Acting Is About Art, Not Money

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Budding actors, attempting to sound modest and rational about the career they’ve chosen, will often say things like “I don’t want to be famous; I’ll be happy just being a working actor.” Or “I’m not expecting to be rich—I plan to make my living in regional theater.”

What the hell are they talking about? The idea that acting is a career path one can pursue with the expectation of making a living wage on a regular basis would be funny to me, except that it’s so sad.

Too harsh? OK, let’s try this another way:

Those drawn to acting should view it not as a career but as an art. Like many fine artists, who hold down day jobs to pay for little things (like rent and food), actors can expect to support themselves through other means for much of their lives. Acting is an art demanding devoted practice—just like painting—and while you’ll be paid now and then (as the painter makes an occasional sale), you can’t expect to map out a steady career “path” like those in more traditional industries. Yes, you should educate yourself about the profession and move as best you can within it. You should proactively pursue jobs, put together a network, join the unions, and audition for paying gigs. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking there’s anything modest or practical about launching an acting career. Admit, and embrace, the insanity.

Jackie Apodaca is an associate professor and the head of performance at Southern Oregon University.