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The Working Actor

How Big of a Leap Should Someone Take to Pursue Acting?

How Big of a Leap Should Someone Take to Pursue Acting?
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Dear Michael:
I’ve been a stage manager, director, choreographer, teacher, and administrator. What I haven’t been is an actor, mainly because I wasn’t confident enough. I’m now 34, with a pretty darn good job. But I’ve finally begun to realize that something’s always missing—something I’ll forever regret not trying if I don’t. But it seems unbelievably daunting to start out so late... From what I can gather on the Backstage message boards, the order of necessary events goes something like this:

1. Get into serious physical and vocal shape (which for me means a big weight loss).
2. Get some serious training.
3. Get some seriously good headshots.

But then, it sounds like you can’t get auditions for anything meaty without an agent, but you can’t get an agent without meaty credits. I have lots of directing and choreography credits, but not acting. With such a sparse résumé, how do I get taken seriously enough to get credits that will make an agent take notice?

Part of me thinks I’d be crazy to give up this “safe” job. Another part knows I’ll always feel like a coward for playing it safe.

—Safe But Sorry

Dear Safe:
There’s a lot to be said for security, and a lot to be said for dreams and passions. I think you might be able to have both, but not by quitting a reliable job to plunge headlong into an unstable profession.

I know a psychology student. Every year, her teachers conduct the same experiment. They play ring toss. Here’s what they find consistently, every year. The people who go for the easiest, lowest goal again and again—the totally achievable 3-foot toss—always walk away with the most points. Hence, “the 3-foot toss” has become their model for problem solving.

You seem convinced you need to take one huge, risky leap from A to about H. Instead, try for a 3-foot toss; do what’s accessible to you now, the first, tiniest steps—student films, community theater—things that sound way too easy and are compatible with your work schedule. Win those rounds; then move up.

Aiming low allows you to start now. Don’t wait until you’ve had extensive training; train as you go. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten in shape. Are you kidding? That’s a lifelong battle for most of us. You might not like the “heavier” roles, but it’s a start while you work on your weight, if that’s something you want to work on.

Yes, get good headshots, but don’t deal with the vast, murky swamp of finding representation just yet. That pursuit will be much clearer down the road. Finding a decent theatrical agent right off the bat is a long shot. You might, however, be able to find a commercial agent, since they’re much less focused on credits. Maybe that’s a place to start.

As romantic as it sounds to drop everything to be an actor, I think there has to be a way to reconnect with your lifelong aspiration without putting yourself in danger of going broke. Don’t abandon your passion; just pursue it sensibly. Make sense? 

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