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How To Be An Actor And Not Quit

March 20, 2019

 

    On Monday I started working at a theatre I’ve wanted to work at since I was 15. I walked into the stage door entrance and was asked to sign in. Above my name was an actor’s name I recognised and next to the name was the title of the play they were performing in. Next to my name I wrote, FOH (Front of House) and I felt my body slump. For a split second, it felt like the most depressing first day on the job. My heart sank a bit and my chest felt a bit spiky. My first thoughts were: when will it be my turn? What’s wrong with me? Why wasn’t I seen for this? And then I stopped, took a deep breath and carried on into the basement to meet my new manager. This isn’t the story about how I worked super hard, got rejected loads of times and finally landed my dream role. No, these are the thoughts of an actor who wants to cultivate staying power without losing her mind. My story right now is one where an actor decides to reframe their existence and find more joy and more purpose in the process. My goal is no longer success or credits, instead, it’s about cultivating resistance and thriving in my current circumstances. So yes, this job isn’t the dream job but it’s a job that will help me pay my rent, surround me with other actors, pay me fairly and is a 25-minute journey from my house. In my current situation, this is a miracle. I know it will change my life for the better because I know what my body and my brain need right now.

 

The biggest lie this industry perpetuates is that it rewards your hard work. It doesn’t: the industry respects those who can hold on long enough for an opportunity without losing their mind and THEN be willing to work hard. Even then, you cannot guarantee the opportunity will lead to a job. We all know plenty of hard-working, incredible actors who haven’t been given a chance yet. We also know a handful of lazy, arrogant, entitled folk who seem to be smashing their careers despite people openly knowing how hard they are to work with. It’s important to work hard and stay focused but not at the expense of your mental wellbeing and the instrument you are trying to sell. The key to thriving (notice I don’t say succeeding ) in this industry is perseverance and perseverance requires self- awareness, humility and acceptance. We need to accept that this industry might not fulfill the emptiness inside of us, it probably won’t encourage us and it won’t work to our schedule. There’s no point writing a five-year plan for your acting career because most of it won’t be in your control. Of course, you can put your energy into your gift, make sure you smash every audition that comes your way but ultimately the decision regarding your career trajectory lies in the hands of others (like most industries)

 

The industry is not responsible for nurturing your soul or your creativity, you are. The industry is not responsible for the emotional health of your relationships, you are. It demands resilience and staying power so that when that opportunity finally comes you are ready to approach it from a place of peace instead of desperation and entitlement. You can be confident, not only about what you bring to the audition room but also what you will bring to the process, the creative team and your other cast members. Sometimes the best way to do this is to create a healthy life for yourself outside of acting: find a muggle job that gets you out of bed in the morning, find friends who don’t work in the industry and spend time with them, date, start a new hobby, workout, go to therapy, really enjoy Christmas with your family. Enjoy those weeks where you get to spend evenings with your friends over dinner and wine and movies because when you do get that job (and I hope and pray that you will) these things won’t always be available to you. One actor I worked with early on in my career encouraged me to really enjoy the moments when I wasn’t working because these would be the times in my life where I would receive the most nourishment. We do get to meet incredible, extraordinary people in our line of work and they give us so much but our work is costly, it demands a lot from us, so we need to make sure that we have the appropriate level of self-care and awareness.

 

I know, it’s enough to drive you crazy but don’t let it, at least I am trying to not be pulled in by it anymore. Let’s separate the work from the industry a second. Don’t let the business win, don’t let it crush your hope and rob your self-esteem. Don’t let it dictate your joy and when you decide that your life is ‘actually happening’. The business is about money and fame and profit, do not sell your soul to it. It’s the art we love, the craft we admire and we can make space for that without the permission of casting directors. Last November I sang at my housemate’s birthday gig and it was the first time I had sung in front of people who weren’t auditioning me for over 2 years. That’s insane. As my housemate said: ‘You never sing for us, it’s a gift so please let us hear it’. That’s why I started the DivaVlogs because I wanted something to make and perform on my own schedule. I honestly do not care if they never go viral and I never get to turn them into a TV show; making them brings me so much joy and that is what was missing from my life. Making things, it’s powerful.

 

It’s also worth noting this tweet and this tweet from casting directors- they really are on our side, it’s just the industry is oversaturated and funding is scarce and…Brexit. Recognising that it’s not actually about you is both disheartening and incredibly liberating. The industry doesn’t owe you anything and in the same breath, you don’t owe anything to the industry either. Reminding yourself that you made a choice is important. You get to decide how much of your life this business is allowed to take over, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to pursue work in that area, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep knocking on doors and prepping yourself for that big audition. It just means that it doesn’t get as much of your emotional energy as perhaps it has done in the past. It means you’re content enough in your present that you’re not anxiously waiting for the phone to ring or despairing at your lack of auditions. It’s about being okay with who you are right now, being proud of the artist you have worked hard to become and believing yourself to be worthy (not entitled) of an opportunity. I hope it comes soon but in the meantime be brave, establish boundaries and rekindle that small part of you that just lives to create and perform.

 

All my love,

 

E x

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