow, sitting in front of the television watching them play. I even rented instructional videos and read books about them. If Dr. J. spent his entire summer as a kid on an outdoor basketball court, refining his skills, so would I. I'd pack a lunch, just like him, and play as long as the sun was up.
When I was 15, we moved to San Diego. I volunteered to be a ball boy for the Junipero Serra High School's varsity team, mostly so that I could listen to the coach and learn everything I could. I loved it! I took everything I heard and tried to apply it to myself. The local church let me have a key to the building, so I could get up early to play for two hours before school. After school, I would scrimmage after practice with the varsity team. It wasn't long before the coach saw me playing and said, "You really need to try out for the team next year. I think I've got a place for you." I couldn't believe it. He thought I had what it took to play! I certainly put in the time, but I hadn't considered what it might eventually mean. I just didn't ever want to feel embarrassed like I did that day at Mesa Jr. What began as a painful memory led me to fall in love with a game that I played almost every day after. I played, not because I wanted to make the team, but because I wanted to play and be as good as I possibly could be when I was on the court.
Eventually, I shifted my focus from basketball to theatre. It’s not that I don't look back with gratitude for what the game of basketball taught me. I'm still just as driven as I was then, and I still do everything I can to get better by engaging in "higher level" work—all thanks to basketball. Similar to how I spent hours studying high-level players in basketball, I've spent countless hours studying productions by Bartlett Sher, Diane Paulus, Julie Taymor, and Peter Brook. It's like I'm studying their game. I've read articles and books about how they approach the art form, and I've become a much better artist. In fact, I've found myself fortunate enough to be chosen for some theatre teams including Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) and Actors' Equity Association (AEA). These are the professional unions for actors and directors—like the NBA of theatre. I learned enough to turn pro! These teams have offered some incredible opportunities, but for right now I'm choosing to invest my skills in my son and my students. This is where I choose to be because this is where I think I can make the greatest impact.
So, I'm curious. How far do you want to go with your art form? Who are you studying? Are you studying the best, or are you happy enough just playing against the other kids from the neighborhood? (If that's the case, please remember not to put the ball under your arm and run.)
Every high-level performer studies someone.
Idina Menzel studied Barbara Streisand who studied Eleanora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt.
Robin Williams studied Jonathan Winters who studied Charlie Chaplin.
Daniel Day-Lewis studied Robert De Niro who studied Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Kobe Bryant studied Michael Jordan who studied David Thompson.
Success leaves clues. Who are you studying?
* MFA - Directing, Arizona State University