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The Working Actor

Parent Trap, Photo Flap

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Parent Trap, Photo Flap
DEAR JACKIE:

I'm an actor who happens to also be a mother—not a big deal. Like any professional, when I have a job, I balance my work with life with my husband and childcare.

My frustration lies in how often someone—a director, producer, or other actor—finds out I have children and immediately makes assumptions that are, quite frankly, biased and, in today's professional world, illegal. I've put up with everything from "You must be thankful to have such a selfless husband" at an Equity audition to "Don't worry about jobs right now; you should be enjoying your time with your children" in response to my inquiry about one day of extra work on a film!

This industry demands that you be personable, warm, outgoing, and vulnerable. I think motherhood has made me a better actor, so it would seem to make sense to share this information. Yet I can't tell you how many times people have used the fact that I'm a mother to edge me out of the competition. Help! What's my best strategy?

Frustrated in Mommywood
via the Internet

DEAR FRUSTRATED:

I'm not sure how you can best respond to such "nice" and "helpful" comments as the ones you describe. No good can come from you taking obvious offense, but I can see how keeping your mouth shut might be a struggle.

Although it may seem wise to share your status as a mother, perhaps you should try a little experiment: At your next 10 auditions, don't tell anyone about your kids unless in response to a direct question. Don't offer the fact that you're a parent, just as you wouldn't bring up other relationships. Why should "I have two kids" come up any more than "I have a great husband" or "I just love my sister"? I'm not saying you should hide it like some shameful secret. Just keep it to yourself a while, so you can ascertain whether people's perceptions of motherhood are actually affecting your results and how much.

This doesn't solve or even address the bias you're encountering, but what would? Since confrontation is, as you wisely realize, unhelpful, I'd suggest it's better to let your actions speak for you. Let the fact of your motherhood emerge later, after you've shown that you're a focused and tireless professional. Then let them marvel at your "selfless" husband and exhaustion-proof fortitude. Avoid getting sucked into a back-and-forth about the rights of mothers in the workforce. Meet comments like "You must never sleep!" with lighthearted shrugs of "Yes, I feel really blessed to have such a full life."

I also have children, and I've tried to take such comments—which I too get regularly—as compliments. Some people seem genuinely flustered that I can act and teach and mother (and write this column) all in the same week. Calling my husband a saint for doing his fair share, oohing and aahing over my busy schedule, or warning me not to overdo it seems to make them feel better. Sometimes it even boosts my ego to hear them say they just can't imagine how I do it.

Some people are stuck in old-fashioned perceptions of women and work. Some are trying to make conversation or pay you an honest compliment, while some are envious that you can manage more than they can. Have sympathy for them and move on.

DEAR JACKIE:

I'm an actor who's been working for a long time in variety arts without the need for a headshot. Now that my daughter is heading off to college, I'm planning on doing more theater. To that end, I've gotten headshots by a respected photographer. Since my last headshots, long ago, the layout fashions seem to have changed.

I believe my photo looks strongest and best with full bleed and knockout type. Consensus agrees. I know the fashion now is more toward a half-inch white border all around with a 3-point black rule and knockout type, or half an inch on the top and sides and 1 inch on the bottom, with the name in black type, right- or left-aligned.

It so happens that I'm a trained, experienced graphic artist (major work with New York ad agencies on national campaigns). I trust my judgment, but I also know that tastes in this business can be based more on fashion. My photographer told me to ask agents what they think. Well, I need an agent; I don't have one. That's why I'm getting headshots, in part. So I'm asking you: Will anyone have a fashion freak-out if I use full bleed? I say there shouldn't be a fashion; there should be what looks best. Your thoughts?

R.D.R.
New Jersey

DEAR R.D.R.:

Full bleed? You've got to be kidding me! Don't you know that's as passé as a spiral perm and a Flock of Seagulls bang swoop? No one will take you seriously! You might as well be sending out a woodblock print!

Okay, in all seriousness, I have no idea what full bleed is. I doubt most casting people do either.

I think you're correct not to worry too much about layout fashions. Your photo should be in vibrant color, taken by a talented, experienced professional headshot photographer. It needs to appear modern, "pop," and—most important—look like you. The layout? As long as you stay away from those old-school commercial compilations that show the actor in various outfits (He's a doctor! A factory worker! A lawyer!) and the font and borders don't distract from your picture, layout is unimportant.

If you want to stick with what's popular, do a quick search through the online portfolios of popular headshot photographers. You can find examples or links to photographer websites on the sites of most reproduction houses, such as Reproductions (www.reproductions.com). Dive in and look around. Or, given your background, you might just trust your own judgment on this minor issue. When you land an agent, he or she is sure to offer two more cents on the subject.

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