See what I did? Thank you, contemporary journalism: you taught me everything I need to know about clickbait headlines. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but “become an actor in ten easy steps” isn’t a thing. Oh sure, you can take the traditional route of going to theatre school and following that up with film school, as I did – maybe you’ll also, just like me, get an undergraduate degree in something completely unrelated, “just to be safe.” “You’re being practical,” you think. Everything will be fine.
Will everything be fine?
But the fact is that sometimes opportunities simply are not there. Sometimes even when you seem to be on the cusp of success – maybe you’re doing a background gig and you see a few famous people, and you’re surrounded by extras who feel no compunction about starting anecdotes that go something like “So, the other day Cate Blanchett and I were chatting”; this is amazing, you think! You’ve made it! Next stop, Hollywood!
But that’s when reality comes crashing down: this background gig is still minimum wage, and that PA gig you’ve picked up for the next day pays a cool $250. Sure, it’s money, but there are those pesky things called “rent”, “food” and “reality” that keep rearing their ugly heads.
So why do this at all? Why follow your dreams? Why not, to be blunt, just give up?
Maybe, like me, you discovered that acting – and later writing – were the only times when you felt fully alive, fully yourself. That, ironically, you only felt completely released in the act of trying to be someone else, and you’ve been trying to chase that feeling, that high ever since – and you don’t want to go back to feeling half-alive. Maybe you’ve never been a practical person, but a vivacious dreamer: in-between day-to-day life, that horizon seems just a little brighter.
And sometimes that dreaming, that high to chase – that does make it all seem worth it. But there’s also the unfortunate reality of day-to-day living – maybe, too, you want to start a family someday, and you’ve got to think of a means to support them. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: what can you do in the meantime to make ends meet? Here are some tips:
When it comes to directing or crew, do a few production assistant gigs that don’t pay. It’s up to you to build a portfolio, make contacts and start putting a resume together, and sometimes that means getting coffee for bigwigs and people with Olympus-sized egos on sets. And you might not be making a dime – but that’s okay. Everyone starts small, and you’re getting yourself out there. Even something as simple as knowing that people can rely on you to be helpful, on-time and do what you’re told are huge arrows in your quiver.
2. Don’t think that getting a regular job means you’ve given up on becoming an actor
I get it: You don’t want to be working at whatever low-to-middle-of-the-road job you find yourself in while still desperately nursing your dream. “When will I be successful?” you think. But the fact is that many actors and artists who we could consider “successful” by any reasonable metric often tell stories of the numerous jobs they had before they “made it”. And again, that “making a living” thing keeps rearing its ugly head. So what to do?
Maybe you’re not quite doing what you want: The fact is that few people are every second of their lives. Just don’t get discouraged. Keep looking for opportunities. Maybe you’re taking a bit of a break, recharging those batteries, resetting your priorities temporarily while you fatten your wallet and put food on the table: but the dream remains alive. Be on the lookout for opportunities while you’re working, and always think about networking and making contacts – you might be surprised at what comes up.
3. Always look for ways to put yourself out there
It’s another unfortunate reality that, sometimes to network and hone your craft, you might need to take additional classes. “What?” you protest. “I’ve been to theatre school – I’m done!” No. You’re never done. You never stop learning: this applies to artistic crafts as much as it applies to life. Pulling out your wallet for those improv comedy classes, those clown courses – yeah you might learn a few things you already know and you might need to budget a little more restrictively, but you’re gaining new opportunities to create and explore. Don’t underestimate how important networking, honing your craft, and just meeting like-minded people generally is.
(Credit for featured image: Vanilla Bear Films.)