Photo by Debra Lopez
interesting thing about acting or writing, if you don't get stable first, you spend most of your life waiting for ur life to begin. stabilize and then run after your dreams so that once they come true, ur ready as opposed to broken from struggling...
working in theatre always required working a day job at the same time. Just to survive. and you're told, the only way to get theatre jobs is by doing free readings and more theatre and hoping someone sees you and gives you a TV/Film audition. I played this game for the first 10 years of my career and while it was fun a lot of the time....it was also years full of being broke, getting behind on bills, shitty credit, constant instability and unemployment, never having a stable home, plants, a relationship, constantly sick with bronchitis because i was always working a day job while doing off broadway plays at night. All of this so I could be poor and take pictures on the red carpet as if I was "making it."
ultimately, it meant my self esteem was always in question. Because here's the thing: being a grown ass woman or man in your 30s not able to take care of yourself or your family makes you feel like a child. You can never get all your ducks in a row to have a home. Having a stable home with hell, pets, plants, the bills paid, vacations, savings and a life, essentially builds your sense of self worth.
always looking for a job, having to prove yourself in auditions to the same people year after year for another $400 a week or more often to work for free for people whose careers are soaring while you're begging for scraps and the opportunity to work for free just to get another NYT review telling you what you already know: that you're a brillant actor. I mean, you should be for godsake, you've been doing it for free for a decade, why wouldn't you be.
my dad always told me:
"Somebody's getting paid and if it's not you, you need to figure out why that is."
And what I realized about the whole oh, "it's noble to work for great writers for free and starve for your craft" was the very bullshipt that keeps our arts institutions alive...it's what keeps acting schools, acting studios, theatre companies alive and able to squeeze money and free labor out of dreamers with no promise of a return. None. Nor do these institutions lays out a practical means for entering the business in a way where you'll actually get paid. They simply take your money, teach you their elevated technique of "acting" and kick you out after they've taken your money with, it's a crap shoot or its all about luck. All. of which is bullshit and has nothing to do with the actual world of the business we're living in.
There's a couple of different games a foot. One involves you adapting yourself to the current game and fitting in. The other involves you re-working the game. Both are hard work, but they are a lot more reliable than the plan laid out by most acting programs, pay me to teach you how to feel good about your acting work, not go do it for free.
What's gives you a sense of worth and value is doing your work and getting paid for it. Creating your own work, raising the money, getting a good salary from your work, determining how, when and who gets to receive your. efforts, that builds a kind of self esteem that isn't dependent on anyone. You're no longer looking for your acting teacher's approval, that you're good enough to perform. Most acting programs have this sort of cult of personality where the technique they created is far more important than the individual actor. (Well, of course it is, that's how acting teachers get famous and paid).
So then the student leaves always needing some sort of approval that they are good enough, that their work is good enough to please the acting teacher. That's not healthy and nor is why I became an artist. It's also a recipe for disaster and you take job after job paying you nothing to prove to yourself and the world that you're good enuf...
this is the rabbit hole...and it's designed this way to keep institutions making money off of peoples' dreams, but those institutions are not dishing up the full package bec they do not progress with the industry...
The result is a lot of underemployed artists trying to figure out where they went wrong...but the reality, the industry you were prepared to enter can barely support itself, so how could it possibly support you?
So, where do we go from here?
Let's start with writing down exactly what you want your career to look like and within what time frame? Get specific, not realistic, specific....
next week, i'm going to talk about how COVID IS A BLESSING FOR ARTISTS....stay tuned...
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April Yvette Thompson