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THE WORKING ACTOR

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DEAR JACKIE:

I've grown and adapted my outlook on what will drive my career, but I want to graduate from undergrad before I get rolling. I get asked, "Are you afraid of the shortage of work?" all the time. In any given week I get an in-box of at least eight casting opportunities that I fit the breakdown for. That's a lot of opportunities to get an audition, exposure, and maybe even a role.

I don't believe that there is a shortage of work. I believe that there is a shortage of good actors. At the end of an audition day, you have to remind yourself, "I went in and did my work," and get on to the next audition. It's easy to get caught up in a postmortem about every single audition. The worst thing I can do to myself is to beat myself up over an audition in which I may not get picked because my eyes are shaped a certain way. There is a ton of work out there.

I appreciate your Working Actor columns because they let me know that my head is in the right place and I'm not crazy for thinking there is a load of work out there.

—Chris Boykin

Baltimore, Md.

DEAR CHRIS:

I agree that evaluating and re-evaluating every audition is a useless endeavor. Although a little reflection—say, three to five minutes—can help improve your game, replaying moments you may not have handled well can only serve to confuse and discourage you. Besides, what you retroactively decide was wrong with your work may not be a problem, whereas something you congratulate yourself for might have turned the casting folks off. Actors who want to improve their audition technique should a) practice—meaning, audition for anything and everything to gain experience—and b) take a great audition class or hire an audition coach.

I also respect your willingness to adapt your vision of your career to the realities you'll find on the ground. Once you graduate and attempt to enter the work force full time, many of your presuppositions will be challenged. One you might find shattered quickly is that there's a "ton of work out there."

Although I think there are a lot of unpaid acting opportunities for those eager to perform, I hope I haven't given the impression that I think making money in an acting career is easy. Those who can support themselves on even the smallest of scales are rare. It can be done, and your openness to look for work in all available media will help, but don't let anything I've said fool you into thinking that paying acting work is abundant or easy to come by. If I ever do say such a thing, I invite anyone reading this to find me and pummel me with rotten tomatoes.

DEAR JACKIE:

I'm a 57-year-old character actor with more than 120—mostly nonunion—stage credits. I recently retired from a day job I had worked for over 30 years while acting on the stage at night, mostly to pursue a professional film and TV career. With my pension, money is not really an issue. It's about following the dream.

I am also a person with HIV, in my 22nd year with the virus, who struggles to balance daily fatigue with the demands for energy required to launch such a second career. Though I am in good health and asymptomatic, more than about six hours of peak energy a day is hard for me.

I have found that for stage roles, the time needed is predictable and can be planned for and worked around; for TV and film, the long hours, short notice, constant pushing, and even commute times are a challenge for someone who needs to rest after a few hours.

Is there hope for me in TV and film? Are there resources to help me get started in this new direction? How bad is the bias against people like me in the industry? What are my rights—under the Americans With Disabilities Act perhaps—to expect accommodations and help?

The spirit is willing, but the flesh gets tired quickly.

—RD

via the Internet

DEAR RD:

Congratulations on your retirement and the luxury it affords you to pursue a new avenue in the craft you love. New beginnings are always tough, especially with physical limitations such as the ones you describe, but I'd hardly say your aspirations are hopeless. Although SAG did not respond to requests for comment, Ray Bradford, the AFTRA national director of equal employment opportunities, thoroughly responds to your question.

"Persons with HIV or AIDS are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act," he writes in an email. "AFTRA's contracts and national constitution…afford protections for persons with disabilities. Our Equal Employment Opportunities department works with members to monitor discriminatory practices and find solutions for performers. The ADA restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability before a job offer is made and requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of the otherwise qualified individuals, unless it results in undue hardship to the employer. In that case, the employer would have to provide substantiation of that claim.

"The bottom line," he continues, "is that if this performer is otherwise qualified to perform what's required of them according to the breakdown or sides, they should be judged accordingly and cannot be discriminated against because of their disability. Of course, this is hard to prove since most employers' representatives—agents and casting directors—would never knowingly say something that puts them afoul of the law. But some do. And that's when an AFTRA member needs to contact their union. We handle all inquiries and complaints anonymously in the best interests of the member. Members can contact [me] at (323) 634-8298."

Russell Kieffer is the social work supervisor for the Western region of the Actors Fund, a national human-services organization for performing arts and entertainment professionals. "A lot of people with HIV work successfully in the business, though the issue of disclosure is a complicated one, especially in a time when clients are healthier, stronger, and living longer," he emails. "I think the challenges of getting started in the business, in general, are very complicated and time-consuming. Finding and sustaining consistent work will probably present more of a challenge initially than health-related issues. It is important for [your reader] to be mindful, however, of the time, stress, and energy it takes to break in, including auditions, follow-up, and self-marketing. It can require a fair bit of stamina."

As for resources, the Actors Fund may be the place to begin. "We have career counselors," Kieffer offers, "as do some other organizations. It might make sense for [your reader] to meet with one and map out his or her next steps."

Check out the Actors Fund website for more information on its programs. Go to www.actorsfund.org, click on the "Services and Programs" tab, choose "Social Services," and click on "HIV/AIDS Initiative."

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