Your ship hasn’t come in. While it feels like you’ve been at this for a long time, you don’t have much to show for it, especially compared to that actor who you came up with who now has her own TV show. You’re starting to doubt the choices you’ve made. The reality of working a restaurant job (or its equivalent) and sharing a small apartment when your contemporaries are buying houses and raising kids is weighing on you. Maybe acting isn’t for you. Maybe it’s time to give up the dream.
But how do you know for sure? You had so much hope in the beginning. While that blind hope has been killed by cold practicality, you still have moments in class, on stage on a random Thursday night, or at the odd audition, when it all feels so right. When you feel like you can do this. So, you go back and forth between investing even more in your acting career and considering moving back home to start a new life. One moment you’ll think, “Well, Gene Hackman, Jane Lynch, Kathryn Joosten, Samuel Jackson and Jon Hamm didn’t hit it big till later in their lives,” and the next you’ll be paralyzed with bitterness and hopelessness, picking up extra shifts to pay the rent that month.
That struggle is one that every actor engages in, but that thought process is inherently flawed. The truth is that being an actor is not something one gives up. It is who you are.
It is a deep need that exists in every molecule of your body to explore the depths of the human emotional experience and then find human connection in the expression of those feelings. Giving it up would be like giving up hunger or thirst or the need for air. And it’s arrogant to think that you could.
Of course here we must draw a distinction between acting as a deep need on the one hand, and the desire to derive validation and piles of money from acting on the other. It’s an obvious distinction but one that most actors don’t make. Often actors, who presumably started acting because they were profoundly moved on an emotional level by the magical human experience of acting, move to LA and all of a sudden think that acting means fame and fortune. Then if they don’t get the big house and have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers in the first few years, they’re ready to stop acting. “I gave it a shot but it didn’t happen for me.” This is ridiculous. Reducing acting to a title measured by money and fans – even if you have those things – is a dangerous game that kills your craft and stunts your career.
Of course every actor has to figure out how to make a living, and often that means working some other job. But that doesn’t mean you stop acting. You couldn’t if you tried. It’s who you are. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, you have to have other interests. It makes you a better actor. Even the most successful actors have other things going on. Children’s charities, Aid to Darfur, raising kids, producing, writing, directing, painting, teaching. Have a full life, have multiple sources of income, act whenever and however you can. But being an actor is not a choice.
You are an actor. The sooner you commit fully to that notion and give yourself permission to be an actor – whether you’ve booked a pilot this year or not – the sooner you’ll achieve the career that you want. And then your career will slow down, and then it will pick up again. Then slow again. You’ll manage the ups and downs with a full life, but you will always be an actor. No one can take that from you. Not even you.
Nurture your love for acting. Classes here at BGB.