Why You Should Never Quit (Or, How I Booked My First Union Gig)

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This article is about how I booked my very first union gig. Since there are entire books and even more philosophies on when and where you should join, I will leave that discussion to others.

Suffice it to say that after several non-union gigs of varying quality, I had become a dues-paying member of the Screen Actors Guild. The one thing I hadn’t considered was that the members’ handbook does not describe how to book your first principal role. In fact, I held my union card so long before booking my first job I was just about ready to pack it in.

Try as I did, I could not get an agent or get seen by casting directors. There simply wasn’t much of a call for golden-haired freckle-faced men. What was cute in a Beef-a-roni commercial did not play as well on “Law & Order.” My thousands of hours of training and rehearsal seemed to mean nothing without credits and I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Hollywood decided one Ron Howard was enough.

Because of my intensive studies, I got to know some pretty top-notch teachers and at some point, got the job of helping organize one of their master classes. In return, I got to perform. Let me tell you, this class had some of the biggest megastars you have ever seen and I felt hopelessly outgunned.

Apparently, I did a pretty good job as a helper but not so good as an actor because when it was over, the owner of the school did not recommend me to any agents but she did offer me a teaching position. The price? Give up acting.

I figured this must be a sign that I was not cut out for the profession so I considered it. To investigate, I sought out one of the other teachers to discuss life as a professional acting teacher.

READ: How to Book Your First Professional Acting Job

Well, I never took that job because something amazing happened. The teacher I interviewed became one of my best friends and we started to spend a lot of time together. One evening we were out and about and he introduced me to one of his friends from back East. I had no idea who this person was and our meeting was very brief. A few days later, my newfound friend said that his buddy was the showrunner for a major TV show and asked for my headshot. Now you tell me? Pretty soon I got a call from NBC casting inviting me to an audition.

To my surprise, I booked it. I was hired for five days at full SAG wages to deliver two lines. Let me recap: I meet a guy for coffee to discuss becoming an acting teacher and it turns into a recurring role on a major TV show. What had seemed impossible a few weeks earlier had happened with no input from me; it seemed like random luck. It’s only now that I realize what appeared to be luck was something altogether different. It was a matter of choosing to live my life in a way that caused seemingly innocuous situations to turn into massive opportunities. Making phone calls and moving prop furniture first led to being offered a teaching job and subsequently booking multiple episodes on one of the biggest TV shows in history.

So what can you learn from my first union acting gig?

Be sincere, be yourself, and be helpful.
Life is about relationships. Almost everything good that happens to you is going to come from someone who knows, likes, and trusts you. Ninety percent of jobs are handed out to insiders before ever getting advertised. That number is probably even higher in acting because unemployed actors don’t face the same stigma as unemployed doctors.

Practice like crazy so when opportunities knock you make a good impression.
Don’t try to make an impression unless it’s a good one. If you were to give up acting for a year to work on relationships, you would get 10 times more acting jobs at the end of that year than if you just did traditional actor marketing.

Life experience is worth a lot.
Despite what you may think, prior careers put you at an advantage. Experienced workers bring innumerable and varied qualities they can translate into acting but actors should not practice medicine except on television.

If you help people, they will help you.
If you help the right people, you will get the right help. Helping high-level people at a low level is better than helping low-level people at a high level. The mail room at CAA may be hell but as AC/DC once wrote, “Hell ain’t a bad place to be.”

Whatever you do, do your best because the world is incredibly small so whether you do good work or bad work, people will know. Have faith in the process of helping others. While it may be true that no good deed goes unpunished, I would rather be noticed and punished than not noticed at all.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

David Patrick Green
David Patrick Green is a professional actor and the founder of Hackhollywood.com, a membership-based website dedicated to empowering and educating actors around the globe on how to become a professional actor.