Stop Signs, Early Checkout

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Dear Michael:

I'm currently doing a show, and we were brought on to do six performances—without a contract, mind you. It turns out that the playwright-director, who has no directing experience whatsoever, canceled two of them, so we weren't paid for either of those days. Another time, he paid us only partially for a show because he had to pay the venue what he owed them. Now he wants us to tour out of state, and we still haven't seen a contract yet. So basically, he's booking dates without asking any of us if we're available!

I refuse to leave the state to do this play with this man only to get screwed over and possibly not get paid. I'm a very good actress, I'm dedicated to my craft, but I refuse to get taken advantage of. I'm not feeling this at all. What would you do in this situation? And do you feel that quitting is wrong on my part?

—Fed Up

New York City

Dear FED UP:

I could give you some long, detailed answer about the pros and cons, but I think I can just cut to the chase on this one. Not only should you quit but you should do so immediately and not think twice about it. There's no need to weigh options, give anyone the benefit of the doubt, exercise patience, or anything of the sort. Just quit.

Contract or not, it is a simple fact—according to your account—that this guy isn't someone who keeps his word. He committed to a certain rate of pay and then simply changed his mind and didn't pay what he'd promised. This kind of behavior tells you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're not dealing with someone running a legitimate production and that, if you continue to work with him, you'll never be able to trust anything he says. You're not on solid ground. He could leave you stranded somewhere, refuse to pay your salary, change your schedule without notice, any number of things. Even if you had a contract, he might do these things anyway. Sure, a contract would give you the ability to sue him, but that isn't of much comfort when you're stuck somewhere without a plane ticket. Besides, do you really want the ordeal of a lawsuit?

I can't imagine that you'd have any regrets if you walked away. This gig certainly isn't going to skyrocket you into huge career success. Believe me, you don't need this kind of headache. Just inform your producer that you're quitting, and move on. You'll be glad you did.

Dear Michael:

So, I get it: Being an actor is hard work! However, what do you do when you've been to every audition in town (Atlanta), you've been in class consistently—not workshops, but classes that focus on the craft of acting—you've read a ton of books on the subject, and you still can't get a role? Who could understand the heartbreak and pain of wanting to do something that no one seems to want to see you do? This sucks!

Is it a clear sign that you should give up if you haven't landed a role yet? The yearning is deep and I want this badly. I heard my heart and I am doing everything in my power to make this happen. Is there something I'm missing? It's been almost a year. What am I doing wrong?



Dear KTF:

I feel your pain. I really do. And I hope you'll pay close attention to my words: I believe acting is a calling. If it's your calling, then you've simply got to do it. You've got to. If you haven't yet found the person who sees your gifts and wants to cast you, that's fine. It doesn't matter. Keep learning. Keep offering your talents when and where you can, and don't worry about the results. If you're born to be an actor, you don't need a job or validation to make you one; it's part of who you are. Naturally, there's no guarantee you'll ever work. You know that. But I believe that for us—those who have the calling—it's the pursuit that matters.

Years ago, I decided that if all I ever did was pursue the career I wanted—even if I never had any success—I'd still be doing what I was born to do. I'd be living my life as an actor, peddling my wares, accepting whatever opportunities I could get to act. Had I not done that, I believe I would have been denying something that is as much in my DNA as my brown hair and my flat feet.

I know you're frustrated that, despite your best efforts, no one seems interested in casting you. And I was feeling concerned for you…until I read your next-to-last sentence. You haven't even been at this a year? I hate to break it to you, but some actors wait much longer than that to start working. My career didn't really get off the ground until I was in my 30s, and now I make a living at it. So please believe me: You should take a deep breath, have a chuckle at your own expense, and realize that you've only just started, and so your despair is a bit premature. Besides, you're in Atlanta. There's a great big world out there. It's not as if you've exhausted all your options, not by a long shot.

You know how we actors are; we can be a bit dramatic. And that's okay. It's part of our wiring. Maybe we feel things more deeply, and maybe that makes us better able to replicate emotions in our work. But there's something to be said for recognizing that quality and knowing when we've gone over the top about something. You're fine. You're not missing anything, and you're not doing anything wrong, at least not from what you've told me. You're just new and in Atlanta. But unless you develop patience, you're in for major frustration.

So my answer for you is this: Keep doing what's available to you. If that's classes right now, then take classes. If it's opportunities to audition, then just enjoy those opportunities. And if Atlanta doesn't dig you, then consider trying somewhere else. Don't get crazy, and don't quit before you've started. And do me a favor: Write back in a year and tell us how you've progressed. My guess is you'll have a very different story by then.

Questions for The Working Actor? Send an email to [email protected]. Thank you!