If you're going to make your living as an artist, you're going to have to pay for training.
Grad school is one option, though it seems expensive, it's the easiest because your competition has degrees and all the connections that come with it. Those folks have spent 2-3 years working on their craft 6 days a week, 8-10 hours a day while performing. In their final grad school years, they're meeting with all of the industry agents, managers and CD's, so that right after their New York showcase, they are picked up by agents and managers because all the Casting Directors and Network folks already know them. That's what you're up against and why it's so hard to even get seen without an MFA in NYC. The good news is becoming a working artist is not some mystery or sheer good luck. It's a business strategy. You need to have what your competition has, lots of training and performance experience and industry contacts. It's no different from becoming a lawyer or a doctor, you have to play the game as it exists. You can create a career in which you pinpoint which part of the industry you want to work in and then get teachers and mentors to coach you privately to develop the skill-set for your desired place in the industry. You're not accruing tons of student loan debt, but instead paying as you go to acquire specific skills. How long do you train with folks? Well, if your competition has 3 years of training on you, then you need to mirror that in your private training. The good news is that you can focus your private training on one area of the industry. (i.e. acting for film, classical theatre, acting for primetime TV). The second most important thing is to study with folks who can give you a solid technique, so that you show up with the same finely honed performance night after night or take after take. That requires training and technique. In order to figure out who to study with. Look at folks who are doing what you want to be doing in the industry right now. If you want to be doing all August Wilson plays and your teacher has never acted in an August Wilson play, then you're wasting your money. If you want to write, act and produce your own work and your teacher has not done that, they cannot help you get to where you want to be in the industry right now.This is uber important and the piece no one taught me in grad school because my teachers hadn't worked in the industry in 30 years. So they all told me to buy some hair, some nurse/maid outfits and go into auditions. Huh? Whereas, immediately after my showcase, I booked 3 jobs back to back with some silly extensions in my hair and each Casting Director and Director asked me to cut it and wear my hair my own little afro which is the way I had been wearing it since the first day of grad school. Nor did anyone have any idea of how to teach me how to use August Wilson's language or the camera in the audition room and the difference between single cam and multi cam. And these were all the places where black women in my type were building huge careers. Lesson: make sure your teacher knows what the hell is going on in the industry right now.Finally, the third step is if you think you can't afford teachers or grad school, then find master directors, actors, writers, producers and offer to work for them for free in return for on the job training. But guess what, you'll need to work for free for 3 years just like grad school. So you're going to pay money or time for the training, but I promise you, it won't be luck that keeps you working or lands you that first job. It will be time, hard work and effort. You will succeed. You can't put that much blood, sweat and tears into the universe without the love coming back to you. This is not luck, this is not a shot in the dark, this is a business that if you invest in yourself, the business will invest in you.
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April Yvette Thompson