You dream in iambic pentameter, celebrate the memorial of River Phoenix with more fervour than Christmas, and know your Aristophanes from your Agathon, so what would be more perfect than a career as an actor? Your personality, your lifestyle and your expectations all weigh into the equation in some startling ways. We’ve put together 3 things you should consider before you begin your acting career.
1. The work itself is fleeting.
There’s always a honeymoon period that’s filled with misconceptions in any fledgling career. Time spent idealising the future of that career with montages glorifying your passionate work ethic. Unfortunately, acting is even less likely to follow this vision than a more linear path. There are many occupations that are just as all-consuming as acting, but that run in a more linear manner where the work that you put in equals the achievement that you get out of it.
Acting is the epitome of a codependent relationship. It’s the healthy kind, where the collaboration between two parties makes both the stronger for their interaction, an ecosystem, if you will. Not even touching on the international scale of operations in film, and sticking with the example of the more localised process of theatre, there are pressures involved in casting, your director’s vision, your fellow actors, all of the collaboration involved that precedes you being given the opportunity to actually do some acting. Even in a cabaret or solo show, putting aside all of the collaborative efforts and going straight to the source, you need to rely on audience attendance if you want that show to count as a career success. It’s an exhausting list.
This is the decidedly unartistic definition of a career, which demands that you make money out of your pursuits. It is a tough industry in which most of your work will never see the light of day, and you’ll rely on a whole heap of different cards being drawn in precisely the right order before you can start acting in this career sense of the word. If you are someone who needs to be constantly occupied or busied with the work that you rely on to pay your rent, then pick up a lucrative hobby, or consider another channel through which to support your passions. Maybe you can dive further into the passion that has drawn you this far along the acting route. Is it acting itself that you are passionate about, or is it the human connection and expression that you feel can’t be achieved in any other medium than theatre or film? Is it the importance of the film industry in expanding awareness and representation globally? Are you drawn to becoming an actor/producer, or actor/director, or actor/lighting designer? It’s worth considering a bunch of different avenues that compliment your acting pursuits.
If no related activities appeal to you, you might want to reconsider your motives for acting. The likelihood of a career in which you can engage in acting in isolation is precisely zero. Find the route of your passions and soon, the acting itself will become less mysterious and cruel, and simply another form with which to channel that higher purpose you’ve chosen to follow throughout your life.
2. There is no concept of a regular life.
If there’s a white picket fence and 2.5 kids in your future, then pursuing acting as a career is not a particularly good idea. Coming from a conservative viewpoint of raising said white picket fence family in a white picket fence way, you will need to provide funds for all sorts of adult things for yourself, and the humans that you brought into this world. A steady income is going to be essential if you want to pay for mortgages, insurance, school fees, food, clothing, transport – the list goes on. If you have a non-negotiable vision of future stability, then you have to choose between the instability of an acting career, and the stability of a typical, regular life.
A typical acting career is one where nothing is guaranteed, and every job brings a new adventure. This is one of the major drawcards for many aspiring actors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t jive with building a healthy, well rounded life outside of acting. You’re required to drop everything at the very whiff of a potential opportunity, and while you may thrive on this sort of devotion to your craft, the little humans that depend on you will not.
This is all spoken from an idealised white-picket-fence scenario. There are plenty of actors who make it work, and they are gods among men. We’re talking about the 99% of actors here, by the way. We see Hollywood superstars having kids all the time, right? A few points to consider: Many of them have oodles of money to throw at education, nannies, chefs, travel expenses for their kids to visit them on set, and many of those children have become celebrities themselves. In the judgement free zone of Stagemilk, this is neither a positive or a negative upbringing, but it is up to you as to whether that is an ideal lifestyle in your mind. The other point regarding the 1%, is that many of them are having children much later in life, and you would still not regard their lifestyle as ‘settled down’. Their career came first, always.
It is a rough path, but there are so many advantages to raising children in alternative environments. The crux of the matter is, if you are concerned about the regularity and pay bracket of your pay check while weighing up potential career paths, then acting is off the cards. you can make it work, sure, but the sacrifices are going to be higher than the monetary compensation. This is the time when you need to get real with your expectations and accept your gut feelings. If family, home, or stability are a priority, and your career comes second, then acting should be considered as a hobby instead of a career. You can always be an authentic, successful and passionate actor on the side of your main source of income.
3. You will become part of a world that will change your life.
The entertainment industry can be a harsh mistress, but the camaraderie that is built upon these shaky foundations is incomparable to anything else. You will meet the most inspiring people, the most visionary souls, and you will get to work with people who are so selfless and pure, dedicated to a lifetime of bringing emotion and meaning into the world. These people will hold your hand through some harrowing shit. They’ll help you become a better artist, and by virtue of this, a better person. Sure, there’s the shills and the corporate types, those who seem hell-bent on giving the people what they want, but they are quickly picked out and very rarely are you alone in your opinion of the vultures of the art form.
There is an endless supply of mutual respect and support, which is why the industry is built on networking. It may seem unfair and impenetrable at times, but the prevailing reason for the insular community is to keep it safe, and maintain a sort of quality control for the soul. There is an obsessive quality to anyone pursuing a career in the arts, and this leads to encyclopaedic knowledge in their area of interest. By maintaining this clique, the movers and shakers of the industry can keep a finger on the pulse of production, direction and content. There’s a reason why social justice often begins to take flight from within the entertainment industry. By producing plays and films that address issues that are close to the artist’s heart, they gain traction and begin to spread through the global consciousness. The people in this industry care deeply about the product they create, and when a like-minded artist joins the fold, it’s like finding a diamond amongst the coal. If you are that diamond, you’ll never meet a more welcoming and selfless set of kindred spirits.
Hopefully this article has illuminated a few important considerations for what to expect as a prospective actor. There are so many nuanced differences between career trajectories that it can be hard to find anything other than the response of ‘it depends’. These are the three questions that I find elicit a knee-jerk response in those who want to dip their toes in. Usually, the go-to advice that I find the most eye-opening is “If you can see yourself doing absolutely anything else, then go and do that instead.” If you draw a blank on that question, then welcome to the fold. You will never work harder at anything in your life, and every second of it will be worth the fight.