Too often I don’t feel like an actor.
I can count on both hands the number of acting jobs I’ve had since drama school, and I can count on one hand the number of paid acting jobs I’ve had since then. I’m embarrassed and frustrated by my lack of movement in this profession. In fact, when people ask me what I do, I say that I’m pursuing an acting career; rarely, do I say that I’m an actor because I feel that would imply that I’m a working actor, or at least someone auditioning on a regular basis. If I’m being truly honest, am I even really pursuing an acting career?
When I graduated from drama school, I felt prepared to work as an actor, but as time’s passed, I felt (and still feel) less prepared for my life pursuing an acting career. The business aspect of this life is what I am untrained for and despite telling myself that I will get better through continuous practice, I take up residency in the land of self-doubt. (Ugh, more of that later.)
As Katie Redford highlighted in her recent blog, the questions asked by lay people, “Are you in anything now?” “Have you been in anything that I would know?” are ones we hear on a regular basis. Nothing has reminded me more of my status as a non-working actor as when I am asked those questions or scroll through my Facebook feed. Fortunately, I found a flexible ‘in-between’ job that fits with my acting pursuits, saves me from the service industry and where the opportunity for colleagues to ask ill-informed (if well-meaning) questions is thankfully kept to a minimum: working nights as a paralegal at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
The office is a microcosm of society at-large: people from all walks of life find themselves arrested, police officers from different races find themselves patrolling communities that they either know very well or are unfamiliar with, and the staff is a myriad of diverse people. It certainly isn’t utopia, but it has provided me with an in- depth opportunity to see how the real world functions. On a nightly basis, I interview police officers and over the years have drafted over 10,000 cases covering charges from driving while intoxicated to criminal possession of a weapon. I’m good at it, but it is not what I want to do with my life. I’m not working in my profession. I’m not surrounded by people who understand what my professional desires are, who speak the same language I do when it comes to training for and desiring a life in the arts; I am not surrounded by members of my tribe, and so I often feel out-of-touch with the world in which I aspire to live, work and grow.
I don’t feel like an actor. My reticence in even embracing the noun I should feel I earned along with my MFA, is now becoming a growing obstruction in the path ahead. My confidence thus affected, the fear of not being good enough has also become a hindrance. I feel anxiety about putting myself out there in auditions (not once I’m rehearsing or performing), so I often don’t go, or even worse, I don’t put in the time necessary to seek them out. As I get older, my age is becoming another potential roadblock – it is one that none of us can circumnavigate. I know that this negative inner monologue is dangerous. It is defeating. It serves no good purpose. I know that, and at times, I find myself working hard to avoid circumstances where I’m forced to repeat this damaging mantra. I’m avoiding failure by avoiding acting.
If I heard one of my friends talk about themselves the way I talk about myself, I would be heartbroken. I’d want to find ways to be as supportive as possible. And if I take a step back from my own circumstances, I can admit that I have something to offer, that I have talent and that, with hard work, I deserve to be a working actor like anyone else. Family, friends, teachers and strangers have told me the same. If I’m having a good day, I believe those compliments to be true and I feel propelled. I am a good actor. Otherwise, those words become little more than white noise as some critical internal process reduces them to “things nice people say”.
I’m not a negative person. I’m an optimist. I believe in the inherent goodness of people. I believe that art can be transformative. I believe that the first day of rehearsals is one of the best days I’ve experienced and will experience as an actor.
What I love about acting is that it is interdisciplinary and a communal activity. In order to succeed as a performer, you need to rely on others and other people need to rely on you. We are each others’ lifelines. Perhaps, if I focus on that, and spend less time in my own head, and avoid my Facebook feed for a bit, I‘ll start to feel like less of an anomaly in this profession.