Should I Be an Actor?
"I'll give you the same advice I give my children: Never take advice from anybody."
--ROBERT ALTMAN, Esquire, Mar. 2004
So you just graduated or are about to graduate, and you think you want to go into theatre or film. Maybe you won best actor in your region or went to state in the dramatic interpretation contest where you lost to some jackass who knew the system better. Maybe you really love movies, or you like musicals, and you have always secretly wanted to perform, but you didn't want to be a part of that "clique" in school. How do you know if you can "do it"?
My first piece of advice is simply, "no." If you can live without an audience then do it. If you can be the best at something else in the world if it doesn't come screaming out of you, then do something, anything else.
There are so many beautiful experiences in life that do not require a camera or a crowd and will fill your life with joy, and if you can find one of those fantastic things that leave you fulfilled, then stick with it. Right now, we are in an unprecedented time when the value of first responders and healthcare professionals are demonstrating their significance to the world around them. Meanwhile, actors are recording sonnets and playing ukuleles. And while comedians and dramatists are keeping us engaged, the world doesn't need more YouTube sketches to keep it moving.
Furthermore, there will come a day when the rose-tinted glasses fade, when the idea of being "an actor" is no longer illustrious, and the camera, the crowd, and the craft are just facets of the job. What then? What happens when you are no longer chasing laughs or applause? Is the passion still there?
Also, if you have to ask, then maybe you lack the drive to do it.
Secondly, and this is the thesis of this blog buried halfway through the post, there is a cost-efficient way to answer that statement: do. Get your ass out there and create. Help other people achieve their dreams. Do the job you think you want to do and observe professionals. Apply for internships, apprenticeships, and different free modes of learning. Any time you can get information for free or allow someone to pay you to learn, take the chance.
Odds are you like stories. You like performing. You might even be really good. But are you good enough? This is not a challenge because this business does not work like the NFL. There is no combine, and the talent portion is so subjective that it doesn't matter if you can hit that E flat at all.
Rather than spend a decade trying to answer that question, why not put your feelers out to get an internship. There are casting agencies, theatre companies, and film crews that need help, and the sooner you can get a real point of view of what this industry looks like, the better.
See, most of us construct a fairytale version of what being an actor is that we have no idea what it actually looks like. After years of being fed the American Dream and we fantasize about when we will have the car, the clothes, and the [insert sexual preference], we have this Oz-like image of what our life is going to be like. But remember, to have a dream, you must be asleep.
And so many bright-eyed and bushy tail young artists go out into the collegiate world and get "trained." They have a dream, a passion, a desire to be "an actor." They spend four years auditioning for their school play, taking workshops and classes, and researching dead playwrights and forgotten directors. They pay, or their parents pay, or they take out a loan that buries them in debt. Then, they go out and audition and don't get cast. They audition again using the methods they learned in school and didn't get cast. They decide to take a workshop on auditioning because it can't be them; it must be their nerves when they audition. Then, they audition again, and maybe, they get a callback this time, but ultimately don't get cast. And that debt comes calling.
To save you some time, let's repeat that previous paragraph a hundred times. It's been a year, and our young actor has had to get a survival job, or they have some funds that have allowed them to stay afloat. Then, they finally get cast after five years, and they land a professional job.
Only, a horrific thing happens. They do the job, and it is nothing like they thought. The pay sucks. The director is a hack. The cast feels nothing like the group of friends you created in high school/college. The whole thing feels flat. But maybe it is just this one production, so the young actor goes back out into the world and repeats the process.
Except for this time, they don't get cast even longer, or if they do, the production is worse. And slowly, they become bitter and the thing that used to bring light to their life now makes them bitter. They realize they don't actually want to be an actor, and they now have to go back to school and get another degree to redirect their career.
How could all of this be avoided? The sooner you get a realistic view of what the business is, the better off you are. Rather than waste years of your life and have a quarter-life crisis, get experience now. Be an intern. Volunteer. Get out and audition now. Training is not going to make you any more or less of an actor. If you are an actor today, you will be an actor tomorrow. Only, you need to find out if you want to do this professionally or not.
The sooner you get real-time feedback, the better. Experience is the best teacher, and if you can discover now what you actually want, you will be better off in the future.
The world doesn't need another Shakespeare theatre. The world doesn't need another nonunion non-profit theatre company. We are drowning in content right now. Why add to the noise? Why add to the emptiness? If you can't answer that question, save yourself a life of grief. If you can, God help you.
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Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.