If many years go by and an actor is paid very little or nothing at all for their acting work, does that mean they aren’t meant for this profession and should just quit? Does it mean they aren’t talented?
Throughout our decades of teaching and being around the business, we’ve seen many truly talented, skilled actors, who constantly work in theater and various mediums but make very little money doing so. They are doing incredible work, honing their talents, building their resumes, and most importantly, loving what they do...they just have to have another job to support themselves.
It’s continuously impressive to watch skilled, wonderful actors who consistently perform on stage in non-paid showcases getting rave reviews and winning awards, but who actually pay their bills in a completely non-acting-related profession.
Do you want to tell these well-trained, talented actors to abandon the thing they love doing, something that contributes joy and a civilizing influence to our society, because they fall short of a particular dollar amount in the remuneration they get for doing it?
For them, this is a calling that goes beyond money. If you must act, you act even if you never receive any money for it. You’re going to hear people say that unless you’re paid for what you do, it’s a hobby, not a profession; but those words don’t apply when you’re talking about a calling. That goes deeper than either a profession or a hobby.
Because the field of acting is inherently inconsistent, even famous actors who’ve achieved substantial economic success from acting will say they need to pursue income from outside sources—promoting products, other business ventures, investing—to ensure they have a steady revenue stream when lucrative acting jobs aren’t coming their way.
We believe everyone should strive to improve their skills, stretching their range and perfecting how they can fill a character niche the better to commercialize their work. And every actor who aspires to make money from acting needs to look at the business side of acting with a cold, analytic eye. But in the end, a gratifying life is about having a sense of meaning and purpose: following your bliss. If you love how you spend your time, that’s the richest success of all.
Although we train every actor for a professional career and hopefully they can break the code of booking jobs and exclusively support themselves that way, we in no way discourage non-paying work or say it’s a mark of being less-than capable if they can’t count on that regular check. There are just too many variables to getting a job: your type, who you know, luck, etc. We encourage every actor to continue finding other ways to support themselves and to do what they love whenever they can.
Sanford Meisner (upon whose genius or acting school is based) said, “Being an actor was never supposed to be about fame and money. Being an actor is a religious calling because you've been given the ability, the gift to inspire humanity. Life beats down and crushes our souls and theatre reminds us we have one.”
And surprise, surprise! As a consequence of having that sense of mission and that I-don’t-need-your-approval-to-do-this attitude, we’ve seen many actors who’ve eventually had the day come when their sole living does come from acting work. All because they just kept doing it, whenever they could, wherever they could, pay or no pay.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.