The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Marsha Stephanie Blake, who stars opposite Rachel Brosnahan in the new Amazon Prime drama “I’m Your Woman,” streaming Dec. 11.
So here’s a story some of you might find familiar. One day, many moons ago, I was at a barbecue (remember those?) with some family, friends, and neighbors. It was one of those yearly things, where the entire neighborhood would get together to eat and drink and catch-up and watch the kids play and maybe get a little too drunk and have to be dragged home but it didn’t matter because no one was going too far.
As I was playing Connect Four with a child—and beating him royally—the father of one of my friends, let’s call him Bill, smiled from afar, grabbed a beer for himself and a burger for me and came over to chat. His opening line? “Acting must not be going so well, huh? Hollywood hasn’t come calling yet.”
At this point, I’d gotten my MFA from an acclaimed program and I’d become known in New York for the quality of my work. I’d been on and Off-Broadway in significant, critically-acclaimed productions. I’d worked with some of the best and most talented actors, directors, and theater companies. I wanted to shout all this at Bill. I wanted to flip his beer onto his shirt and violently rub my burger into his ignorant face. I did none of these things. I laughed it off. Of course I did. I was humiliated and taken aback and I had soooooo many questions.
Is my career only viable, Bill, if I’ve been on TV or in a movie? And then what qualifies? Does a guest-star on “Law and Order” count? Maybe an arc on a soap opera? Can I be in a small independent film or does it have to be a huge blockbuster? Do you have to see me on a big or small screen in order for you to think my “acting is going well”?
There is really nothing I’d say to my younger self that I don’t remind my current self of everyday. It’s the advice I most give to other actors and it is this: Every step of your journey is important and significant and meaningful. And if you’re auditioning, if you’re working on your acting, if you’re learning and sharing and entertaining and improving and inspiring and changing minds and widening perspectives and giving someone hope or a chance to see their life differently through your work, then YOUR ACTING IS GOING WELL.
There is no use in waiting for validation from other sources, because the minute you think you’ve gotten to a place of accomplishment, some Bill will come along and undermine it. If you’ve won an Obie, Bill will come along and say, “Maybe one day you’ll win a Tony.”
And don’t even waste your time getting mad at Bill. Poor thing, he doesn’t know any better. Just take your burger, say thank you, and get back to kicking some toddler butt at Connect Four.
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