Photo by Debra Lopez
all my life, doing something meaningful and worthy has been critical to my self-worth and happiness. finding something to do that would change the landscape and leave the world better than i found it has always been my raison d'etre. doing readings, workshops, auditioning for countless hours for no pay was never a goal. becoming a great actor/writer/producer and ultimately teacher was because those are things that are measurable and completely within my power to do. so those things became the goal and acting-for-free took a backseat because that slaving was eating away at my self-esteem and keeping me in a toxic co-dependent relationship with the industry; so busy chasing jobs that i couldn't have a garden (because god knows i might have to get on a plane to do a workshop for a project that i'll never be cast in)....
i began to ponder what i was giving up to remain in this toxic relationship: freedom, power and the ability to change my world was the answer. and you see those three things are a part of my core values, my deepest emotional chords. if they are not happening, then i don't ever get to feel a sense of purpose and contentment. i wake up each day and look at the formulaic writing of a script and prep an audition and ask: whose life is this audition changing? then i look at what's going on in the world and i think: whoa, there is big shit happening and i need to tell those stories, right those wrongs, not telling someone else's average script written to keep advertisers happy.
a parent of a fellow Vassar alum asked me to coach their kid in acting. my response was not only do I prefer NOT to coach children; but i would consider it poor ethics to teach a child a skill that will never earn them the power they need to tell their story. if i taught that child acting, i would be teaching them how to work for someone else the rest of their lives in a job where not only their livilihood, but their self-worth is dependent upon them doing so. now, i'm happy to teach them about story structure, fundraising, producing their own work, but i won't teach them how to slave for someone else. sorry, no can do...i dont even teach adults that anymore. i'd rather teach them how to fish than feed them a dead fish.
all of the careers blowing up right now are all people who learned how to fish. every single one of them: danai gurira, colman domingo, issa rae, michaela coel, aziz ansari, lena waithe, ava duvernay, shonda rhymes. these amazing career have been ground breaking because for the first time, the actor/director/writer is in the drivers seat: they are writing their stories and getting them produced. they will never spend their lives working for free or for someone else while strangers determine the value of their stories.
the internet in the form of netflix primarily, has provided us with institututions that if we write/produce our stories, find a following, they will offer to pay us what we're worth. sometimes they'll want to own the rights to your work, but you know what: u get to say "no" because in writing your story, you are rewriting the history of how hollywood will now work. getting hung up in an offer unworthy of you is a debilitating waste of time. it's where people who feel powerless go. in contrast, when you make ur own work, u have options + power. you get to create a bidding war with other platforms for your work...all you have to do is make it and find an audience for it. that's it.
a great example, the work that edward mawere is doing on instagram and tiktok. he tells story in short 60 second videos. it's not the production values that matter, but the story and his unique POV. it's like he's inside the heads of actors on the grind and speaking the words they dare not say. his observations are a memoir of sorts that i've never read or seen and no one else is storytelling is like his. it is unique and specific and in that specificity lies its universality.
if ur not following him, i suggest you change that ASAP...and learn how to make simple short stories that pack a powerful punch.
someone wrote abt actor scams with promises of making big money $300in one day if you sign w/some scammy agency..and i thought...they are capitalizing on the biggest scam of all: actor training.
the entire actor training, theatre industrial complex is a scam (as if starving for the craft leads u to a place worthy of u...ah...bullshit)...that simply keeps everyone (except actors) employed and making money off of free actor labor. so when u work for free or less than unemployment, your free or cheap labor is paying someone else's salary.
the entertainment industry is about power, money & what sells and unless you've figured out a way to make your own product and sell it; ur in a vicious spinning wheel that may never get u to ur dreams. the training and arts institutions never give u what u really need to survive the very real marketplace ur entering. they simply make money off ur dreams and send you out there with outdated information and skill sets.
somebody's getting paid their worth and if it's not u, it would behoove u to find out why...instead of working three jobs u hate to support ur dream of being an actor...
no self-worth is to be found in that struggle; but making something and learning how to get it out in the world does. no one will stroke u like an acting teacher (whose getting paid to applaud ur efforts), bec u got a scene right. life will applaud u for believing enuf in urself to tell your story. the hard work, grit, determination & steel required will give u the life u deserve.
so to make sure this is happening, here are two questions to ask:
1. is what i'm doing in alignment with my core values, my four emotional chords which are the life lessons i was put her to master?
2. if uv been plugging away for 10 years and are now in your 40's and it hasn't happened, are you prepared to change your game plan to something that you have control over OR are you willing to risk that u'll be "discovered" by someone who's already seen your work, but not hired you? is that a bet you're willing to go all in on?
April Yvette Thompson