To all the performers out there:

We get into a room and say: ‘judge me! I’m going to sing, dance and act and you can decide if you think I’m right for your project based on how I look and the amount of talent I can offer you on this day at this time.’ I might have woken up at 4am this morning to get my name on the unofficial list. Or I might have slept 8 hours and gone to the gym before this audition. Either way, you don’t know or care, and it doesn’t matter because at the end of my two minutes (maybe) in the room, you will either ask me back, or it will be the end of the road for a ‘job that could have been’. It’s not always fair, but that’s just the way it works.

Audition season. We put ourselves through it over and over again with the hope of becoming ‘booked and blessed’. It can be exciting and inspirational; a chance to learn, grow and book a job. Or it can be an uphill battle that makes you want to give up your greatest love – performing – altogether. It is an aspect of the industry we accept and partake in, but at what personal cost?

We exist in a space where rejection is statistically more probable than not. 

Photo by James Jin Images

We compete for approval but at the end of the day, whether successful or not, we need to go home and reinstall the notion that our self worth is not dictated but how valuable someone else deems us to be. We try to remind ourselves that we are talented, and do have something to offer, even when earlier you tried to prove it but were removed from consideration. We need to be continually prepared, eager and ready to jump though all the hoops for the job, but simultaneously remain grounded in the realities of the industry. The whole thing can feel like emotional whiplash.

Sometimes if rejections are all the audition season gives us, we lose sight of our value and start to wonder if there is any truth to the positive self-talk we initiated at the start of the season. ‘Failure’ after ‘failure’ adds up. The self talk can so easily become ‘I’m not good enough’ instead of correctly ‘I wasn’t what they were looking for’ … and even then WHY wasn’t I what they were looking for? Was I too tall? What if I lost some weight? Am I the wrong voice type? Did I choose the wrong monologue? – nine times out of ten you’ll never know.

I see so many talented TALENTED people get passed up for jobs, or not even make it into the audition room because of typing or the sheer magnitude of people that have shown up. I see friends doubt themselves and become exhausted by constantly putting in their all for no result. I see friends who are stressed and disappointed because they won’t be seen before they need to leave for work. I see friends take a step back from the industry for a while to re-group and regain the healthy mental state they lost amidst the demands, intensity and failures of the audition season. I know that these issues are not only prevalent in the US Theatre industry, I also have friends at home in Australia who struggle with the same realities. Although the availability of work there is improving, I know many suffer a more intense pressure due to the limited auditions each year.

I’m not angry and I’m not saying things NEED to change. It would be nice if they would, but when you consider the amount of performers both working and trying to break into the industry in relation to the jobs available, it seems impossible that things will improve. 

I was fortunate to receive an Artist visa which enabled me to work in the US for four years. As thrilling as the opportunities were that the visa afforded me, it was limiting in terms of the type of work I could audition for and accept. I also couldn’t legally accept any ‘survival jobs’ in any other industry to earn money between contracts. So I set my sights on a Green Card. This would enable me to join Actors Equity and start auditioning for Broadway shows – to take those next crucial steps to advance my career in the US. For four years I worked hard. I went to all the open calls, I sent all the video submissions, I spent hours waiting in the ‘non eq’ section of the AEA building, as so many of us do, hoping to get seen. Four years, some National and International Tours and regional contracts later, and my immigration lawyer agreed that I had achieved enough within my field to apply for the Green Card.

I was sitting in a bar in Hell’s Kitchen with two friends I met working on A Chorus Line when I received an e-mail from my lawyer just after midnight: “… a decision was made on the application, and to be upfront it is not the approval we were hoping for…”. Four years of work, months of administration, thousands of dollars and sacrifices later; and an Immigration Officer sitting in an office somewhere with probably little to no knowledge of the industry had decided that I was not good enough to be granted approval. 

I cried. I cried for what felt like an hour as my two friends silently comforted me, they too knowing all I had gone through to arrive at this point. It was the kind of cry that came from your core, the kind where you feel like you might throw up due to how deeply every part of you is absorbing your heartbreak. It wasn’t the end of the world, worse things have certainly happened. But for me, in that moment, it was. 

We walked through the city to Columbus Circle. It was a little more quiet than usual around 1am, and I found myself seeing the city as if for the first time again. I didn’t know if or when I’d be back. I had to take it all in one last time. The significance of my flight home the next day had changed in an instant. It was no longer going to be a short break out of town, but a certain departure from everyone I knew and loved and every plan for the future I had made. I’d told all my friends I would see them soon, and suddenly I didn’t know when ‘soon’ was. All of my belongings remain in a storage unit on 12th Avenue where they’ve lived for the past four years as I’ve travelled in and out of New York for work. I didn’t have time to think about unpacking it or sending things home. All I could do was take what I needed and leave with the intention of one day coming back to collect the rest of my life. Australia will always be my home, but after moving to New York to study when I was eighteen, I had started to build my life and career there.

I left New York the next day defeated but hopeful. Maybe even a little relieved by the fact that everything I did was no longer governed by the ultimate goal of a successful Green Card application. I had done everything I could to ensure my approval, but the final decision was out of my hands. I landed in Australia and wrote Extraordinary in an effort to rebuild my shattered confidence in my ability and all that I was able to achieve over those four years. The idea for the song started from a place of hurt, but I wrote it from a place of healing. I hope it reminds you of your worth even in your darkest hours and can permeate the parts of your heart that are still feeling rejected. Take comfort in the fact that we’ve all been there, but in time we can all bounce back and rise again. 

Have courage. You’ll be ok, I promise.

Performers are so much more than what we do on stage, and I don’t think that is something that everyone realises or appreciates. So often we celebrate the big victories; the National Tour or Broadway contract that we have always dreamt of. But what about the little victories? Showing up to the audition, being able to persist through the season, recognising when you need to step away for a while? 

My little victory was landing back home with a feeling of peace, knowing that despite the heartbreak and lost dreams of the past 24 hours, I was exactly where I was meant to be.

So the next time you get into the audition room and say ‘Judge me!’, say it with a quiet confidence. Know well, that no matter what the outcome, just making it through each day in this WONDERFUL and crazy industry makes you extraordinary. 

Extraordinary from KAHLIA’s debut EP ‘The First One’ is available on: iTunes, Apple Music & Spotify.