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The Working Actor

Baby Blues

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Baby Blues
Dear Jackie:

I have had a very difficult time finding work as an actress and thought I should join a call-in service to help me find background work. One of the companies I found liked my pictures and invited me to join them. It will cost $75 per month, and work is not guaranteed.

Then a few days later I found out I'm pregnant. My husband is nervous but thrilled. It will be our first.

Should I just give up acting altogether and find a different career that pays a regular salary? What will happen to my dream? Should I continue to look for a better agent who will send me out? Should I even bother continuing with showcases and workshops? Should I continue to work on student films and theater that doesn't pay? I don't even qualify for SAG health insurance.

Everything in acting seems to cost me money, but I never really make any money anymore. Background work used to be a steady income before green screens and special effects came along. LACasting.com has audience work, which is tough on the morale, and none of the audience agencies want to take me on for steady work, even though I offered to pay their $65 per month fee. All the job ads seem like they're for unpaid infomercials and unpaid student films or roles for young, perfect, model-looking women involving sexual situations or nudity at $100 a day. My agents are not really sending me out, and all of them have bad reputations.

Am I finished as an actor?

—Pregnant and Pessimistic

Dear Pregnant:

It sounds to me as if this baby is coming at a perfect time. You are in a rut—tied down to background and audience work, eking out a few bucks here and there, working with subpar agents who aren't getting you out. You're actively looking for other roles, so it's clear your intention isn't to remain in the background forever, but your current career situation sounds pretty bleak.

Enter your new baby. I'm a mom, so maybe I've got a slanted view on this, but I'd say you're on the verge of one of the most exciting, crazy, ridiculously lovely times of your life. Use this, well, interruption as an excuse to take a break. Sure, you can let your poorly reputed agency know that you're available for those rare pregnant roles and do background work when it's convenient. You can keep up the workshops and enjoy your acting class—if you'd like. Or you can just let the whole kit and caboodle go for a while.

Agent Hugh Leon of Coast to Coast Talent Group in Los Angeles agrees that now is not the time to look for a new representative.

"I don't think she needs to call it quits because she's pregnant, but while there may be a few roles for pregnant women scattered here and there, I would suggest she put her quest for an agent on hold until after she gives birth and feels that she is ready physically, mentally, and emotionally to put 100 percent of her efforts back into her acting career," he says. "Many women feel very strongly that they will indeed continue to pursue their acting endeavors a few months after having a child and simply have a change of heart after. It may be due to the time commitment involved, what to do with the baby when they get an audition, or simply that their priorities change. I would not personally sign a new talent who was pregnant for any of the above reasons, although of course I continue to represent my current clients who happen to become pregnant."

Your priorities won't be the only things shifting. I remember getting a day-of call for an audition after I'd had my first child and how hilarious it seemed to me that my agent would ask me to be across town, looking like my headshot, in two hours. Didn't she realize that I hadn't slept more than three hours at a time for the last month and had baby vomit in my hair? Didn't she understand that my son would scream his head off in his car seat as I sat in traffic on the 405 freeway? I was still committed to acting; I just needed some time to figure out what that would mean and how it would all work. You'll need that too.

An actor, mother, and member of the Actors' Network in L.A., Roberta E. Bassin shares these words of encouragement about balancing a family and a performer's life:

"I joined babysitting co-ops. I used to write 1,000 postcards waiting for my daughter to take her gymnastics class. She enjoyed going to my theater company and handing out the tickets. My son had fun helping create characters and reading scripts with me. As they grew, so did my career. It was less of a balancing act and more of a balanced life between family and career. I am very grateful to have accomplished both and not sacrificed one for the other. Trust me; you have been given a gift of a child. Although it may seem like poor timing, be open to this new journey, embrace it, learn from it, savor the experience—all of which will make you a better, more successful, interesting person on and off the screen. As Chita Rivera said, 'My daughter is my best production.' Both of my children are UCLA graduates. My son is an attorney and my daughter is a physical oceanographer. Most importantly, they are good and productive people helping to make the world a better place. They truly are my very best production."

Your career is not where you want it to be, and background and audience work isn't what you'd hoped for when you set out on your path. Accept where you're at, be grateful for the lessons learned, and realize that you aren't stepping away from a career in full swing. You're still at the beginning, and now is not the time for a major surge of professional activity. Stop struggling upstream against unpaid infomercial and nudity gigs and relax. Get some sleep before your baby comes.

Motherhood puts things in perspective and deepens your capacity to feel. You'll be a better, wiser, more centered actor when you decide you're ready to get back into the game. I'm not telling you to give it up, mind you. Just reassuring you that, should you choose to heed my advice and take a breather, the industry will be here when you get back.

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