Many years ago, I was in a voice over class with a teacher with 25 years of experience. I decided that she must know the answer to my question: “How do you go for your art, your passion, and still be able to live well?” She told me that you’ll do anything for your art. She then went on to talk about how it was a small community, and I could go sleep on someone’s couch.
This wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. She is an extremely talented voice over artist, and I started wondering…is this really what’s expected? We’ve all heard that actors need to have a “thick skin”. Is this a part of it? When people say “you’ll do anything for your art”, what does that really mean?
I don’t remember who said it, but someone once said, “Only an idiot can’t make it in Hollywood”. Provocative isn’t it? There are thousands of actors out there going for it and the failure rate is high. So many either end up in poverty or just peter out. There are only so many roles and we compete for all of them. Clearly, whoever said “Only an idiot can’t make it in Hollywood” is an idiot.
But what if they’re not an idiot? What if there is some truth in it?
When that teacher talked about sleeping on other people’s sofas, I took it as her advocating poverty. And, I completely rebelled. I was going to be 50 that year. I’m 57 now. I’m not interested in being hungry and homeless, and if that’s what it takes to be a successful artist, I’m not interested in that either.
Unfortunately, I’m one of those actors who feels called to it. I can’t seem to let it go, although I have tried. I drove myself nuts thinking about what it means to be willing to do anything or what it means to have a thick skin and I realized that I believe that a lot of the common knowledge out there is flawed.
Be What They Want
There is the idea that actors should be able to be all things. We should be able to contort ourselves into whatever we think “they” want. I know, I know, it’s fun to try on all those different aspects of being human, but should we be going into the room that way? Should we be marketing ourselves that way?
It takes a lot of energy to be all things to all people and to tell you the truth; most people like to compartmentalize us. They like the easy answer. If we put on a mask, we might end up being typecast as something we didn’t want to be. Plus, we have no idea what they’re really looking for. Trying to read their minds just takes us out of the moment and puts us in our heads. That’s not good. It’s in the moment that we shine.
Many actors seem to believe that having a thick skin means being able to take abuse. Why? When I was abused years ago by a teacher, my self-esteem hit an all-time low. I’m still recovering years later. And guess what? People with low self-esteem are not going to walk into the room with confidence. They are more likely to contort themselves, be in their heads, or just plain lose it. I know that’s what I did. The powers that be are looking for people who can do the job, not a damaged person. It’s not easy to come back from being damaged, why accept it in the first place?
There are two types of abusers: there’s the abuser who if you stand up to them will respect you. They are the ones who are trying to push your buttons so you can see them and get over them.
Then, there is the abuser who can’t handle anyone standing up to them. They often need to be worshipped and will attack anyone who doesn’t comply. It’s my opinion that this type of abuser, no matter how talented they are, doesn’t believe they are worth anything or else they wouldn’t feel the need to abuse.
Why take it?
Rudeness is a grey area. People have different tolerances for rudeness and sometimes you have to consider that they have been interviewing actors for hours, have heard the same monologue 20 times and have had to deal with several crazies, including one who had to be forcefully removed from the room after slapping the reader. If they are naturally rude, well, like one of my monologue teachers said, “they’re going to hell.”
We need boundaries.
Go All In
There is a romantic notion, a woo-woo notion, that if you throw yourself completely in, you will achieve your goal. If you don’t achieve your goal, you must have not thrown yourself completely in, so it’s your fault.
This is a lot of hogwash.
What often happens is that people will give up everything for their Art. They will try to go all in. But things don’t move as fast as they’d hoped. They might lose all their money and have to run home. They might find out that their strategy isn’t giving them what they want.
And they have no backup plan.
This crowd tends to think that having a backup plan means you’re not giving it your all. But it’s not all about the actor and how much they’ve gone all in. That’s the only thing an actor can control. They can’t control whether anyone wants to hire them, or if they’re looking for a different age, or even if there are any parts to be had. For every part there are hundreds of candidates. There are too many variables.
When putting together any plan, you have to plan for things that might happen. What if it takes longer than a year? What if all the feedback you get tells you that you should pivot somehow? Do you have the mental stamina for it? The financial stamina? No matter the glamorous view of the “starving artist”, it’s hard to focus on your craft if you don’t know if you’ll eat or where you’ll sleep that night.
It doesn’t make business sense. And after all, Acting is a business.
Acting is a Business
Being an actor is a business. You do your market research and figure out what you can offer. You decide on your products and services and let go of others that don’t fit. You go into product development. Within product development you decide on the features you want to offer and you decide what weaknesses need to be shored up. You put together a marketing strategy and network. As you build your business you continue to add features to your product and re-market. It’s a never-ending cycle.
It’s the way business works.
Like any other business, you may have to start part-time. You have to be realistic. Not only do you need business funding, but also funding for your basic necessities. Living in your car or on someone’s sofa can kill your self-esteem.
And like any other business, you’re dealing with other businesses. When you go into sales, many will not need your product. You can’t take it personally. You can try to ingrate yourself to them all you want but it won’t work if they don’t need it at the moment.
If you developed your product well, there are those who will need it desperately. They are your customers. If a customer costs you more than they are worth, you fire them. Businesses fire customers and vendors all the time. It’s our careers, we make our own decisions.
You network with those who match your philosophy and mission statement and by your friends you will be known.
I’ve given up the idea that to do anything for my art means living in poverty and desperation.
For me, doing anything for my art means growing, becoming more myself and doing it right. Taking the time. Being realistic. Having a good business plan. And taking care of myself.
“Only an idiot can’t make it in Hollywood.”
Excuse me, it’s time for me to go. I have work to do…