For those who are not in the acting industry, it can be hard to understand why actors seem to struggle so much. “Why can’t you be in that TV series?” they say, as if you’ve made a choice to not do that TV job, when the truth is that even getting seen for it seems nigh-on impossible.
When you try to explain to people about agents or the way the industry actually works and how there are so many actors and so little paid work around, they’re usually sympathetic but I’m not sure they truly understand. It all seems to boil down to which camp you belong in – those who work-to-live or those who live-to-work.
Generally, I’ve found that actors belong to the group of people that prefer to live-to-work. For them, acting isn’t so much “work,” as a passion. It’s their chosen vocation, one they can’t imagine not doing and when they do get to do it, makes them extremely happy to the point where little else comes close. The thought of doing a 9-5 job that’s nothing to do with acting is both stifling and soul-destroying.
For those who are in the work-to-live camp, they would rather do a stable job that has a steady, regular income, so that they can then afford to do the things they love outside of work. For them, pursuing an artistic career when you don’t know when the next job will come in or working lots of low-paid jobs just to fit in around creative pursuits, may seem crazy and unrealistic.
There’s no right or wrong in belonging to either camp – it all depends on your individual outlook and what drives you in your life-choices. But people around you may have strong opinions as to your life-choices and quite often you will need to be very protective of your creative dreams.
I was reminded of this the last few days when an actress friend of mine turned down a full-time, (non-acting) job for a year. Despite a long (unintentional) break from acting and many years of unpaid acting work, she is still not willing to give up on her acting dreams and has given herself a time limit of a year to get back on track – signing up for classes and trying to get her confidence back. She turned down the offer because she didn’t want to take her focus away from acting but the reaction from those around her has been very negative. I must admit that, initially, even I questioned her decision. Being presented with a job that pays well is incredibly tempting to an actor that usually scrapes by, doing bits and pieces.
She made a choice that most people won’t understand and it seemed to make them angry. Perhaps at the root of that anger is resentment – when we give up on our dreams in order to be practical and realistic it can be a bitter pill to swallow and the anger we feel at ourselves can be projected on to those still holding on to their dreams, even if they’re holding onto them by a fingernail.
It’s hard enough battling the negative voices in our own minds without having to justify our career choices to those around us. Even our loved ones, without being aware, can gently erode the little faith we have in our goals with phrases like:
“How long are you going to keep pursuing your art?“
“When are you going to be realistic and face up to the fact that if you haven’t made it by now, you’re never going to make it“.
“There are thousands of talented people in your profession not working. What makes you think you’ll succeed when they haven’t“?
“Artistic goals are all well and good. But they hardly pay the bills or put food on the table“.
Yes we do have to pay the bills and put food on the table and support our families but the hope is that we can pay for those things by doing what we love. Plenty of people get paid for doing their dream job. Why not us?
In continuing our artistic endeavours, we must learn to tune out the naysayers and the negative voices, both our own and from those around us. Even if it means keeping our distance at times from colleagues and loved ones in order to reinforce the focus on our dreams or nurture our fledgling creative ideas and projects. At those times, when your faith in yourself and in your work starts to ebb away, try to find a friend or someone who can be a cheerleader during those times, encouraging you on when the going gets tough.
Society, in general, isn’t particularly kind to artists. How many wonderfully creative ideas or projects could have come to fruition but barely get off the ground or are shot down by a thoughtless comment or because an artist fears ridicule from their peers. The more we can do and say to show support for each other in our creative communities, the better.