I Can’t Afford to be ‘Just An Actor’

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Anyone else heard these before?

“It’s been a rough year.”

“Things are slow right now.”

“10 years ago…”

Oh, sweet potato fries! Enough! I graduated from theatre school five years ago and people were saying the same thing then. It’s always a slow year, it was always better before SARS, and we’re always a little young and have plenty of time.

But you know what? I’m done. I’m sick to death of complaining. I hope someone else out there is too. Sitting around talking about how there isn’t enough work in this industry, or the right kind of work, or the work you wish you were doing, is a waste of your time and mine. I don’t want to hear it, and you shouldn’t waste your breath saying it. Ask yourself where you want to be in five years. Go on. Really ask yourself. Is it Broadway? The West End? LA? Or snuggled up in your 13-bedroom mansion with your hubby and your baby on the way after your successful stint as a movie star?

It doesn’t matter if it’s realistic or not, what matters is whether you personally have any control over getting yourself there. If you’re an actor, are you also a producer? If you’re a writer, are you also a director? If you’re a musician, are you also operating a studio? If your big dream involves you being plucked from obscurity by someone with money, guess what? It’s not going to happen.

It’s not a safe world out there for artists. The Hollywood stars we admire and revere and want to be, whose careers we envy, they’re not just actors. They’re producers too. They’re business people. Jessica Alba just launched her own online company for crying out loud.

Look at this: Tom Hanks’ IMDb. Just look. Scroll past his 70 acting credits and look at his 37 producing credits. Do this with anyone you admire in Hollywood. Anyone at all, anyone who’s been working in Hollywood for more than 10 years, no One Hit Wonders. You will find proof that they are not ‘just’ actors. They are business people, producing, directing, writing, shaping their own careers, especially those who have transitioned (like Joseph Gordon Levitt, from teen in a TV series to leading man).

I’m sorry to say this guys, but no one is ‘Just An Actor’ anymore. As fun as it may sound to just book and audition and live off of your work, sooner or later that dries up, or you hit a slump, or SARS hits Toronto, and then everyone thinks it’s slow. Even those actors you admire, those who are working all the time, are also coaching, and teaching, or selling real estate on the side. I knew someone who worked the morning shift at Starbucks while he spent his nights in a Mirvish show, because you never know what’s going to happen.

That little voice inside of you, the one that feels crushed and scared and can’t bear the thought of not being an artist? You owe it to that voice to build the biggest web of security you can, a web that allows you to keep it alive, to keep making art, and keep doing what you do best. Because when you’re worried about paying rent, or buying groceries, you can’t make art. The best way to build that net is to create a network, a community, around your work, and to get to know as many aspects of your industry as you can.

But before you can do any of that you need to know: what is your art? If you were being held for execution and you had the time for one last piece, performance, story, what would it be? That’s the kind of art you need to save, protect, work for, and build a life around.

There’s a difference between making a living as an artist and making art worth living for.

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4 Replies to “I Can’t Afford to be ‘Just An Actor’”

  1. I really loved this post (and I’m not an actor)! I’m sure that it’s tough to get work. Not just any work, but the right kind of work. The kind of work that makes you feel with every bone in your body, that it’s going to take you somewhere wonderful. I’m confident that it’s this type of work that keeps actors going, despite the instability and uncertainty. Find out your art and fuel it with passion.

  2. Very nicely put, Erynn. No bullshit, no punches pulled, just straight to the point. I like it. And, something that I needed to have reinforced today.
    Write on.

  3. Exactly. I’m sure writers go through the same thing, though 🙂 especially in a world where most of the money is in ad writing and copy.

    How do you balance it?

  4. Thanks Adrian! Blogging helps me put it all in perspective, especially when I see that I’m not the only one 🙂

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