Crappy New Year

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For actors, there's something outright cruel about the timing of the holidays. Just when the exciting autumn weather that accompanies a busier casting season has been overpowered by the bleak coldness of winter signaling the end of that season, when all the Christmas stage productions have been cast and episodic television is winding down, leaving most of us behind, still jobless, here comes Thanksgiving—when we're supposed to find reasons to be grateful. Fantastic.

I don't know about you, but I think that's just plain nasty. To be asked to be thankful just as career opportunities are dwindling really rubs salt in the wound.

It wouldn't be as bad were it not for the fact that looking forward doesn't provide much cause for hope either. Those of us who've been at this awhile know that, for the most part, things will be dead quiet through mid-January, when those pilots we won't be seen for will start the casting process.

So as Thanksgiving passes, and as Americans focus on preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Whatever You Celebrate, we actors steel ourselves for our most predictably lean time of year. In that short month between the festivities, very few job opportunities will come along, which means only one thing: more days of quiet on the career front. At a time when tradition suggests reflecting on life's bounty, we're experiencing scarcity and trying to fight the creeping suspicion we'll never work again. Merry Christmas.

Typically, things remain equally silent surrounding the year's end, when we turn to welcome the shiny new future—a future that at this point on the calendar usually isn't looking all that shiny. That's closely followed in early January by the Sundance Film Festival, when showbiz pros abandon their in-town efforts to tromp off to Utah in droves and watch films we aren't in. Meanwhile, back in the trenches, nothing happens. Then it's "We're just getting back to the office; it's still pretty dead" week. And so it goes.

So no, not all of us will be welcoming 2012 with enthusiastic gratitude.

In a few days, it'll be New Year's Eve. For working performers, it can be a lovely time to raise a glass to our good fortune and the promise of an even better year to come. But what do the other 90 percent do—the 90 percent that, union statistics tell us, are unemployed at any given time?

Hell, I don't know. After all, who am I? I'm neither a psychologist nor a philosopher nor a bona fide expert of any kind, really. I'm simply your fellow actor, trying to stay on the treadmill just like you. And the truth is, it's tough. This year I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been working. But I'm well-acquainted with the regularly scheduled fall-into-winter dip. And if my experience can help you navigate your way through this potentially discouraging time, maybe I will have earned my meager advice-columnist paycheck.

For one thing, I suggest embracing the realities rather than fighting them. Things are slow, as they are every year, like clockwork. Trying to convince yourself otherwise or desperately reaching out to contacts to stir up activity is as futile as shaking a rock and hoping it'll talk. Like it or not, if you're unemployed, your status isn't likely to change before the ball drops.

So don't fight it. Give in. Slow down. And regardless of whether things are bleak or busy, take a moment, for heaven's sake, to think about something other than show business! There are, believe it or not, such things. Try to relish the downtime.

As you ponder 2011, don't just assess in terms of your reviews, new contacts, callbacks, or how many days you worked (whatever you do, don't look at that one). Many of us get so driven and obsessed that we think of little else. But there are other things to appreciate, things that have nothing to do with whether we booked that commercial for the latest antidepressant to enter the market.

I suggest that, for actors, thinking about more than just business is imperative. Otherwise, we risk losing touch with the work we do: portraying real people who are experiencing real life. So, corny as this may sound, New Year's Eve might be well-spent reviewing often overlooked treasures: your friends, great meals, cool outings, meaty conversations, your family, new babies, funny stories, discoveries, adventures, surprises—life.

Now, I'm not one of those positive thinkers. I believe a lot of that stuff is bunk, pure and simple. If things are lousy, I'm for being honest and not sugarcoating it. (What can I say? I'm from New York.) To that end, New Year's can be a great time for "dancing with your monsters," as I heard it described. Go ahead and face what you're unhappy about. Give it a good long think. (Lord knows you've got the spare time.) An honest, fearless look at things that aren't working in your life can be valuable. Yes, it's scary, but suppressing your true feelings probably isn't doing anything for you in the long run. Even a momentary "pity party" can be useful if it leads to a more effective life. If you've had missteps and failures in the past year, then now is a great time for making apologies, clearing misunderstandings, dumping unreliable friends, changing bad habits, and getting closer to being the person you want to be.

This may all be starting to sound much too groovy, like I'm drifting away from the usual Working Actor fare. I'm not. Part of having a successful acting career is managing the ups and downs. And among the downs, the end of the year can be a real female dog.

And if you're just too workaholic to embrace the downtime, use it. Develop that pet project. Write that show. Choreograph that piece. Learn that music.

Here's the promising part: Our profession's unpredictability can work as much in our favor as it can work against us. You never know when, on an average Tuesday, an unexpected phone call will change everything. So once we've put Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, New Year's Eve, the Sundance Film Festival, and "We're just getting back to the office; it's still pretty dead" week behind us, the possibilities are virtually endless. Maybe we performers should wait until mid-January to wish each other a happy new year. By then, at least, there's a better chance those wishes will come true. Meanwhile, Jackie and I will be here, reminding you that we're pretty much all in the same shaky boat. Hang in there, comrades.

And happy new year.

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