I was five months pregnant and getting anxious. Everyone told me that once I had a baby everything would slow down. As an actor, that was the last thing I needed to hear. I did everything I could to defy the odds. I had several talks with my mentor, talked to a working actor (who just had a baby three months prior), stayed active in an on-camera class and self-submitted for every project I could get my hands on. Oh, and I figured out how to dress, so that no one would could tell I was pregnant in my auditions. I told myself that my goal was to book at least one good gig that I could work until giving birth. Then, I got the opportunity.
I was invited to audition for one of the biggest theatre companies in Atlanta. It was just a general audition, so it was just supposed to be an introduction. “This is my work. Nice to meet you. Hope you hire me one day.” That was the expectation. I was well-prepared but loose. Eager but not thirsty. My audition was solid. I could tell the casting director liked me because we talked for a while afterwards, and the vibe in the room was completely positive.
Within days, she (the casting director) invited me to audition for a project she was casting. It was an understudy role for a play, but it was perfect. It was paying. It was a great script. And most importantly, I was right for the part. THIS. WAS. IT.
I went in and read for the role, and I was offered the job on the spot. I was ELATED. I left the room on a high that day. I’d proved to myself that I could do this. I could be a working actor and a mother. People told me that I couldn’t be pregnant and work, but they were wrong. I just got a paying gig that would be my job until it was time for me to give birth. I called my mentor to celebrate.
Her response: “Does the casting director know that you’re pregnant?” Dang. I didn’t even think I needed to disclose that information. I was a good actor and becoming a mother had nothing to do with that. My mentor patiently explained to me that in theatre, costumes are important. If you can’t predict what size you’re going to be in a couple months, that might be a problem if you need to go on. She told me that I could keep my pregnancy private, sign the paperwork and potentially piss off the casting director. OR I could tell the casting director, hope for the best and at least keep my relationship with casting intact. I chose to tell the truth.
I pulled the casting director out of her audition session and told her that I was pregnant. She thanked me for telling the truth but told me that I couldn’t do the job. Even though I wasn’t visibly showing at the moment, we couldn’t predict what I would look like in a couple months, and the character I was going to play was not pregnant. She was sorry, but she said she would have to go in another direction.
I was crushed. I’m pretty sure that’s the first and only time I cried over a job. I felt betrayed. I was given a job, and it was taken away in the same breath. I was being punished for being pregnant, and I was also being punished for having integrity. It sucked. I cried and cried and cried. Eventually I got over it. I told my coaches about what happened, and they both agreed that I did the right thing. Either way, this rejection made me want to stop trying.
A few weeks before giving birth I stopped taking classes because, well, Braxton Hicks. I focused on just having a baby. I gave myself over to the process, attitude and all.
I had the baby.
My life changed.
And 8 weeks later that same casting director called me back in to audition for the lead in a play. This time it wasn’t an understudy role. It was a featured role. I did well, got a callback, but the director went in another direction. But the casting director hired me as an understudy for that same role.
Truth be told, this play was more appealing to me than the first. The script was a challenge. The role was juicy. It was everything I could have wanted right after having a baby. But that wasn’t all. I booked a couple commercials. I worked on this play. I got an agent that was a better fit for me and started auditioning like crazy. The casting director that hired me for the play kept calling me in for other stuff, and she still calls me in for great projects to this day.
The point is that I put myself out there and was disappointed by the initial rejection. I could not understand why it wasn’t working out for me when I was clearly talented enough to handle the work. It just wasn’t the right timing. At that time in my life I needed to focus on adjusting to motherhood. I needed to embrace the idea of having a baby. All the work I put in wasn’t in vain. It set me up for when I was ready to do more. It launched me into a better place in my career.
So, to the person dealing with the pain of rejection: feel the feels. How you feel right now is completely normal and valid, but it isn’t a good reason to close your heart. Keep doing the work and putting yourself out there. It will pay off eventually. And when it does, it will be sweet. I promise.
About me . . .
I'm Cyrah Hill. I'm a woman of faith, an actor and an everyday black girl.