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The Working Actor

Newcomer Conundrum, Curse Clarification

Newcomer Conundrum, Curse Clarification
Dear Michael:
I'm 18 and I want to be an actress. I think I have what they call the acting bug. Acting has always been in the back of my mind and seemed far away, but now that I've turned 18 and can pursue it, it's basically all I think about.

I came into the industry knowing absolutely nothing, so I began interning for a boutique talent-management company. It's been an excellent experience and has taught me a lot in a short amount of time. I know most of the industry jargon. I'm even given the great privilege of submitting myself through the Breakdowns. But entering the business still seems like a huge paradox to me: You have to be in a SAG project to join the Screen Actors Guild, but if you're not in SAG, SAG productions won't hire you. Even getting under-five roles is extremely difficult without first having credits. I've heard a lot lately that casting directors are only looking at those with credits right now. What should I do?

And what about my reel? I know that casting directors are hardly looking at people without them, but I'm new and have nothing to work with. Even student films offer stiff competition: I'm not getting auditions for those either, because they want to see some sort of reel. I'm extremely enthusiastic about becoming a working actress, but it seems impossible right now. I've been at this since October and I've only been called on one audition. What can I do to get myself in a casting room? Is there anything special I can do to make myself stand out? Maybe I'm just being impatient—you tell me.
Los Angeles

Dear Impatient:
Okay, I'll tell you: You're being impatient. My goodness! You've been pursuing a professional acting career since October and you still don't have a reel or a résumé? Do yourself a favor: Sit down with someone who's been at this a decade or two and hear what he or she has to say. Most actors can tell you stories that would curl your hair about how long it can take to get a career off the ground. Now, I'm not trying to scare you—quite the opposite. I'm saying get comfortable; you're going to be here awhile.

In the olden days, when I was young, there used to be a TV ad for Paul Masson wine in which Orson Welles (ask your grandparents) would assure us, in that silky, authoritative voice of his, that "Paul Masson shall sell no wine before its time." I want you to think of your new career as a freshly opened bottle of wine. Don't rush to get it into a glass and on the table. Let it breathe. Let it find itself.

Meanwhile, you have correctly identified one of our biggest conundrums: Often, to get your foot in the door, you have to already be successful. And how can you already be successful if you can't get your foot in the door? That equation is, of course, impossible—except in those rare instances when it isn't. And it's that tiny sliver of a flicker of a percentage of a chance that keeps us all going. As impossible as it sounds, we're all assuming there are gaps in the wall somewhere. Otherwise, why bother?

But the way to avoid going nuts in this business is to look at things as they really are, rather than as we think they should be. So know that an acting career is a long shot, embrace it as such, keep pursuing it anyway, and don't waste a single second bemoaning the unfairness of it all. That's not going to change, and believe me, no one cares about one more actor who thinks the system is unfair. Soldier on, keep that enthusiasm, and enjoy the journey. I really believe that's the key.

Here's the good news: Somehow—I'll admit it's mysterious—you'll progress from where you are. But it usually takes a minute.

Now let me tell you what you've done that's brilliant: By interning at a management office and seeing its inner workings, you've given yourself a free advanced education in an important area of the business: actors' representation. Most actors go their whole careers missing the knowledge you already have. And hold on a second. Did I read that correctly? You get to submit yourself? Maybe you're too young and too green to grasp how fortunate you are. So just trust the old pro here: You're very fortunate—fortunate enough that some of your contemporaries would probably line up to smack you. So, well done!

Naturally, you should be studying, if you're not doing so already, and seeking opportunities to meet other actors and learn from them. Other than that, the reality is you're probably not quite ready to work your way into that casting office just yet (at least not for a few more months anyway), so relax about that for now, and just continue to do all you can to get the lay of the land. I promise, things get clearer.

Dear Michael:
Once and for all, what is the rule about mentioning "the Scottish play"? Are we not allowed to say the title at all? What if we're actually doing the play?
—Confused About the Curse
via the Internet

Dear Confused:
For those readers who aren't familiar with the superstition: It's considered very bad luck to mention Shakespeare's Macbeth—even to quote from it—within the walls of a theatre. That's because, according to legend, tragedy and disaster have followed productions of the play for generations. So it's become customary among theatricals to refer to Macbeth as "the Scottish play," so as to avoid invoking its curse.

There are several versions of the remedy when someone slips up: That person must go outside, turn around counterclockwise three times, spit, say the worst curse word he or she can think of, and knock to be re-admitted—or some variation thereof.

Obviously, if you're actually performing Macbeth (though some would say that in itself is bad luck), the rule is lifted. It would be rather difficult to stage a production without mentioning the title or quoting any of the text. Some people, misunderstanding the superstition, have mistakenly come to believe that any mention anywhere is bad luck. But the curse applies only inside a theatre, which is why I'm able to mention the title here—I hope.

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