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WORKING ACTOR

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DEAR JACKIE:

I would just like to comment on the correspondence between yourself and "Lost Soul Working for the Devil" [Sept. 11 issue]. As far as "the devil" is concerned—and I have no doubt that this is her way of describing corporate America—I've been working for the devil for quite some time now.

And what have I found out? This evil entity gives me paid vacation and sick days so that I can do occasional gigs. This evil entity provides medical insurance so that I can take proper care of myself, and a 401(k) so I can save for the future. It gives me a nice check every two weeks so that I can pay my bills and rent, have cable TV, and afford acting lessons, singing lessons, nice clothes and shoes to audition with. Oh, and food. That's very nice. I can have my hair cut and colored every couple of months because of the devil. I can save up and create my own work with the awful money provided by the devil, renting out a theatre to collaborate with other actors and putting on a production or renting out a cabaret space to sing. I have money for photographers, headshots, and fliers. If I want to go on an Equity open call, I can take the morning off as one of the many vacation or sick days available to me, and sometimes I can even just come in a couple of hours late and still be paid.

Yes, I do need to make some very tough decisions about what auditions I have to skip and what I really must go to. Sometimes it is heartbreaking, I admit it. But guess what? If you give it a chance, you might find out that the Devil Corp. consists of really great people who actually get excited when they hear you're performing.

Don't use my name, because the devil is probably secretly reading Back Stage and not telling me.

—Anonymous

via the Internet

DEAR ANONYMOUS:

I think the key for any artist pursuing any craft while trying to stay housed, clothed, and fed is balance. Surely, Lost Soul had given too much of her time and energy to her day job and felt it was taking over the creative parts of her. You, on the other hand, have been able to benefit from a job's perks without sinking into its detriments. This is an individual issue at least partially determined by temperament and has little to do with how much potential one has or how badly one wants to succeed. I say this from personal experience.

I too had my time working for the devil, although in my case I think it was the actual devil. After graduating from the National Theatre Conservatory with my MFA and working in New York for a year, I came to L.A. ready to make my mark. Soon I got a day job working in the office of a production company. As time passed in this very flexible position—I could leave anytime to audition, and no one minded one bit—I took various opportunities for promotions and raises. People quit and were fired, and soon I found myself making great money and in charge of just about everything. I was the head of production. What did I produce? Infomercials.

I justified this to myself in that I was learning a lot from very talented people—we made high-quality infomercials—but I quickly became saturated in this demanding job and began paying less and less attention to my art. My bosses were fantastic, letting me skip out for auditions or bookings on a moment's notice, but my time was, somehow, no longer my own.

One example: Our company used that annoying 1990s Nextel technology through which you could walkie-talkie people in your office cell network and your voice would just sort of pop out of their phone, intercom-style. I remember a morning when I was in the shower and my boss was suddenly calling me from across the room. "Ja?"—that was his nickname for me—"Ja? Are you there?" For a moment I stood there, dripping wet and perplexed, and then rushed to the phone.

Eventually I had to leave this flexible, well-paying, benefits-giving, relaxed-office-where-I-could-wear-jeans-every-day job. I realized I am not someone who can give herself partially to things. I get wrapped up, focused, and determined to succeed at everything I do—a great trait when it's focused on art, just plain distracting when it's focused on a day job. As for the devil, well, I think the very fact that I was writing scripts that said things like, "Are you tired of old-fashioned, back-straining sit-ups? Are you sick of fad diets that don't work? Well, now there's a better way!" shows that I had lost the part of me that reveled in Anton Chekhov. Only by quitting was I able to reclaim it.

Surprisingly, I still miss that company and that job. And far from anything I ever could have predicted, it was paramount in getting me my current day job, where I get to teach acting and directing to film students. It turns out working for the devil gave me mad low-budget, indie production skills, and I teach those too.

DEAR JACKIE:

My 16-year-old sister-in-law loves acting but has no idea where to start. She saw a website and was super excited to see that they were casting for a movie she has been dying to be in.

I had the acting bug when I was younger and was in a few commercials, and when I looked at the website I saw that it was way too sketchy. When I confronted her about it, she freaked out. She needs some guidance, and I haven't been in the game in years.

—Concerned

via the Internet

DEAR CONCERNED:

Here's a thought: Instead of confronting her, try plying her with "gifts." Get her an acting business book right away: Try Self-Management for Actors, by Bonnie Gillespie. Not to self-promote, but you might subscribe to Back Stage and/or BackStage.com for her. She'll get lots of information coming at her every week and plenty of warnings about things like, well, the site you mentioned. This is likely to be taken as support instead of condemnation for her burgeoning aspirations. What you don't want to do is discourage her or try to scare her with overblown generalizations. If I remember my teenage years, talk like that had me signed in blood, committed to act or die!

Finally, you might email her this link: http://bbs.backstage.com /groupee. This link will take you to the Back Stage message boards, where she can e-communicate with fellow actors and aspirants. She might begin by posting any questions she has in the "Working Actor" or "New Actors Only" forums. Your sister-in-law needs input, no doubt about it. It just may be that she needs it from outside the family.

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