I try to meet new actors and VO talent every day, both IRL (in real life) and online. One of my LinkedIn connections, an actor based in the UK, recently wrote me this jovial, yet painful question:
Ok, I’m going to call you out on this one, David, and ask you for a basic question to be answered.
At the beginning of my career I had a showreel put on my spotlight page, and it was edited and ended with the words ‘We’d better give the whole thing up!” – for years this bothered me, and now I’m in a show where I have to stand in a bin. It’s not enjoyable in the slightest. So now I’m thinking that these must be signs to finally give up this acting malarky, and put my talents elsewhere before I get too old?
Here’s what I wrote back.
So, I’m assuming you mean the Spotlight web site, UK’s equivalent of Breakdown Services, where the paying jobs are, yes?
As far as your question of “should I [give up acting]?” I’d answer, “Not without a fight.”
Personally, I don’t think there are any parts that are beneath me, and I’m willing to serve the production in any way I can. If you’re not happy acting, in a starring role, in a supporting role, and especially when you’re saying your lines from a wastebin, you have to ask yourself why you’re still performing – and be harsh about it.
- Have things not turned out the way you thought they might?
- Have you not progressed in your career in a fashion that is satisfying (and profitable)?
- Do you find auditioning a chore, or even beneath you, the thinking being that you should be on offer or at least going straight to producers?
- Is it at all exciting to be booked on a job, called to set, being in the makeup chair, hanging out in your trailer or on set, maybe working overtime and eventually nailing your scenes? Or is it just a job, one that sometimes is embarrassing to talk about?
- Do you keep jobs you’re not happy to be doing quiet, when people ask you “So…what do you have coming up?”
If you have negative or unproductive or painful answers to these types of questions, take a moment to inventory why you became an actor in the first place, and if those reasons are still valid. And also take a look at the ruleset that you’ve created for yourself, and how that ruleset affects your decisions in taking auditions and work.
Sometimes, people feel like they are in a rut (no matter what kind of job they have, including acting and VO), and revisiting their original goals and thought processes to see if they are still valid can be an eye opener. Maybe you started off in your acting career with goals that were thinly defined and difficult to attain, or maybe you based your work flow on assumptions that turned out to be untrue. If so, making any attempt at achieving those goals is made more difficult by those restrictions.
As an example, if you started off saying “I’m going to be the next Jerry Seinfeld/Jake Gyllenhall/Sandra Bullock/etc.,” that’s usually a recipe for disaster. Finding your own brand and becoming the first of those is far easier and could even eclipse the star you wanted to be.
Likewise, if you decided early in your career that working in TV is beneath you, and that the stage is the only pure place to act, I’d invite you to consider rethinking that painfully elitist attitude and come join the rest of use who are happily paying their mortgage with work on the smaller screen – and still do those very, very important stage plays that pay little and consume 100 times the time and effort of TV or film, but give you immense satisfaction.
I love every minute of this world. And I seem to fall deeper in love with my performance career every year that passes. But that’s just me – it may not be you.
If, in the end, you can’t seem to find a reason to continue, there’s no shame in moving on to some other endeavor. No one’s going to label you as a “failed actor,” they’ll just note that you have some performance experience should you decide to mention it on your resume.
But I think that each of us has an individual fire that we have to stoke, feed fuel, and maybe occasionally even have to restart from personal tinder, internal kindling and a spark special and unique to our own motivations. If accomplishment, audience response, telling stories, money and the occasional, “Hey! I LOVED you on Heroes!” and hundreds of more personal reasons for being an actor aren’t evident to you, make a point of finding them again. Figure out if what made you fall in love with acting is even viable to you anymore.
Don’t get wrapped up in the roles – I’ve taken dozens of smaller roles that a series recurring in the last few years, but I feel invigorated everytime I get booked. If you’re hardly invigorated, and more disappointed, then it’s time for some serious self-examination.
Hope this helps!
So…how have you stayed the course with your acting and VO career? What challenges have you faced to remain excited about working in a world filled mostly with a sea of rejection, and with a few choice islands of booking and working a job? What advice can you offer me and others? Let me know in the comments below.