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The Working Actor

Owning the Downside of Being an Actor

Owning the Downside of Being an Actor
I'm discouraged. Things aren't going the way I want them to in my career. Lately, my agent isn't getting me the appointments I want and I don't seem to be booking anything. This week, I feel like I don't have any talent. I don't feel like looking at the bright side, having a positive attitude, or rallying for the next foray. I want to sulk, feel sorry for myself, and give up.
Why am I telling you all this? (And by the way, everything I've just written is true.) Well, because I think it's important for you to know that all of us, from time to time, even The Working Actor, get the career blues. Who knows what brings it on? In my case, it was just one audition at which I failed to successfully execute an adjustment from a director. For some reason, that one audition flipped a switch, triggering a downward spiral into irrational bummed-outedness.

Having been at this career a while, I don't worry about these brief dips. I think it's part of being an artist. We put our very selves out there, and occasionally, the wind gets knocked out of us. Sometimes, we lose our heart for the battle.

When that happens to me, I have a technique for dealing with it. I quit the business. No, I don't take any real action in that direction. But mentally, I approach it with complete seriousness. Instead of suppressing my professional despair, I embrace it. And by beginning to concoct this vocational exit strategy, I remind myself that there's more to life than my acting career, that I'm a whole person, apart from my employment status or level of success. So, without telling anyone (except you, of course, and I'm trusting you to keep this between us), I quit the business. I stop trying. And I start to seriously explore what other profession or job I might be able to do, now that I'm no longer going to be an actor. This exercise is freeing and usually shakes me loose from the desperate, clinging, petrified state in which many of us occasionally find ourselves. I highly recommend this practice. Try it the next time you're feeling defeated.
You know, readers, from time to time it's easy to forget something that's an eternal, fundamental truth about this actor's life: It's hard. It's bloody hard. There are too many of us, we don't get much respect, and getting cast in anything -- even for no money -- is a minor miracle. Sometimes, being an actor really sucks.

But I urge you to also keep in mind another eternal, fundamental truth: More than for most people in most professions, an actor's circumstances can change on a dime, without warning, for the better. You can be sure you're washed up one week, and treated like a star the next. Good news can come from out of nowhere. What's important -- maybe even necessary for us -- is not to avoid the occasional periods of discouragement but to develop effective habits for riding these ups and downs.

Be gentle with yourselves, actors. This stuff ain't easy.

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