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The Working Actor

All Prep and No Play, Lost in America

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All Prep and No Play, Lost in America
DEAR MICHAEL:

As a 39-year-old aspiring actress, I'm eager to hear your advice for late bloomers.

My own road to acting was inspired largely by Morgan Freeman, who did not go to Hollywood until his late 40s, and Marilyn Monroe, who stuttered yet managed to persevere and succeed. As a stutterer, I yearned to act but decided to first work on improving my voice, via singing lessons, volunteering as a lector at church, and reading for the Library for the Blind.

I've taken local acting classes at the Walnut Street Theatre and an Acting Shakespeare class in Princeton. As an academic/scholar, I've immersed myself in world cinema and old Hollywood movies. As a writer, I've been able to see the other side of the stage through playwriting conferences. I believe that my diverse experiences will enrich my acting. What else can you recommend?

—Late Bloomer
West Trenton, N.J.



DEAR BLOOMER:

I find your letter inspiring. It sounds like you've taken the bull by the horns and carved out great artistic adventures for yourself. You seem to possess a creative, enterprising spirit. I think most of us could take a page from your book.

But sometimes we're the last to know when we're ready for the next step. I noticed you said nothing about getting out there and auditioning. What are you waiting for? How about putting all that preparation and diverse experience to work in acting roles? Take it from a fellow late bloomer: Time's a-wastin'! As you're in New Jersey, you may even want to start dipping your toes into the New York waters (er, not literally), commuting in when you spot roles for which you're perfect, maybe even trying to get a New York agent. You might also benefit from joining a theater company, which can provide an artistic family and a home base.

With your determination, there's no telling what might happen.



DEAR MICHAEL:

I am from Japan and live in New York City. I had been on a student visa (couldn't work) for three and a half years, but finally, starting May 1, I'll have a work permit for one year. I am planning to apply for an artist visa.

I've spent so much time and energy training for the past three and a half years while performing in small theaters. In April, I started meeting industry people, and now I have a manager and agents. But I am really feeling lost and rejected now.

I signed an exclusive contract with a personal manager, and she sent me on two commercial auditions. But since then I haven't heard from her. I'm meeting casting directors through networking and Actors Connection, and I send updates to her once a week. But nothing back from her. Am I on her failed-actor list?

Through her, I started working with commercial and legit agents, and they sent me on one commercial audition, but I haven't heard from them. I freelanced with a print agency last week, but no call yet. I interviewed with another print agency two days ago but don't know yet how they like me. I have an interview with a commercial/print agency tomorrow.

I know I need to keep on working. I know I need to network, so I'm trying to meet agents and CDs as much as possible. But I came a long way to get agents and a manager, and because of one audition, did I lose it all?

A lot of seminars advise actors on how to get an agent. But I don't know how to keep myself "fresh" once I start working with them. All I know is I need to keep them posted, keep doing performances and showcases, and keep networking. What else? Have they given up on me already?

My precious time is running out, but I'm sitting on the couch feeling rejected. Help me.

—Budding Actress

New York City



DEAR BUDDING:

I'm truly sorry you're having such a difficult time. This business can break your heart sometimes. And I'm sure it's even harder when you're not in your home country.

Here's what you're doing right: You're being active, and it sounds like you've gotten attention from a manager, agents, and casting directors. Most actors who are new have difficulty even getting meetings. So take heart. You're doing well.

Try to understand: Most of these people are not sitting around hating you. They're busy. Unless they have something for you, you don't hear from them, because, unfortunately, your emotional needs aren't their concern. Here's my suggestion: Instead of sitting at home wondering whether the agents have given up on you, call them and have some honest conversations. Tell them you're concerned because you haven't heard from them in a while and ask them if there's a problem.

You have a manager. The manager's job is to look at the big picture and advise you on your career. If you haven't heard from your manager, it's your right as a client to call. And you should. You should set up a meeting and talk in person if possible. Together, work on figuring out what's wrong.

Here's what I think the manager and agents will say: They'll probably tell you that because you're Asian, there are fewer parts for you. They'll also tell you that you need to significantly improve your English (your letter contained many grammatical errors, which had to be cleaned up), so you'll have a better chance at the few roles that come along. Those answers may not make you happy, but at least you'll know where you stand.

Then what? Where do you go from there? Well, I think you would benefit from spending more time with fellow actors. Find a place where actors hang out—a theater company, a coffeehouse. Just make friends with as many actors as you can. I've found the community of actors to be like a family. We're all crazy, but I've gotten more support, encouragement, and camaraderie from this adopted family than I ever got from my own. Fellow actors can also share information and resources. What's more, being around them will improve your English (well, New York English, anyway).

The actor's profession can be lonely and discouraging. We need each other. Don't sit at home feeling lost. Get out, get inspired, get encouraged, and get to know your family. You may learn that what you're experiencing isn't so unusual. For most actors, getting a career going is nearly impossible. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and stubbornness. Most never achieve success. But we hang in there, because we have to. Remember, no one ever said this was going to be easy.


Questions for The Working Actor? Send an email to theworkingactor@gmail.com.  Thank you!

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