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First Person

Trying to Quit Acting: The Movie

Trying to Quit Acting: The Movie
"Go. Get out while you still can," said an older actress I met recently.

"If there is anything—anything at all—besides acting that you can do with your life, do it."

I hate it when people say that. Of course there are other things I can do. I am an intelligent, hardworking and capable human being. I can do lots of other things besides being an actor.

But this isn't about 'can' and 'cannot.' I want to be an actor. I do not want to be a [insert reasonable profession here]. I could, but I will not.

There have been times, however, when I've thought, "Maybe I'm supposed to do something else. Maybe I'm supposed to be somewhere else. Maybe this story is supposed to go another way."

I don't necessarily believe in fate, but I can take a hint from the universe.  And often the universe seems to want me to be an actress. Yet it continually puts lots of obstacles in my way, and causes me to doubt my career choice.  Yet every time I try to leave acting to do some other thing, that other thing turns around and slaps me in the face. Does the universe have a sense of humor, or malice?

If my life were a movie, it might go something like this.  (Very possibly based on actual events.)

Scene One: Sarah Tries to Make Some Money

Thinking that maybe she would like to be rich—or at least not share a studio apartment with a roommate and bedbugs—Sarah decides to quit acting and find a job with a (bigger) paycheck.

The Action: Sarah is offered a great job at which she earns good money and nice perks. (iPhone! Lux yoga studio membership! Flatscreen TV!) Yet there are downsides.  She spends most of the day at the office—actually her boss Robby's one-bedroom apartment—lying to clients about the company's ability to deliver the service they promise.

Sarah never really knows quite to expect when she walks in the door each morning.

Sometimes Robby asks her to write articles on interesting subjects, like how to start a business. Sometimes he tells her to sit on the couch and watch "South Park." Robby frequently calls her at three o'clock in the morning with odd requests. She also receives gross emails from salesmen that reference her 'capabilities' in a bathing suit. (Eww.)

Maybe being broke isn't so bad.

A few nights later when she is out at a bar (because what else are you going to do when you're employed with such people?), a director she admires asks if she would be available to A.D. a off-off Broadway show. Why, yes! Indeed, Sarah is available! There is no money involved but, man, working in theater will make her feel awesome again!

Quickly, Sarah quits money-making job for theatre-bliss. 

Scene One, Take Two: Sarah Tries to Make Some Money (Again)

The Action: After being happily unemployed for several months, Sarah decides that she needs to get a job. A friend offers her a waitressing gig, but...

She meets Angela, a literary agent, at a party. Sarah's eye's grow wide and her heart pounds faster as Angela the Agent asks about her writing work, and mentions that she needs an assistant.

Sarah reveals that she has administrative experience as her imagination takes a hold of her and she dreams about her increasingly fairy-tale future:

Sarah will work hard for this woman, becoming her invaluable assistant and creative partner.  Sarah will write a book that Angela the Agent will fall in love with and pass on to all her contacts.  The book will go on to be incredibly successful and Sarah will be rich, famous and impeccably dressed.

Silly Sarah.

She should have known something was awry when Angela asks her to come by the next Monday morning at 8 a.m. There is something crazy about starting the work day at that hour. Especially in a 'creative' industry.

She arrives diligently at 7:52 a.m. at—ohh.  An apartment building.

Haven't we done this before?

Despite her better judgment, she takes the elevator up to the eighth floor and knocks on the door. It opens a few moments later to reveal a giant mess of books, papers, a broken bicycle, several dysfunctional computers, and an odor the makes Sarah's eyebrow creep up towards her hairline.

The bed-headed Angela seems like a different person than she was at the party. She is only partially dressed (let's leave it at that), and she speaks in such starts and fragments that Sarah can't understand her.

Twenty minutes of gibberish later, Sarah finds herself with a list of tasks she can't decipher.

Sarah laughs and wants to kick herself for getting herself into this mess. (Again.) Luckily, she learned a very important lesson from Money-Making Job Number One:

"This shit ain't worth it."

Sarah knows she has to get out of there, but how?

Luckily, her acting instincts kick in. She whips out her phone and texts her super-hero friend Dave.

"can u plz call w/fake emergency? am somewhere I need 2 leave. xpln l8tr."

Dave quickly calls back and Sarah fakes a conversation with him involving her roommate, who has had a terrible asthma attack and has been taken to the hospital. Could she please come to Beth Israel ASAP...?

Sarah conjures tears. She invokes her very best damsel-in-distress voice, launching into an award-winning performance: "I—I'm so sorry—I just got a phone call—My roommate has just been taken to the hospital and, and I really need to go—I'm terribly sorry." (The waterworks are on—perfect movie tears, actually—are streaming down her face. She is pleased.) "I'll be in touch—I just—I have to go. Goodbye."

As she walks out into the street and looks out over Central Park, her shoulders unclench with the realization that she now has the day to herself. Luckily, she has a script in her bag and lines to learn. Perfect.

Scene Two: Sarah Admits Defeat and Decides to "Do Something Really Sensible" with Her Life, Like Accounting

The Action: Um, no. Actually, this would never happen. This scene is from some long-lost version of the script, but was cut very early on because that would be... well... unrealistic.

Scene Three: Sarah Finally Decides to Just Skip Town

The Action: NYC in the wintertime. It's so dark and cold and windy that even U.E.S. toddlers and fluffy dogs are becoming nihilists. All Sarah wants to do is leave. Grad school in her hometown in South Africa seems like the perfect adventure. It's warmer there, right? (At least in winter.)

Sarah applies to the Creative Writing program at the University of Cape Town. She spends too much money FedEx-ing her application so that it gets there on time. She waits. She calls. She waits some more. She assumes she has not been accepted until...

An acceptance letter comes in the mail! Eight weeks after it was postmarked! Sarah has been admitted into school and the semester starts in... three weeks?!

Cue frenzied calls to university, South African Consulate, bank, parents, and friends interspersed with fits of laughter, sobbing and expletives.

Sarah is at a loss.  She doesn't know what to do.  She begs New York for some sort of sign.

Funnily enough, she receives it.

Performance dates for the play she is in are confirmed—doing the show means arriving a week late for school.

Production company signs on for film she is in; shoot is set for April.

Sarah sighs and laughs at herself a little. "Well, I guess I'm staying, then."


This movie is still in production. It will be for some time, I hope. But so far, the moral seems to be this:

"Acting is hard.  But not acting is harder."

Sarah Wharton is a graduate of Tisch School of the Arts and The Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She is currently a company member of The Private Theatre. Upcoming projects include the feature film "Percival's Big Night," premiering in festivals in the Spring and "The Peer Gynt Project," workshopping at The National Theatre in Oslo next Summer. Sarah is a blogger on Back Stage Unscripted.

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