You’ve pressed the snooze button five times. Rise and shine! Your eyelids finally flutter open. Another freezing NYC winter day begins. You hoist your body out of bed, soldiering through your morning routine, in tune with the sun just beginning to make its appearance in the sky. On your way out the door, you fill your travel mug with piping hot coffee, don layer upon layer of clothing, and grab your day bag that weighs almost as much you do.
Sipping your coffee during your subway commute to midtown you slowly come out of your groggy haze as you make your way to the center of the city that never sleeps. Arriving to your destination, you see a sea of familiar and equally exhausted faces who nod knowingly as you follow the sidewalk until you reach the end of the line. The doors won’t open for another hour. All you can do now is wait.
So begins another day in the life of an actor in the big city.
You’re here to sign up for an EPA (Equity Principle Audition) for a show or season of shows. But you’re lucky! You’re Equity (union) so at least you know if you get a time slot you’ll be seen today. The non-equity have to camp out all day in hopes a vacant time becomes available.
After you sign up a few hours later, you’ll go to your temp job and come back to audition on your lunch break. Or you’ll go to the gym or race to another audition, and come back before your 10-hour restaurant shift starts. Eventually you’ll make your way to the subway, up the five flights of stairs, and fall into bed, knowing tomorrow you’ll do it all over again.
OPEN AND SHUT
This isn’t what you imagined living the dream would be like. You’re still paying your loans from the conservatory you went to where you learned how to speak in Shakespearean verse, but not how to survive living in one of the most expensive cities in the world while trying to create art.
Sure, as actors we’re warned from the beginning that it’s a rough business. We’re told over and over “if there’s something else in the world you’d enjoy doing, do that instead.” Working hard and behind talented is no guarantee of success. But we’re also led to believe that if we keep chasing the dream, eventually doors will open. Persistence is the supposed key.
Posts like this one are why we do this to ourselves: 5 Excuses You’re Making Not To Go To EPAs (Stop Making Them!).
That guilt that actors are “making excuses” if they don’t go the traditional route and follow the usual rules of auditioning is what keeps actors waking up before dawn to stand in line for someone who may or (most likely) may not have the power to hire them.
The sentence from the article that really gets my blood boiling:
Plus isn’t it great to have an audition on days where nothing else is happening?
Raise your hand if you have a day where nothing else is happening.
After about two years of pounding the pavement on my own, I got an agent (hallelujah!!!) and could audition via appointment, meaning my EPA days were over. Shortly after that, I attended a master class by one of the casting directors whom I’d previously camped out for. During the Q&A one of the students in the class raised his hand and asked, “How many actors have you cast from EPAs?”
The casting director took a moment, as if hesitating whether or not to share the answer:
You’ve never witnessed a room of actors turn so quiet.
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as:
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Are actors insane? No. Actors are believers. After all, someone has to get the job. And when we do get hired, even if its to make less money than we earn on unemployment, we feel like we passed a major test of the universe. The odds were against us, but we overcame!
We are now the exception to the rule.
DENIAL IS MORE THAN A RIVER IN EGYPT
I was at a reading the other night for the book, Dept. Of Speculation. The story is about the affect a husband’s infidelity has on a marriage. The moderator for the evening asked the author: “How did the wife not know the husband was cheating when it was so obvious?”.
After a dramatic pause the author responded:
So many people believe in the exceptionalism of their own life.
In other words, denial is real.
Love is blind. And that goes for the love of person or the love of a craft. As human beings we want to be the chosen ones. We want to be the exception.
I’m not arguing that optimism is naive. The world is changed for the better by people who are believers and risk takers and rebels.
But there is a monumental difference between people who wait for others to choose them as the exception, and those who take action by being the exception. As author James Altucher points out in his recent bestseller, aptly titled Choose Yourself:
Gandhi chose himself to free an entire country. (Emphasis mine)
A SELECT FEW
I was at a brunch the other day with a group of travel writers and people in the public relations industry. Almost everyone was looking for work. “Sending out resumes feels like a joke.” “There’s too many applicants and not enough jobs.”
Yep. I understand. Because no matter your career or life path, you can wait for your “lucky break” to become the exception to the rule, or you can be the exception and break the rules.
Choosing yourself means taking ownership of the desired outcomes. Resumes not getting you anywhere? Make a quick simple video introducing yourself and why you should be hired. Or better yet, do the work first: If you’re a graphic designer, send the company an example of what their new webpage could look like if you get the gig. Yep, this stuff takes a lot of time and effort on your part. I once got cast in a show in a LA that wasn’t seeing NY actors because I put myself on tape and sent it to the casting director myself. That show eventually became my Broadway debut. I’d say the extra time and energy was worth it.
The truth is, at a certain point, most people in our desired fields bring the same 97% to the table. Therefore if we want to stand out from crowd, we’ll have to focus on the 3% that sets us apart.
In today’s fast-paced world, it is no longer a survival of the fittest, but a survival of the adaptable. Most of us will need to learn to pivot multiple times throughout our careers.
If the doors to our desired futures remain locked, we have to either find a new key or try a different door altogether. Or, if necessary, build our own damn door. Any of these options are better than camping out on the welcome mat in hopes that someone will have a change of heart and let us in.
Next week I’ll be announcing a resource for people who are ready to choose themselves. (Yeah!!!) I can’t say much more (don’t you love surprises?!) so I’ll just say that the interviews I’ve conducted thus far for the project have completely blown me away. There is much to be learned from people who have discovered their own 3%.
Cue: Happy dance.
In the meantime, if you want a lighthearted look at what Ryan Gosling has to say about being an actor (West Coast edition) you’ll want to watch this:
‘Til next week!