This week’s column, What It Takes, is part two of a little journey that began last week with my ranting and raving about just how hard done by artists really are. As some of you may recall, last week I talked a little bit about what it’s like to be under appreciated, unknown and most of all, underpaid. In my fervor, I even got around to referencing van Gogh and the poor dear’s famously misguided but well-intentioned ear debacle. Sure his paintings are worth millions of dollars and are sitting pretty in museums all over the world today (he’s even got a major marketing contract for a popular brand of absinthe) but the poor sap had to lop off his ear and die first. For all our sakes I can only hope we won’t have to go to those extremes. I like my hoop earrings far too much.
I look back and think of all the jobs I’ve held over the years when my acting work wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay the bills and I shake my head. I remember grudgingly heading off to work at the restaurant(s) where I had to endure hour after hour of smiling at customers who I really didn’t like, doing a job I hated when all I really wanted to do was be at home writing or working on a play. It was miserable but it was one of many sacrifices I made to pursue my craft.
Then something occurred to me one day. There must, there just simply must be another job I could do that would help me on my journey to success and didn’t make me cry or want to cut off one of my extremities at the end of the day.
As I said in an earlier column, I encourage every artist to learn as much about the industry as possible. It is a JOB and the sooner you realize that the better. Over the years I’ve made all sorts of friends who have interesting jobs in the industry on the side while still pursuing their acting – set decorator, AD, yoga instructor, personal assistant, freelance writing. Even in the acting industry those who have the best business minds are usually the same people who wind up being most financially successful, not necessarily those who are most talented. There are of course, a ridiculous number of famous names I could drop to back that statement up. But I won’t because I’m feeling kinder than usual today.
No matter what you do being an interesting, three-dimensional human being with other talents makes you a better performer – hence the resume header Special Skills. And meaning: if you have another talent for God’s sake please pursue it and try to find a way to market it within the entertainment industry.
A girl I met ages ago in an acting class loved yoga. She got certified as a yoga instructor and marketed herself to acting schools. Within a year she was teaching part-time at a number of the best acting academies in town. This meant she was in the company of some of the best acting coaches in the city as well as meeting numerous other actors, many of whom had already worked on big productions and gave her a way “in” to talk to their own agents. She’s still acting and teaching yoga today. She hasn’t hit the “big time”, but at least she’s a working actress with a nice set of buns that will surely come in handy one day.
Myself, I feel blessed that I love to write as much as I love to act. I can pursue both careers at the same time and although it’s like asking what one would rather do first – die from dehydration or die from starvation – I love it. Writing has been a wonderful way to continue working in an unsteady business. I can write movie or play reviews, interviews with other performers, critique exhibitions or film festivals while keeping up to date on what’s going on in the ‘biz’ at the same time.
I realize I sound like a parent. “Have a back-up plan. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That’s fine, because it’s true. Have a back-up plan. It doesn’t have to be an entirely different career – the point is that you will enjoy your journey far more if you’re doing something you at least like while waiting for your big break. Actors who spend their lives working dead-end jobs get bitter and exhausted and why wouldn’t they? Being under appreciated and overworked isn’t fun.
So there you have it. That is the extent of my awesome and free knowledge for today. I hope all of you continue holding onto your dreams and that none of you will serve me the next time I’m at a restaurant.
Meet me again next week for a delicious little discussion about casting directors – what they do, why they do it and the revenge of the successful actor.