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The Working Actor

Flash in the Pan, Unkindest Cut

Flash in the Pan, Unkindest Cut
Dear Jackie:
I have a question that is too tough to ask of people in a position to hire me, so I beg for your help! I began my acting career with a bang at the age of 11. I was in a blockbuster hit that opened up a lot of opportunities for me. When college came around, I stopped acting professionally, but I was getting a BFA degree in acting. After college, I took classes at some great schools in L.A. and tried to get my foot in the door, but I had problems getting an agent or manager because I didn't have very many recent credits on my résumé. I ended up moving back to the Midwest for family reasons and continued auditioning, but the auditions and jobs were very sparse, so I stepped away from the biz. That was six years ago.

In the meantime, I learned how to play guitar and started writing songs and making a living as a musician. I also learned photography and became a headshot photographer. But acting is my first love, and I need it in my life more than ever. Recently I've submitted to some agents but haven't gotten any response, even with my training, talent, and history. I fear that my stepping away from the biz for a sabbatical of sorts has hurt me forever and I won't be able to get back in the game. How do I market myself to agents, managers, producers, and the industry people I meet when they ask, "Why haven't you worked in so long?"?

Some days I almost wish I had zero credits, zero training, and zero history, so I'd just be a fresh face. That gap in my acting career has been a serious impediment and doesn't make me feel desirable in the least to these people. They want clients who are going to make them money, and even though I know I can and have in the past, once I have to start explaining myself, I lose my confidence, and they lose their confidence in me. Please help with some advice to get me over this hurdle.
—Hurdle Head

Dear Hurdle::
I don't think your hiatus is what's causing the problem. I think you're just facing the standard and sobering equation we all encounter: supply and demand. As you know, this is an extremely competitive business, with numerous actors vying for very few opportunities. Almost no one gets a response from a mailing—at least not from the first one—and many actors need time and experience to gain the confidence and skill needed to nail an audition or interview, no matter how talented they may be. Don't take it personally.

Most likely, the representatives you have met are sensing your worry about your hiatus and writing you off for a lack of confidence. They may also believe you're putting too much stake in this old credit—your talking about it and feeling you need to explain it away might give that impression. Look at it, and begin referring to it, as a funny story—a conversation starter—more than a talking point for your interviews. It's neat that you did some early acting work. Neat. That's it.

Don't worry about the break in your career. You were doing what you needed to do: going to school and living your life. You and your parents chose not to pursue the child-actor route, and that's a perfectly reasonable, thoughtful decision to have made. No one will fault you for it. Forget about that crazy lightning flash of 11-year-old luck and put your attention on now. You wrote about wishing you were just a fresh face at the beginning of your career. That's exactly what you are. Yes, you had a hit when you were young, but only now are you beginning your acting career. Embrace that if you can.

Dear Jackie:
I recently graduated from a college that has a small acting conservatory within its theater major. It's a really competitive program, and they cut people along the way. If you get cut, you end up with a B.A. in theater. If you finish the conservatory, you get a BFA in acting. Anyway, I got cut a year back, so I've just graduated with a B.A. I am really embarrassed to have it on my résumé and feel like I need to go to graduate school so I can show I've had good training and compete with the actors who didn't get cut. What do you think?
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dear Marileigh::
Almost no one outside your campus knows anything about the way your department awards its degrees or manages its actors' training. And even if they did, I can't imagine they would care. While occasionally a single credit or teacher's name might get you an audition or a meeting, more often they come from referrals or from the combination of your credits, your training, and a fantastic headshot.

If you feel you have missed out on valuable training, there's no reason you can't continue to take acting classes, targeting your education to your needs and without the anxiety of possibly being cut. An MFA program might suit you if you'd like to focus solely on acting for a period of years or feel you really want the conservatory experience you missed, but if you just want to improve your craft, find a fantastic local teacher. There's no shortage of them in New York. While a BFA might seem like a résumé booster, the name of a local respected acting coach would do just as much—or more—to show you're serious about your craft.

Consider too that while in college, you may have begun to see the world from the perspective of your acting teachers and peers. Being cut was probably a pretty unhappy experience and likely took a toll on your confidence. But remember that any school represents just a tiny, random sample of the varied opinions and values of the larger acting community. You may not have been a big fish in that little pond, but you learned lessons about rejection and perseverance that can only serve you. You aren't competing against those other actors—the ones who didn't get cut—anymore. You're competing against every actor in New York, and you have just as much right to be there as anyone. Congratulations!

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