One evening as I was walking home after an audition, I glanced up at an advertisement on the corner of 42nd and 8th Avenue, one block away from Times Square. The giant signboard was covered with TV’s most familiar faces, all gearing up for their fall seasons. As I gazed back to the street below I took in a much more varied and eclectic scene. There were people of all colors, faiths, and sizes dashing from one place to the next, mingling in a world in complete contrast with the billboard just two stories above.
As a young drama student, t I got a glimpse of what a community of diverse storytelling could look like. Having a mother from Seoul, Korea and an Italian-American father from Brooklyn didn’t limit me from feeling the conflict facing Torvald, the joy of performing Pinter, or blissfully losing myself in a Shakespeare sonnet. Perhaps the most poignant lesson in all my years of training was that nobody has a monopoly on the human condition.
But when I embarked on my professional career, I soon discovered that sentiment was not shared in the industry. “When I listen to the words it sounds great but then when I look at you, it doesn’t fit,” a casting director once told me. “You have a great look, but you’re going to have a really tough time getting work,” another said. I took their words in stride determined to prove them wrong. I would be different, I thought.
Still, I longed to see someone who looked like me grace the cover of “The Hollywood Reporter,” or sitting opposite James Lipton on “Inside the Actors Studio.” I never wanted a handout or sympathy; I simply wanted for an unfair industry to be equally unfair. I found myself fueled by a quiet rage. I began to take pride in my struggle, even sporting it like a badge of honor. But thankfully, my attitude evolved because I had. Carrying all that frustration around simply wasn’t productive.
It seems we’re at a fever pitch with the diversity in Hollywood issue. There have been countless articles, speeches, and movements highlighting the importance of giving storytellers of all backgrounds a chance to share their unique voice. It’s safe to say that most agree it’s time for a change. But within that consensus, we may have involuntarily made other actors, with equally big dreams and who don’t check the “other” box, feel alienated or worse, threatened. And it’s very difficult to build community when we don’t all feel welcome. As far as I can see, there are three steps we can take to put our best foot forward in an industry slow to catch up with the times.
1. Focus on our commonalities.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an actor it’s that nobody wants to hear why something really hard is harder for you. Rather than amplifying our own setbacks, we can all focus on our shared bond as storytellers by supporting each individual’s desire to create. By letting go of the notion that success needs to come at the expense of another’s failure, we can work toward availability rather than defensiveness. And when we operate from a place of abundance, ideas flow more freely and our potential is awakened. Our current national landscape is craving unity. We as actors have a unique opportunity to bridge divides by telling bold, compelling, and inclusive stories.
Empathy is the capacity to understand another’s feelings while compassion is concern for someone’s hardship. You may not understand what it’s like to be overlooked for a part because of the shape of your eyes or color of your skin, but you can appreciate how hurtful it can be. Conversely, just because someone may not face those same hurdles doesn’t make them the bad guy or their aspirations less important. Together we can take joy in each other’s success and support one another’s artistic goals.
3. Focus on opportunity.
If you’re tired of not seeing your story told, write it yourself. Some of the greatest innovations were fueled by the drive to solve a problem. Change is unsettling for most and takes time. In the meantime, it’s our responsibility to condition ourselves to think, “So what? Now what? Opportunity favors those who take bold initiative amidst adversity and a landscape that may be less than impartial.
Nick Maccarone is an actor, author, and speaker. He has appeared on “Scandal,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Elementary,” and “Unforgettable.” Since releasing his book “To The Prospective Artist: Lessons From An Unknown Actor,” Nick has been invited to speak at universities, conferences, and workshops all across the country. His message revolves around “The 6 Principles” that empower artists and actors to live a life and not just a career. In the future, Nick plans on growing his “To The Prospective Artist” brand to revolutionize how artists live their lives.
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