"Some actors just have an inherent star quality. When I'm watching an audition, I think, "Is that actor going to make me stop flipping through channels?" Basically, someone who has immense watchablility in combination with acting ability and confidence. The truth of it is, when producers and networks set out to cast a show, there's always a bit of insecurity about being able to find the right person. I believe part of the actor's job is to show us his or her confidence in doing the role." - Marcia Shulman, Casting Director
(This is PART THREE of the interview with Yale graduate Bryce Pinkham. Click HERE to read PART ONE and HERE to read PART TWO. This interview was conducted at Cellini Restaurant on E. 54th St. in New York City on January 6, 2012, and was lovingly transcribed by my mother, Dorothy Wilcox. Thanks, MOM!)
(Bryce Pinkham...on Bway in Ghost:The Musical.)
Virginia: So at this point in your career, you’ve gotten the chance to work with a lot of great people on different projects, at school and outside of school. And how much do you feel that this idea of embracing failure or leaning into fear, rather than pushing away from it,.... you know, that kind of an attitude, is a factor in being successful in a career as an actor?
Bryce: I think it works differently for different people. But I think any actor that you respect as an artist would be able to rattle off numerous times that they were terrible or felt like a failure. I think that it’s inherent in the attempt. And I think for people who can’t admit that or those that fail to rearrange their relationship or value towards failure, that it can be difficult because – listen, we talked about auditioning. We fail 90% of the time by the numbers. I don’t even know what the numbers are – one out of ten, who knows? I’ve failed more times than jobs that I’ve had. The entire number of jobs that I’ve had in three years out of grad school, it doesn’t match up to the number of jobs that I’ve failed to get in one year. So, you know, proportionately it makes sense to make friends with that part of the job. And I think there are plenty of people who do it and do it well. So it relaxes you. A lot of this stuff you learn in grad school, it relaxes you so that you can allow your most honest moments to come up and come out and so that you can express something unique as opposed to shaping something that you think is what the audience or the director or your scene partner wants to see in you.
So I think rearranging you position on failure relaxes you because you realize it’s inevitable. So you don’t have to wait and say, "Well, what if this is the one where I fail?" Well, chances are I will, so why don’t I just enjoy the pursuit and also do the thing I really want to do. What’s the thing in this audition or in this performance of a character that excites me, that I want to work on, that I want to explore as an artist? Because in the end, you know, that’s what you get out of it...
And truth be told -- in certain situations failure is not an option, right? I mean, there are different levels of it. I’m not saying it’s okay to go out on a Broadway stage and suck. But it’s okay to out on a Broadway AUDITION and suck and say, "That was terrible, wasn’t it, can I try again? ‘Cause I know I can do it better than that. That was just messy." So there’s a difference, to be clear.
Virginia: I was reading a blog from this great blogger that I really enjoy, Seth Godin. He’s really into business and marketing and things like that, you know, entrepreneurialism and the tech world. And you know, those startups fail all the time. People start a new business and it fails and they learn from it and they go on and start a different one and it fails. So it’s very similar to the acting world in the way, that you know you're going in with this idea, this dream, this vision of what you want to create and you have to get other people on board with it and sometimes it’s awesome and sometimes it’s terrible. You know, we as artists have to do that all the time...get these people on board. And Seth was talking about, in one of his blogs, the difference between mistakes and failure. He’s like, you want to avoid mistakes and you want to embrace failure. I think in our work as actors, you want to walk into an audition trying to avoid the mistakes.... but big-time embracing the failure... because that’s the thing that’s going to help you to succeed – I love what you said about bringing that uniqueness to it. You’re not there to get it RIGHT. You’re there to bring whatever it is that you feel that you can uniquely bring to that job. And if you’re so busy trying to get it "right" that you don’t bring that uniqueness... then, you know, that’s a MISTAKE.
Bryce: Well, as it relates to grad school auditions, I think if you try, as I said, embracing the ridiculousness of the whole thing, if you take a minute and think, okay, Yale sees this many auditions a year and this is the number that they take, these are my odds. If you really take that seriously, you probably wouldn’t even walk in the room. And it’s the reason that half the people that do walk in the rooms are not interesting the minute they walk in because they’re already apologizing for the fact that they don’t think they’re right, or they don’t think they’re what the school is looking for...as opposed to people who walk in and say, well, I may go down but I’m going to go down in flames. That’s not from me. That’s from a teacher of mine who said that to us, I think, on our first day of grad school. He said, "You’re going to go down, but it’s your choice whether or not to go down in flames." So I try to do that as much as I can bear.
Virginia: So you try to go down in flames as often as possible? :)
Bryce: If I’m going down, yes. I say if I’m going to make a choice that could be "wrong" or "not what they’re looking for," at least it’s going to be a strong choice. It’s going to be a BOLD choice. I’m not going to hint at making a choice. I’m going to make it, and then if they say, "You know what, that was not really what we were looking for. Could you try this?" I’m going to say, "Absolutely. Sure. Let me just ditch that terrible choice that I made and then I’d be happy to do whatever you’d like."
This is something else for auditioning I try to embody... This is something I learned I think from Joanna Merlin’s book about auditioning way back in undergrad. I read about treating the audition as if it is actually a party that you’re hosting and everyone there is looking to you for their enjoyment, but you’re also a little bit in charge, not even a little bit, YOU'RE IN CHARGE. The minute you walk into the room you say, "Oh thank you for all joining me at my party, and what can I get you? Would you like a song first? Would you like me to do a scene that I’ve prepared for you first? Oh, you would? Excellent choice. I’ve prepared this beautiful little cake of a scene and you can have a piece now. There’s more of it if you’d like, but please don’t feel you have to eat it all. I’ve also got a song, if you’d like to hear that. I’m very proud of it." And even the best party hosts [have bad days], maybe the cake is burned and the punch is, you know, bad... But the way they present it is half the battle, I think. I always tell people when I’m coaching them for specific auditions, not necessarily for grad school but for more professional stuff, you don’t have to get out of the room right away. Nobody leaves their own party until they're done. I’m not saying... refuse to leave. But what I’m saying is... you don’t have to finish, [speaks very quickly] okay, thank you so much for seeing me. I’m outta here! [slows down, speaking pleasantly, calmly] Thank you so much. Can I get you anything else?...It’s just a different sort of –
Virginia: -- attitude.
Bryce: -- yeah, it’s a different way of approaching the entire thing. And it’s also a way of approaching people when you show up. TAKE YOUR TIME.... I mean, I take my time, and I say hi to everybody in the room. I look them in the eyes. I say hello. Or if it feels like it’s something that’s moving along, I try not to overstay my welcome. But I try not to let people rush me.
Virginia: Right. It’s your moment.
Bryce: Right. I prepared. I spent hours out of my precious time preparing for this. And whether or not you’ve already decided that I’m not the one for this part, that’s fine. That’s you. But for me, I’ve prepared the song, and I’m going to sing it. If you want to stop me in the middle of it, I’m fine with that because "I’m the party host," and I say, "Oh, sure, I’m sorry that was not exactly what you were hoping for. But my intent is that you’re going to eat all of the cake, and you’re going to love it... ‘cause I took time to make it."
Virginia: I love that.
Bryce: And I’m proud of that cake I made... That’s the other thing I always tell people, and this is important in the clown work– and I think I‘ve told you this before – in choosing material, never bring something into the room that you’re not proud of because we can tell. Even if it’s the mangiest little gift, you know, the little burned cake... But if you made it yourself and it’s one you’re proud of, it’s one YOU LIKE, it’s going to taste that much better to us, rather than the one you bought at Whole Foods... And it’s going to mean that much more to us, that you brought it and you thought about it. "I bet they’d really like this special nut cake. I’m not exactly sure how to do it, but I’m going to try." As opposed to, "Well, I could just pick up an ice cream cake at Baskin Robbins." -- to put in a youthful reference, 31 Flavors.
Bryce: So yeah, I hope that’s helpful.
Virginia: Oh, my gosh, that’s fantastic!...This is just a fun little question not really related to grad school. What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self if you could send yourself a little note back in time?
Bryce: Stretch, start stretching, stretch.
Virginia: Like physically stretching?
Bryce: Stretch yourself every day. I hated stretching. I was an athlete and I just hated warming up. And I hated stretching. And I would go back, and I would really slap myself around and I would say–
Virginia: Learn to love it.
Bryce: Yeah, learn to love it. Get used to the pleasure/pain of it and stretch yourself. I would also tell myself to learn piano. Yeah, I mean, there are technical things like that.... Hmmm, 16.... I’m trying to think of advice or criticism....I’m pretty happy with where 16-year-old me got me, so I wouldn’t want him to do anything that much different.
Virginia: Well, there ya go!
Bryce: Other than... not worry maybe so much about it. There’s a healthy amount of worry and then there’s an unhealthy amount...When you get in to "living in the details" as opposed to seeing a slightly bigger picture...Which is what I still say that to my 29-year-old self right now.
Bryce: You know, sometimes you have to really marvel at the fact that we’re even able to do something as ridiculous as follow a dream like this. There are people in our world that... it’s just inconceivable to them. You have to remind yourself of that. Even when it’s not working out, it’s a privilege to even get to TRY and to have the means and the support from family and friends and everything. To be able to do it, you know what I mean?
Virginia: Yes! <3
Bryce: I would say,... You know what? BE HUMBLE... because the fact that you’re even thinking about going to college is a big deal. That’s a BIG DEAL, going to college. Families go whole generations without sending somebody to college, so take none of it lightly.
(More to come...tomorrow. Hope you're enjoying the conversation!)
"Stretch, stretch, stretch to see every perspective and nothing will keep you from joy." - Mike Dooley