Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An Actor's Life

I was watching Family Feud last night and the question was “In what occupation do people make millions of dollars”. 100 people were asked and the #1 occupation was actor/musician. I laughed out loud. I am an actor, married to a musician and I haven’t paid my electric bill in four months.
I do not ever plan on making millions. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn it down if it was offered, but that’s not why I do what I do. I do this because I love it. I struggle and worry and work my ass off, because acting is all I’ve ever wanted. Performing is all I know. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, actors do work their asses off. (Pardon my French)
I’d like to give you an idea about what the life of a struggling actor is like. Perhaps some of you are just getting into it, or want to pursue a career in the arts, or are just a bit voyeuristic. Whoever you may be, please feel free to laugh at, admire, pity and/or take advice from my story.
Every day I, like most people, check my e-mail. I look at the casting lists and see if I am right for anything. If I am I send a polite professional letter, my headshot and resume and always end with “I look forward to hearing from you soon”. It’s a polite way of saying “you know you want to write me back”. I also send follow up e-mails to people I am working with, am about to work with or am desperately wanting to work with. (Much of my time is spent sucking up.) I am fortunate enough to get contacted fairly regularly about gigs. However, many of these are non-paying. When I was new in town, I took everything, but now I am able to be a bit more selective, which is reassuring. I started out looking for creative ways to say “no thank you”, but I’ve learned to just say “I am no longer working for free”. To be completely honest, this is a lot of fun to say.
Next, I am off to my calendar. My schedule is sporadic. There are days when I am overlapping gigs from sun-up to sun-down and days when I have absolutely nothing to do. (I hate those days) As a struggling actor, I have to pick up random jobs to make ends meet. I bartend for private parties, clean houses, model for art classes, mend clothing, etc. Any and every skill that I have or can learn is put to use. I refuse to get a 9-5. There are several reasons for this. One, I wouldn’t want to turn down auditions, shoots, workshops or rehearsals because I’m stuck doing something I’m not passionate about. Two, I feel that spending all day as a drone stunts my creativity. Lastly, I definitely can’t live with the infamous “desk-chair-ass syndrome”. Don’t even pretend that you haven’t noticed it. I am willing to suffer through poverty in order to accomplish my goals. The cake tastes sweeter when you make it from scratch.
Aside from finances, my biggest worries are: Should I switch agents? Should I get new headshots and from whom? Am I taking enough classes? What should I keep/remove from my resume? Would it be easier in LA or New York? These questions are constantly running through my head and of every other actor I know.
All in all, I think I am on the right path. Each year I meet more VIPs in the industry, get more gigs and gain confidence. I believe Austin is where I need to be right now, but I will be moving eventually. I love the challenges that face me on a regular basis and I am only growing hungrier for my dream career every day. My advise for anyone who’s starting out in this field is this: if you don’t feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest when you think about it, if you don’t want to work on it every single day, if you don’t cry when you watch the Oscars (ok, maybe that one is just me), if you are not 100 percent sure that you can deal with the rejection, struggle and hard work then you need to find a new dream. It’s not all glitz and glamour all the time. In fact, most of the time it’s second-hand clothes and peanut butter and jelly. But, for this actress, it’s totally worth it.
Michelle Keffer

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