Let’s start with a tough question: are you thinking about quitting acting? There’s no shame if the thought’s crossed your mind. It’s actually a fairly common question for actors—especially as a new year of rejection and uncertainty feels like it’s stretching out ahead, with one just as tough having only just passed. If you are thinking about quitting acting, you’ve got some serious feelings and ideas to contend with, some serious questions to ask and answer honestly. In this article, we’re going to bring them all out into the open so you can make an informed decision.
It is entirely normal for an actor to think about quitting acting. If you find yourself in doubt, start by assessing your career and identifying what is causing you concern. Is there a way to modify the way you work towards your goals? A way to pause your career, or redefine your objectives? Quitting acting is always a viable option; however, many actors find that simple reassessment and planning can be enough to grant them a second wind.
Before we jump in, it’s worth us being honest about where we stand with this topic. We love actors at StageMilk, and it is our mission to support them in their acting journeys. However, we also acknowledge that the actor’s life is not for everybody—whether by choice or simply by circumstance. In this article, we’re going to be as impartial as we can be in conveying the information to come. Please know that whatever your decision, you have our deepest affections and respect.
It’s Normal to Think About Quitting Acting
Take two points if you’ve ever heard an actor say this at a party, swilling cheap red wine: “There’s no question that I’m an actor. There’s nothing else I can do, nothing else I’d rather be doing. It’s my calling, it’s me, it’s everything I am.” Take another two points if you were really impressed the first time you heard it. How’s your score? Tell you what: take a million points if you’ve realised, yet, that this attitude is complete bulls**t.
Acting is a difficult career path. It’s wonderful and beautiful and rewarding and exciting, sure. But a lot of the time it’s incredibly stressful and painful. You know who doubts their career as an actor? People with sense, people without something ridiculous to prove.
Doubt says absolutely nothing about your worth as an artist. Doubt, if anything, is healthy. It means you’re checking in with yourself and marking your own life and wellbeing as a priority. As for blind faith? It sounds more like a person trying to convince themselves than the mark of a brilliant thespian…
Reasons for Quitting Acting
If you’re thinking about quitting acting, first try to identify the cause/s of this line of thought. Below, we’re going to list a few classic reasons actors hang up their tights, along some quick suggestions as to how they might be reframed or countered.
It’s hard to feel like an actor when you’re not working as one. And if it’s been a while since you’ve last booked a professional job, it’s easy to think about packing it all in. Just remember that this isn’t on you, it’s a universal woe: the statistics differ, but most outlets estimate that 85 – 98% of performers are unemployed (as actors) at any one time.
What’s to be done? First of all, remind yourself that dry spells happen. Just because you’re not starring in the next Marvel blockbuster doesn’t mean that your career is over or that you have no worth. If things are quiet, take the opportunity to train, take a class, do some scene study. Update your headshots, tweak your resume, shoot a showreel. You might be surprised as to how a little focus in one of these areas might end the work drought…
What’s worse: hearing nothing about a potential acting job, or sending out five great self-tapes in a month and hearing “no” on all of them? Rejection sucks, and too much of it is enough to break any actor.
What’s to be done? Honestly, our advice about dry spells stands. That, and remembering that there are so many different reasons you didn’t get the job unrelated to talent or ability that we wrote an entire article on the subject. Feeling pangs of rejection is a great reason to lean on your creative community—your actor/artist friends who’ve been there and felt the same feelings. Get together, crack a bottle of wine and commiserate.
Cost of Living
How much do actors get paid? Not a lot, as we’re sure you know by now. The increasing cost of living is enough for any actor to question their career, especially as paid acting work hardly equates to long- or even short-term stability.
What’s to be done? Is there a way to take the pressure off your acting career as a financial pillar in your life? Can you seek out more work opportunities external to your acting? It might also be a sign that you need to do less jobs that do not pay, or even prioritise your financial situation over your career goals—at least in the immediate future. Don’t forget that the vast majority of actors have other streams of revenue, teaching, presenting, working in hospitality or retail. A day job is no sign of retreat, let alone failure.
Getting more hours at your day job? Hoping to marry and start a family? Sick and tired of explaining your career choice to parents at Christmas? External pressures are difficult for actors; they can spell the end to an acting career rather easily, as they often stem from other important things in your life you’re loathe to give up (or, in the case of friends and family, disappoint.)
What’s to be done? Find balance. Your entire life as an artist will be about seeking balance between your creative life and, well, everything else. Thoughts of quitting often signal a need to re-jig that balance and to establish some firmer boundaries.
Losing the Fire
Arguably, this reason for quitting acting is present in all the others. At the very least, it’s something that results in the other pressures mounting. One day, you may wake up and realise you don’t love it quite so much, or you’ve lost the fight in you that kept you going through previous dark times.
What’s to be done? Be honest with yourself. Try to identify why you think you’re losing the spark and acting doesn’t shine so brightly. It could be related to any one of the above reasons, or just creep in on its own—even when things are going well. However it manifests, our advice is to listen to yourself and address the fact that, hey, acting is not always beer and skittles.
But remember this: actors have far more sway over their attitude and situation than they might think. Keep thinking, keep searching, keep planning. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the options on hand.
Redefine Your Acting Career
If you find yourself thinking about quitting acting, and it’s not a good feeling, start by redefining what your career looks like. A lot of actors get into this game thinking about ways to get famous and what their address will be in Hollywood. This is fine, and a little bit of this is healthy—bet on yourself, after all.
But focus on fame and fortune is no way to prolong a healthy, lasting acting career. If you truly love the work you do, you won’t be fulfilled only by the promise of a franchise of your very own. So redefine your acting career: redefine what success looks like and what your goals might be.
What’s your definition of success? What’s a dream role you can snag in the next five years? How might you live comfortably? What’s the kind of recognition you’d like from the creative community in your life. Here’s a personal example, refined after almost ten years in the creative industry: to me, success looks like doing one thing at a time. No hustle, no thousand other jobs, no multitude of projects on the go. If I found myself working on one thing and one thing only, I’d know progress has been made.
“Can I Pause my Acting Career?”
Yes, you absolutely can! Actors take pauses in their careers all the time; often, they don’t realise they’ve done it. Life gets in the way, jobs that pay bills come up. Sometimes, you can find yourself doing something related to acting but not quite—and in the ensuing success you don’t even realise that your focus has shifted.
If you love acting, and if you’re willing to work hard at your career if you return to it after a break, then it’s an excellent option to consider. Just be aware that time out of the game is time you won’t get back, and your profile/contacts/prospects won’t be the same. A lot can change when you step off the merry-go-round, even for six months or a year.
Here at StageMilk, we have actors returning from career pauses all the time. It can be disorienting, it can make you feel old or out of the loop. But we find most actors push all such intrusive thoughts aside once they rediscover their joy, and become excited by the possibility of new acting adventures. If you’re looking for this feeling, why not give our Scene Club a go?
“Am I Making a Mistake?”
If your career isn’t working out the way you’d hoped, if you’re not finding yourself fulfilled, if you’re not having fun with acting like you used to … that might be enough to get you thinking about quitting. The important takeaway is that it’s always your choice—whether you’re actively pursuing a career or not. And if you quit and think you’ve made a mistake by doing so? Start back up again.
If you’re a year, five years, twenty years down the line and you miss the life, you can surely find your way back to acting. Your path might be different, your goals might have re-adjusted in the life lived between now and your previous attempt. But odds are you’ll find just as much fulfilment where you left off—perhaps even more, as you approach your art with more life experience and maturity.
Follow your joy. We know how hokey that sounds (it was hard enough typing it), but it’s an important thing to remember in an artistic pursuit so often caught up in career progression. If you find yourself missing acting because you gave it up, come on back. It’s not like we’re running out of stories to tell!
So what’s next? If you’ve clicked on this article in the middle of a career and artistic quandary, we’d suggest you take some time to think openly and honestly. Remember, through it all, that thinking about quitting acting and actually quitting are two very different things. A bit of doubt is healthy, and if that turns into a pause or change of career there’s nothing wrong with that either.
No matter what you’re thinking, no matter your decision, keep this in mind: you are an actor. If you take acting seriously, if you give it your love and your efforts and even a piece of your life, you have merit and worth as an artist. So for all the doubts and all the conclusions you may need to draw, for all the pain that honesty can bring, bear no uncertainty about your worth as a performer to be regarded and taken seriously. If that sways you one way or the other, if that helps at all, we’re happy to hear it.
At the very least, know you have our respect, and that of your wider community artistic peers.