Photo by Debra Lopez
Allow me to paint a picture of what a typical trained NYC theatre actor's life looks like.
Weekly, you get dozens of requests to do readings of new plays. Those play readings usually require that you read the play before you agree to do the reading, so that's 2 hours of your life you'll never get back.
Then you rehearse 8-16 hours.
Then you do a public reading for 2 hours plus another hour for Q&A to help the writer develop their work.
Sometimes you get paid $50 for one day of this work and other times you get a $5 metro card.
So, you've work 22 hours for $50.
Let me say that again:
You've worked 22 hours for $50 or a $5 metro card.
Now, the playwright and director are benefiting from what you do with the role. They use that information to tighten the narrative, reshape character and storyline to make the play production-ready and sell it to producers.
Your skill (which you've spent years working on for free to fine-tune), plus your 3-5 years of training which has cost you a good $50-100,000 is to what you're giving away for free. I mean why should someone pay you for something they can get for free which will make them money?
Pay your bills.
Pay your student loans
and then you
pay a playwright and a director for the privilege of acting.
You, ah, still with me?
They take what your free labor taught them to finish, produce and cast a play with actors who never worked for free and don't need the paycheck, pension/benefits because they are TV series regulars.
And then the playwright and director make money off of the production (that you're not in, so you can get the good reviews that lead to more work). And not a little bit. The writer is paid a fee for the licensing of their play, plus a percentage of house (or tix sales).
That's amazing, right.
You're working for free to help someone get seriously paid for all their years of work who has no loyalty to you.
That makes a lot of sense.
Keep up the good work.
Now. Repeat after me.
THE ONLY REASON TO WORK FOR FREE IS TO LEARN HOW TO ACT, PAY DUES AND GET NECESSARY CREDITS IN THE INDUSTRY.
Once that's done, you should not be working for free because what you continue to do will define who you are: cheap, I'm sorry--free labor for hire. If you work in theatre for free with no end goal, you will continue to work in theatre for free for the rest of your life.
You are what you do.
So how do you change that?
How do you expect to get
something new & magical
if you've got a death grip
on old stuff that no longer
serves your long-term wildest dreams?
The universe hates a vacuum,
so if you create the room for TV/Film work,
it will come
And that's what
How to be a MotherF*cking Actor (MFA) this Pilot Season
is all about
Don't Read This Post Unless You're Ready to Be a Working TV Actor
April Yvette Thompson