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The Actor's Struggle

From a recent article in Backstage

This is not going to be a motivational piece about “finding your happy place” or “the art of letting go” and all that new age stuff. Let’s be real for a moment. Sometimes this business gets incredibly frustrating, and it’s easy to get down on yourself with all of the rejection that comes along with deciding to pursue acting as a career. You keep getting knocked down, and sometimes it gets harder and harder to keep getting back up and dusting yourself off. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is getting their big break, and you aren’t. You wonder if your turn will ever come.

As we near the holidays, you know someone at the Thanksgiving table is going to toss out the infamous, “When am I going to see you on TV?” or “When are you going to get a real job?” adding embarrassment to the stress you are already feeling. Jenna Fischer wrote an amazing article on the actor’s struggle after she booked her role as Pam on “The Office,” and how long it took for her to get that jobNobody truly understands what it means to get the callback, and how “booking the room” is just as good at booking the job, and how exciting it is to land a role in your first student film. 

Maybe you have months submitting to tons of projects, on all the casting websites, and you simply aren’t getting called in to show how good you are. Or maybe you are auditioning all the time, but nobody wants to hire you. Or spending hundreds (or thousands) on pay-to-meet workshops and not getting any bites from agents or casting directors. You start to question everything from your headshots to your talent to your financial situation to your life choices. You probably have thought about quitting many times.

Here’s the deal: It is difficult to have a career in acting. It’s a freelance job that involves a lot of unpaid work and hard hours, leaving your survival job at the drop of a hat, with very little return on investment. People think we are crazy for doing it. It is constant sacrifice, and you’re constantly worrying where your next paycheck is coming from. Some people work so hard at it for many years and it never pays off. Some people get their lucky break right away, without any formal training. It’s a constant battle, and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why some make it, and some don’t. 

So why do we do it? 

We do it because it makes us happy, it drives us, and it gives us the freedom to explore ourselves, on camera and on stage, in different characters, to have fun with like minded people, to let go and not worry about the consequences. There’s nothing better than walking on stage for the first time and having the audience respond to you, or the first time you hit your mark and say a line on set. It is fulfilling in ways that other “non-creatives” simply don’t understand. Some people choose to give up their secure corporate jobs with a 401k and amazing benefits simply for the chance to express themselves creatively, whether in a classroom or on a set. These are people that just want to live a more exciting life, regardless of the outcome. For most actors, it’s simply not about money, which is hard for “non-actors” to understand. 

I cried the first time I got an acting gig on a TV show (“Strangers with Candy”). That’s how badly I wanted it. It was the first time I could show my family that my hard work was paying off. The confused look on my mom’s face while watching Amy Sedaris act like a high school girl was priceless.

Most of time time we remind ourselves of that old adage: “If you can do anything else besides acting, then do it.” It implies that we don’t have our heart in it, that we aren’t fully committed, and therefore, won’t succeed. I disagree. I think that the best actors are the ones that have many interests and many different skills, are well-rounded, and think of acting simply as a wonderful hobby. If they make money, great. If not, they have other things that make them happy, other skills, other interests, other lives outside of acting. If nothing else, it takes the pressure off, and allows us to feel free and open to wherever this career takes us. They relish in the struggle of it, instead of backing away from it.

The next time you are feeling frustrated, remind yourself why you are doing this. If you are spending all of your time auditioning, and no time in class or on set, then you need to change that so you are creatively fulfilled, and really working on material in-depth, strengthening your creative muscles, working with other actors who love it as much as you do. Don’t do it for the fame, or for the money, because you will be sorely disappointed. 

This is a wonderful career, and nobody is forcing you to do it. Write down what you are getting out of it, so you can see it in front of you. In plain words. Put it up on your mirror and remind yourself every day. You are so lucky to be able to pursue this amazing journey. 

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