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The Working Actor

Job Gibe, Mail Order

Job Gibe, Mail Order
Dear Jackie:
I'm 20 years old and often get asked the questions "Are you going to school?" and "What do you want to do as a career?" How do you tell people that you're an actor? Do you just straight up say, "I'm an actor"? Because what I've noticed is the next question that always comes up is, "What have you done?"
I was shopping at Ralphs market a few days ago. There was a long line, and the store was kind of quiet, so everyone could hear the conversation the person at the front of the line was having. He was talking to the guy next to him, who said, "So what do you do?" and the first guy said, "I'm an actor." I couldn't believe it, but people in the line were giggling and I noticed one guy roll his eyes. The actor also noticed it, and he turned super-red and looked like he was so embarrassed. Then, when he finally walked away, a couple of people made jokes about him being an actor. I live in Los Angeles. I don't know how it is in New York, but here when you tell someone you're an actor, they automatically look at you as a joke. And then they sometimes start questioning you. How do you handle that?
-- Not Laughing, Los Angeles

Dear Not:
Your Ralphs story reminds me of the time I was in line at a 99-cent store and watched an old woman diligently ask the cashier what every one of her items cost. She had a huge cartful of merchandise and seemed to really need to know whether each sponge and box of soap was actually 99 cents or was some of it, perhaps, only 49? As the cashier scanned her items, occasionally the woman would put something back. She was somewhat dressed up and in the course of this ritual asked the cashier to call her a taxi. This was, it seemed, a big outing.
As this strange sight unfolded, several people in line with me began rolling their eyes and silently commiserating with each other. Eventually the man behind me loudly told the woman to hurry the !*#% up. I won't get into the altercation that followed, which culminated in a very pregnant me pretty much challenging the guy to a fistfight (blame the hormones), but the situation gave me an uncomfortable glimpse into the eagerness of random groups of strangers to connect at the expense of others. Instead of pitying a woman whose loneliness, poverty, boredom, or mania pushed her into counting pennies at a 99-cent store, they used her to elevate themselves.
Generally, when someone asks what I do, I say whatever it is that comes to mind. I teach at U.C. Santa Barbara, write for Back Stage, run a Shakespeare company, act, and raise two boys. There are times when I lead with the writing gig only to discover the person is a director, and then I appear to be pandering when I add, "Oh, I'm also an actor."
I too am plenty tired of the inevitable follow-up, "What have I seen you in?"—to which I've taken to responding, "I do a lot of classical theatre," which usually ends the conversation. What should I say? "I'm featured in the opening title sequence of While You Were Out. Did you see the commercial with the woman daydreaming because she has so much free time now that she uses her spiffy new sponges? That's me!"
The truth is that generally people don't really care what we do. They're asking to be polite, to make conversation. We could go round and round about whether our self-esteem demands that we proudly call ourselves performers whenever possible, but personally I find it's not worth it to get too analytical about how I respond. Call yourself whatever you'd like and try to ignore any juvenile slights. When I do lead off with "I'm an actor," I'm ready for the possible laughs and dumb questions, but more often than not I'm surprised by the generous curiosity my answer provokes.
Of course, I don't live in L.A. anymore.

Dear Jackie:
When introducing yourself to casting directors or agents, which should you send first? Should you send a post card to let them know that your headshot and résumé are on the way? Or should you send a headshot and résumé, then follow up with a post card to let them know your material was mailed a few days prior?
-- Out of Order?
via the Internet

Dear Order:
The important thing is to get those materials out. I don't think it matters a bit which you send when. I suppose I would send my headshot first and follow up with the post card, then follow the post card with an invitation to a show I was in, and follow that with another headshot, and follow that with a holiday card, and follow that with another post card, and…you get the idea.
Self-marketing is like any other type of marketing. The customer needs to be hit multiple times before developing a reaction to the product. Plan to do repeat submissions to your targeted mailing list of agents, managers, and casting directors. Since you can't market successfully to everyone in the industry, your targeted list can include agents, managers, and CDs that (a) you've met, (b) a friend of yours has worked with, (c) you can get a referral to, (d) work on the types of projects you're right for, (e) you have something in common with, such as an alma mater, or (f) you think you'd love to work with. Update your list monthly, adding those you've met or heard good things about and purging names that led to dead ends. The specifics of any one mailing are much less important than simply getting your photo in front of the people who need to see it. And remember, people didn't start craving Coke after seeing just one ad.

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