Many actors all alike in ethnic ambiguity,
in fair audition waiting room,
where we lay our scene…
It was a typically overcast London evening, my fourth year of living abroad in the pursuit of my dream, and I had raced across town for a last minute audition. There I was, sitting in the approximately umpteenth-thousandth waiting room of my life, surrounded by better looking versions of me, two of whom must have known each other and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They discussed how a mutual friend, we’ll call him Such-and-such, had finally decided to quit the biz. “No way, not Such-and-such!” exclaimed Better-Looking-Me-2 to Better-Looking-Me-1. “But he was so good!” With a shrug and a forlorn sigh, Better-Looking-Me-1 replied, “Yeah, I know, but he’d just had enough, I think. Bumped into his girlfriend and she told me Such-and-such had been complaining about the industry for years. I’ve been considering throwing in the towel myself, to be honest. I mean, how long can we keep going to commercial auditions and doing one liners before it’s enough?” Better- Looking-Me-2 cursed under his breath and added darkly, “I know what you mean. We’re getting to that age, aren’t we?” They then spoke of projects they’ve been trying to get off the ground themselves, and how irked they were by being told about auditions at the last minute and having to beg their respective employers to let them leave early to catch this one. Soon I was called into the casting, and as I entered the room and another version of me departed it, I overheard Better-Looking-Me-3 approach the others and say: “Hey, I was listening to what you guys were saying before, I feel the exact same…” The door closed, and I commenced my extremely short monologue about the latest washing detergent – “clears even the most stubborn stains”.
My handsomer doppelgängers and I range from around the early to mid 30’s mark (though our playing age is 27 and up, the “every-man type”, if anyone wants to know—anyone at all). I have been at it for nearly 15 years now, and from the sounds of that conversation, I’m not the only one who’s Thespiological Clock has started ticking. Probably, like me, they commenced their marathon for work right out of high school, absorbed every drop of their advanced performing arts training, clawed through the tides of student films and profit-share passion projects, and now surf a semblance of a professional career. After a substantial turn at treading these waters, the great question looms like the warning clicks of the hungry crocodile coming for Captain Hook’s other hand… Has my time come?
Naturally we all grab for that one success story we’ve carried close to our breast since the first time we were bitten by the acting bug – you know, the one about how there was that famous actor living in their car, eating tuna from the can and considering giving it all up when they booked that one glorious role that changed their life. You know, Emma Stone played her in ‘La La Lies’. If you can believe it, I still hope that story comes true for me too. But there are 3 crucial factors we often consider before arriving at this point…
3 Crucial Considering Factors…
The Social Factor.
The tumultuous and uncertain nature of any professionally creative pursuit would give anyone pause before daring to include other people on such a gamble. We’re willing to dedicate our lives to the dream no matter the cost, but asking someone else to pay part of the price is another matter. Some artists choose to isolate themselves almost completely, keeping even brief relationships at cautionary arms length, lest they suffer too deeply under the inevitable sacrifices that must be made for this intangible greater goal. While others bravely test the fortitude of their relationships, holding onto the most significant people with every ounce of themselves they can spare, the morsels of commitment they haven’t already exhausted on their work. But for how long can we sustain such a life?
It is not uncommon for artists to postpone having a family, children, and “settling down” in lieu of achieving their continuously elusive dream. Some even uproot their lives and move away from their loved ones in search of greater opportunities to foster their chances of success. Of course, these were the active choices of the artist, themselves, and they would be the first to admit it. GONG! goes the Thespiological Clock and we being to weigh up our options and examine our choices thus far. We start to consider our social standing and involvement, re-evaluating whether we want to continue sacrificing relationships, and all the possibilities that can come from them, in exchange for a dream that isn’t quite satisfying us as it may have once, or as we once imagined it would.
The Financial Factor.
Many reading this will probably recognise the frightening low of financial strain, actor or not, but we artists have seized ownership over that particular cliché for a reason. Actors are infamous for our inconsistent livelihoods, even dawning the jest: “Oh, you’re an actor, which restaurant do you work at?” I am reminded of something that happened about 8 years ago when a customer recognised me from a TV commercial running at the time; I confirmed it was me in the ad when he queried and in the same breath took his dessert order and then cleaned his dirty plates. I hasten to add, there is ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME in working alternate jobs while pursuing your creative career, it’s usually vital – and trust me, there is bloody hard work and fierce honour in waiting tables – always tip your servers, they’re people too! And like my Better-Looking-Me brethren, I have also risked and lost alternate jobs for taking a punt on auditions instead, justifying: “well I didn’t really care about that job like I do acting, so it doesn’t really matter”. All actors imagine that one day when they can toss down the apron or storm away from their cubicle for the last time, and after a while one can’t help but flirt with doing something radical to make it come true.
(You may also like to read a great article by Patrick Cullen where he addresses this internal conflict of the actor juggling other occupations.)
I was swept away by the incomparable Peter Dinklage’s inspiring collegiate speech – you’ve seen it – the one where he talks of how at 28 he quit all his other jobs and vowed to only live off acting wages from now on, forcing him to find more work. The same
experiment didn’t quite work out for me as well as it did for Tyrion Lannister, so it was back to the flexible, casual, or part-time salt mines. And so we all go on bartending, coffee making, teaching, pizza delivering, front of housing, promoting, call-centring, tour guiding, table waiting and waiting and waiting… Waiting for what? (The aforementioned jobs are all based on reality, by the way). Once upon a time I was sure I could endure pliable employment that I didn’t really enjoy because I was doing it to facilitate the dream. But now…
By the ticking of my clock, wicked thoughts in ev’ry tock…
Tick-tock – How long will this be my primary goal when those valiant and ardent efforts could be channelled into another vocation with more attainable results? Tick- tock – Will I ever be as satisfied with anything else apart from what I’ve known has always been my life’s calling: acting?
Tick-tock – If I quit the chase now, have I failed?
The Mental Factor.
Tick-tock – Am I still happy doing this?
The very presence of the clock suggests that something is wrong. Something is not working, and with every strike it takes its Notre-Dame-bell-sized toll on your mind. Even the die-hard artist tires of a constant war between their passion and their circumstance, as much as they say one informs the other. The danger rises when the struggles start to steal the joy from the work itself, from the part of us we once would have sworn impervious to any obstacle we faced. And when that happens, how can we possibly justify continuing along this harrowing path and what do we become if we abandon that for which we have strived more than anything else in the world? It’s all that we know…
Tick-tock – Where do we go from here?
Let’s make one thing clear. There is a reason why the ticking is slightly silenced by solace of the fact that no matter one’s profession we can all lose our way and sense of ultimate purpose. It was no accident that I began this article talking about fellow actors who looked just like me and were also experiencing the very same woes. And if any of this article rings some truth within you, the reader… well… then all the more to my point.
You are not alone. We are not alone. It is OK to feel this way. You are OK.
I’ve always seen performing arts as simply another medium for storytellers, and it would seem an ironic twist of fate that I should use telling my story to salve the wounds that came from losing the will to do so. In light of that realisation, while technically this disenchantment is common in many walks of life and that no issue can be mended without acknowledging it first, how might we actors use our unique set of abilities to cope with it?
We’ve trained to know that the story’s hero must overcome many seemingly impossible challenges, none worse than the moment in every narrative where all feels lost and the hero must use the lessons they’ve learnt along the way to save themselves. Perhaps we should consider being bitten by the acting bug as something akin to Peter Parker’s radioactive spider. What awesome new skills have we acquired that would look amazing on the bottom of ANY sort of future resume? And as we check these near superpowers off the list, perhaps they might sweeten an all too familiar and otherwise bitter sound to our ear…
Super sticky adaptability, enabling us to swing from one unknown to the next with the greatest of ease… Tick! Endurance of steel, able to leap myriad rejections in a single bound… Tick! Can move on from innumerable, unexplained letdowns faster than a speeding bullet! Tick! Can sit in a room of a hundred people just like me, and still make my uniqueness shine… Tick! Can weather, withstand and survive almost any storm… even if they make us question everything we know… even this one… Tick.