Coping with “NO” as a “YES! And” Artist

I write this blog with all of my students and colleagues in mind. We do amazing work in class, rehearsal and on stage. Inside our insular bubble we create an amazing world of support, that leads to great creativity.

But many of my students, and I hope ALL of my colleagues, are out there auditioning for professional projects now. Many of my students have booked minor roles on student films, reality/talk show segments, etc. One of my students has already booked a few gigs, including their first co-star role on a series (something I did not do till my late thirties. #noregrets lol).

improv 4 kids

You cannot succeed in this business without putting yourself out there. You have to audition. You have to go after the prize.

And when you put yourself out there, there will be pain. You will get “NO” from many casting directors.

“Don’t call us, We’ll Call you”

In order to succeed in this business there is only one trick. NEVER GIVE UP.

I can almost guarantee this world will not be what you expect. Of all the artists that pursue the path of their dreams, the numbers are small that see a straight path to success as planned. Most of us see a series of twists and turns and many obstacles and many “No”s.

You have to hear every “NO” as “Not Yet” or “Not This Time”. You have to bounce back. Separate the artist from the art. YOU are good enough just as you are, even if not good enough yet for the role your auditioning.

Most of the time it is not an issue of your talent or possible lack there of. You cannot – NEVER – second guess a casting director or producing team. That is the source of depression and insanity.

The casting process is not easy. Once money is involved, the casting director has a lot of pressure to put the perfect cast together. Talent is only a small factor. Your role is a piece of a much larger puzzle.

You have to assume that at this level, everyone auditioning has talent. This is not high school theater any more where you have 1 or 2 really talented folks and bunch of good enough for high school theater types that just want to have some fun pretending to be Broadway performers for a few months.

There are 1000s of high schools in America alone. Each one sends 1-2 performers to college every year. Every year 1000s of college grads travel to New York or LA in search for a dream. And maybe 100 stay after the first year. Many leave after a month. New York is certainly not for everyone. Neither is LA. There is a reason why you can travel all around this country and find amazingly talented folks working in regional theater. Many more Lawyers, Real Estate Brokers and Teachers performing in community theater to satisfy the bug while pursuing other careers to support the family. The numbers game is more against you than on your side.

At any one audition, there are 10-1000 artists auditioning for the exact same role. The odds are against you. Parents are absolutely right in trying to get you into business school instead of the theater program at college. They may be killing your dreams, but they are right in saying that is the smarter choice (for most), knowing all they know about the world.

Did I discourage you from being an artist (actor, sing, dancer, writer etc etc etc) yet?


OK, then read on…

I think there is a reason I did not book my first major TV booking till my late 30s. Well, many reasons.

  1. In my beginning years in Washington DC, and when I finally moved to New York in 1997, I never auditioned for TV/FILM. I did work in Dinner Theater and other live Projects. Meanwhile I was studying to be an Opera Singer with Denis Striney.
  2. When I moved to New York, I was unfocused. I was thinking Opera and or Broadway, not as a showBIZ person. I considered the BIZ side too little.
  3. I was arrogant. I thought I knew better than those that have been in the BIZ for decades. I did not want to play the “game”
  4. I gave up for a while. Not on my dreams, but I gave up on auditioning. I was working 60-hours/week as a waiter to pay the bills. I was too tired to audition, and the few I did, were terrible because of exhaustion.
  5. Every audition I went to I saw as the answer to all my problems. THIS is the acting job that will get me out of restaurants for good. THIS is the next step to an amazing career singing and acting… It was desperation, not careful planning, and audition preparation. By this point I was not thinking like an artist OR a showBIZ person. Every “NO” was a nail in the artistic coffin.

So how did I ever get to the place where I now work solely as an artist. Long Story Short? I hit rock bottom. I had nothing to lose.

My first audition back, almost three years later, I booked Fiddler on the Roof at Gateway Playhouse on Long Island – 6 weeks of summer stock work. While rehearsing/performing Fiddler, I would travel back to the city with my new acting friends and auditioned some more. That fall I was on tour with Scarlet Pimpernel.

What changed. I stopped being the arrogant jerk that “Knew” everything. I went back to being the baby that knew nothing. I listened to every conversation by artists in the shows, rehearsals and auditions. I listened to the good, the bad and the ugly. I watched how those bragging about success moved, I studied how the unsuccessful brooded.

Something happens when you play the baby that knows nothing but eager to learn. Artists love to talk, share, mentor etc. The stars on Fiddler had both been on Broadway. They both saw my eagerness. I never asked for help, but they both just started sharing. I still believe there is no better classroom than working with other artists.

By the end of that year, Laurice and I performed the first show under the banner, EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH. Over the course of the next two years we figured out what that would eventually mean today.

It’s now 2006. Improv comedy is my full time gig – not overly successful yet, but not starving either. Performing at the NY Improv (now the Broadway Comedy Club, our current home at 318 West 53rd Street), Eric Hanson (still there and my best friend when we need catering for corporate events) comes running upstairs from the office. “MTV needs a fat guy with a hairy back.” Next day I was on set for my first TV gig. Did not even audition. It was a quick phone call. One very awkward day later I have a TV credit on my resume.

Now it’s 2007. I started sending out postcards to casting directors. Around 11am on a Monday morning, I was still in bed when the phone rang. “Hello, this is Late Nite with David Letterman. Would you like to be on TV tonight? I need you here in an hour for costuming” I jumped in a cab stinky. That night I walked a horse across stage. On the way out “Can you ride a bike?” The following week I rode a bike across stage. In fact after that Monday 4:30-5:30p episode taping, they said “Stick around, we may use you for Friday’s episode too” (Which filmed Monday at 7pm.). At 7:10 they released me with full pay for two TV episodes. I think was becoming a WIPE (Improv term) for David’s bad jokes lolwfwebbanner

Now it’s 2008. At the time I was virtually running Joe Franklin’s Comedy Club in the back of Charlie O’s (Now the Shake Shack at 8th Ave/44th Street with that annoying line for over rated burgers). One of the street team promoters said he knows someone that knows someone…

That’s when I met Jaime Baker. Within the next month I was in my first SAG commercial. Since then I booked co-star/ guest star roles on Royal Pains, Blue Bloods, Lily Hammer, Naked Brothers Band, and Friends of the People.

In that same time the Improv programs have exploded, performing 300-500 shows/year plus workshops & classes.

I also perform piano singer gigs, Abbott & Costello, Blues Brothers and of course, Santa at private and corporate events.

I now have income from a dozen or more sources every year. Every moment I am not on set, stage, in rehearsal, in audition, or in transit I am on the computer/phone marketing and developing the future.

I am here today, a successful working artist, because of a lot of sacrifice, soul searching, course corrections, and tons of help from great teachers, mentors, colleagues and managers.

I do not recount my history to brag, but to say, stick with it and eventually it all works out. Learn my my successes and mistakes. I never failed. I hit some bumps. I let those bumps define me for a time. I finally moved past them. If you start at 15 what I started at 35, you are way ahead of the game. I had a lot more life experience – and artistic training – at 35 (singing, tap dancing, shakespeare etc etc etc) but the day you start thinking like a showBIZ person, your path to success begins.

So to my young padawans, being upset because they DID NOT call you is normal. The key to success in this business is to listen, learn and grow for every experience – good, bad and ugly.

Use the journal I beg you to use every day I see you. Process subjective emotions and artistic notions. Objectively analyze what went wrong and/or right.

When you finally book something, don’t get cocky. Because it will more hurt when the next 5-10-100 auditions come up short.

But I do guarantee that if you keep at it, you will succeed. You may not succeed the way you planned.


  • There is no one answer to success. Be a sponge. Listen and learn and grow form every experience and be open to new things and experiences.
  • Always Be Creating – success begets success. If not getting work, create your own. You have tools we never did just 10 years ago. Create youtube videos. Just create. If it sucks, learn from you mistakes. Find ways to use your talents every day. Spend 5-10 minutes just humming and warming up your voice. Learn to play piano. This is New York, chances are you eventually will be in a musical. Learn to Dance. don’t say “I’m not a singer.” “I’m not a dancer”. No but every one can learn to carry a tune and move well enough to play a role on Broadway.
  • Study/develop your craft EVERY DAY. Take classes. Read plays. Learn new songs. Read books about the industry. Read the trades (Backstage). Don’t say things like “I will never need Algebra in the real world.” “I will never need to sing a high G” but you may lose out on a role perfect for you because you only have an F. “I will never be in a musical.” But maybe know a simple time step is the thing that the other guy/gal has in their arsenal that books instead of you. Stage Combat, Speech, Dialects/Accents/Languages, Dance, Singing, etc etc etc continue to build your list of skills that will one day get you the role over the person missing that skill set. “I can’t” “It’s Hard” and other negative statements need to be history not regular part of your lexicon.
  • GO SEE STUFF – learn by watching what the working artists do. Students can get get a lot of cheap and sometimes FREE tickets. Take advantage of this artist playground in NYC. New York breed so many artists because you are surrounded by 100s of projects DAILY.
  • AUDITION at least once/week if still in school. If out of school, out of work and you want call yourself a working artist ONCE/DAY, ONCE/HOUR. If you are out of work, go on a job interview until you get a job. TODAY you can go on 10 interviews at restaurants or 10 audition.
  • Learn to use Social Media as tools, not just gossip and selfies.
  • LISTEN!!! You are surrounded by those that want to see you succeed. You need to listen to everything. Remember the 90/10 rule. 90% of all advice is a waste of time to you. BUT if you tune out the 90% you will miss the 10% that will save your life. You never know in this business the direction your career will take you.


Focus too much on showBIZ you will probably not succeed as a working artist. You will more likely become a producer, casting director, agent or other industry type.

Focus to little and only on your art, you will probably become a teacher.

Find a balance and a career in the arts is waiting for you!

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