Adieu, ChicagoActress

“You must learn day by day, year by year to broaden your horizon. The more things you love, the more you are interested in, the more you enjoy, the more you are indignant about, the more you have left when anything happens.”
Ethel Barrymore

“I don’t understand, if you want to be an actress why the (bleep) are you moving to Paris?”

The question caught me off guard. I stood in the middle of my friends engagement party with my eyebrows raised, trying to come up with a susinct soundbite answer.The guests stared at me, awaiting my explanation.

The answer seemed simple and obvious to me. I’ve loved nannying for the last two years. Why not do the same job, while getting paid to live in one of the greatest cities on the planet? For the next year I will be living in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, France. I’ll have my own studio near my host family, language classes several times a week, and the ability to hop on a train and go anywhere in Europe.  I’ll learn a new language, have new experiences, and (hopefully) make some new friends. The trade off is, I put my acting on hold for a while.

“Ambition is only understood if its to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.”(Bill Watterson)  Most people assume if you are serious about acting, you must move to New York or L.A. and wait tables until you get your “big break.” For the majority of my life I believed thats the path I would follow after graduation. After visiting New York several times, I was shocked to discover I didn’t love it the way I thought I should.  L.A. was not a viable option as I had very little money saved, and almost no connections in California. While its romantic to hear stories of movie stars who moved to L.A. and lived in their cars before they were sky rocketed to fame and fortune, that lifestyle holds no charm for me (and I don’t have a car to sleep in anyway). So after graduation I set to work building a life here in Chicago, finding a day job I loved and some footing in the store-front theatres. I have been able to support myself and do what I love, thats not a small thing.

The question left me speechless because it cut to the core of what I’ve been afraid of: that if I leave for a year, I won’t be able to come back. There is part of me that feels guilty about leaving. I worried I might be percieved as a fraud for not relentlessly pursuing acting. I didn’t even want to write about taking a break here, for fear that an industry member might see and not want to hire me (a moot point, as I am leaving anyway).

These lingering feelings of doubt and uncertainty vanish whenever I think about what I’ll be exposed to in Paris. Moving to Paris is not at odds with my career in the arts, Paris is the cultural epicenter of the universe! I’ll be able to see operas, ballets, and read Moliere in its original language! I’ll be exposed to art, music, new ideas, a completely different way of life. I’ll be living in a culture that takes pride in its artistic history and contributions. I’ve already found some english-speaking actor meet ups I am excited to check out. I want to see how theatre is used and regarded in another part of the world.

A life in the arts is not a linear path. When I expressed my concerns to a friend recently, she offered me this fantastic analogy; theatre is like a river. You can be as immersed as you like, or you can get out for a while. Whenever you feel like jumping back in, there is always something new coming down the pipeline.  When/if I do return to Chicago theatre, I will have a new set of skills and experiences that will set me apart from the 200 other brunettes I’m constantly auditioning with. No two paths to success are the same, and I plan on finding my own way.

I’ve loved writing in this blog, if you’d like to follow the next part of my journey, meet me over at my new blog. Within and Without.  

Advertisements

Counting Success

“I am not saying stop striving for more, I am saying stop getting what you want and then saying ‘Well this doesn’t count.'” ~Caitlin O’Connor

The thing about having actors and former beauty queens as friends is that my newsfeed is often filled with very beautiful people doing glamorous and impressive things. I’m pretty good at celebrating the accomplishments of my friends, but I’ve realized I don’t always celebrate my own achievements.

A few weeks back, one of my friends posted that she’d be doing her residency at Northwestern. In addition to being a doctor, she is a Harvard graduate, talented violinist and former Miss Iowa.  Along with about 200 other people, I congratulated her and said I hoped we could reconnect when she moves to Chicago. She graciously responded by saying she looked forward to our reunion, and added that she creeps on me every now and again and is always impressed with what I am doing. I was floored. What could this violin playing, medicine practicing, Harvard alum possibly find impressive about my life?

I’ve talked before about avoiding professional jealousy and dealing with friends success. But how do you deal with your own success? I’ve realized that I deal with it mostly by denying it exists at all. For every accomplishment, I move the goalpost back a little further.

If I get a callback I beat myself up for not getting the job. If I book a job I feel its diminished because I knew the director or because a friend put me up for it or because its not a big established theatre. And that is bullshit.

There is a difference between being humble and being self deprecating. While humility is an essential part of a strong character, the ability to celebrate is essential for self confidence.  And it takes a lot of confidence to do what we do.

Why are we so reluctant to celebrate our accomplishments? Artists and athletes alike may use their dissatisfaction with past performance to fuel future endeavors. We need that desire to motivate us and keep us moving forward. Of course we shouldn’t settle. Of course we should strive for more, challenge ourselves to be better and dream bigger. But shouldn’t we stop and give ourselves a pat on the back now and then? Whats the point of following your dreams if you don’t celebrate while you’re living them?

So I am going to say it out loud (or online, as it were). This counts. I am doing it. I may not be on a national tour or having a big beautiful wedding anytime soon, but I am living the life I dreamed of. I am in the middle of a production I really love, working with actors and artists who I admire and respect.

Three Soldiers (For Sisters) is playing at The Den Theatre until March 23rd. I’d love for you to come see it, and celebrate with me.

3abb3ea07eadb814b972960e9f70de91

 

Typed-Out

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ”
― Carrie Fisher

On the way home from a callback I was talking shop with another actor friend, discussing current and upcoming projects. He is an extremely talented and fit young man, and works all the time. He recently opened a show I was called back for, but didn’t book. Then he mentioned another show he just received an offer for…

“You got an offer for that?” I huffed, “Oh my gosh I would have died to be in that show.”

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “Yea I just kind of stumbled into that audition at the last minute. I haven’t read the play but it sounds cool.”

I deflated. When that show was announced last year I sent a card to the theatre congratulating them on their upcoming season. I booked my audition appointment the hour registration became available. I carried the play around with me for a week and read it over and over. I carefully selected monologues and an outfit. I sent a thank you note after the audition. But at the end of the day, they just didn’t want my nuts.

I sat in the car reminding myself that we wouldn’t be up for the same roles anyway. He is extremely talented and deserves every bit of good fortune he has received. I thought about getting a sandwich at Potbellies, but remembered the billboard there, full of posters of shows I auditioned for. I wasn’t hungry anymore. Then he interrupted my thoughts by mentioning a mutual friend.

“Hey did you hear so-and-so just got cast for a few episodes on that show? Yea he’s been on location and got a cool haircut and everything. Ugh its frustrating. I mean he has an agent and everything, so that helps. I mean of course I am happy about my stuff too, but that lucky bastard.”

No matter what level of success you achieve, there is always someone near by who is a rung up. I look at my friend and see someone who is working with all the store-front theaters I am dying to work for. My friend sees HIS friend working on TV shows he’d love to be on. I’m sure that actor works with someone who just got cast in a big play or a movie that HE would die to be in.

It is so important to keep career-envy in check. There is always someone who you aspire to be like, but there are also people looking at you thinking “Damn, they have it all don’t they?” Overcoming professional jealousy is a topic I’ve explored before. It can bite you in the butt, but its especially pointless when you are jealous of actors you wouldn’t be in the casting pool with anyway.

I am simply a foot soldier in the ARMY of moderately attractive 20-something white girls, auditioning for plays in Chicago. Its a waste of time and energy to wish I were a type that is more in demand. I can’t control my type, but I can control other things. I can control my actor-envy by being genuinely happy for my friends. I can control how I pursue opportunities, and apply for every class and internship I am eligible for. I can keep working on developing a special skills set that will help me stick out from the crowd. I can polish audition packages. I can be persistent. I know its corny, but I can work on being the very best Erin O’Connor I can be. Who else is gonna do it?

Can you call yourself an actor if you are not a working actor?

Why, except as a means of livelihood, a man should desire to act on the stage when he has the whole world to act in, is not clear to me.
~ George Bernard Shaw

I’ve gone through many drafts on this topic. I’m writing from the biggest post-college rut I’ve had so far, with no show on the books and barely any promising auditions in sight. Preliminary drafts so far have been laundry lists of woes and insecurities surround the life of an out-of-work actor.

So to avoid sounding like the whiny, insecure mess I’ve become, I’ve been seeking outside opinions, and I’ve come across some great ones.

My younger sister is an assistant at a lobbying firm in D.C. She studied political science and is very ambitious. I had a conversation with her about whether or not I can call myself an actor. Here is an excerpt:

Erin: “No, you are right. But when I don’t have a show, and no shows booked for months to come, it can be hard to identify as an actor.”

Caitlin: “When I order coffee and sit on buzzfeed for hours on end it can be difficult to say I have any kind of career. But I do. I know I have a career because I know that this is temporary and I know that as long as I keep going and keep working I’ll keep getting opportunities and keep hitting those opportunities out of the park. Like when I was given 2 hearings to cover this week because they know I have fast turnover and can handle it. Its about taking opportunities and sometimes its about failing and that happens.”

At a brunch recently (where all good advice is exchanged) I posed the question to a friend. Can you call yourself an actor if you are not a working actor? He answered that even if you are not a working actor, you are always working on BEING an actor.

I like this approach because you take back ownership of your career. It’s easy to complain about a lack of opportunity, about not being the right type or not finding the right projects. If you are working on BEING an actor, that puts the ball back in your court. It puts the emphasis on actions you are taking towards your goal, and holds you accountable. When I really take a step back look at what I’ve been doing lately, it is clear there are more ways I can be my own advocate. More submissions, taking classes, developing special skills, and putting myself in a headspace where I am ready for the next show to come right now.

The path I choose is very different from the path my non-theatre friends and my little sister choose. Their paths seems to include committed relationships, stable incomes, and occasional trips to tropical places. Mine includes diaper changing, constant rejection and the knowledge that even if I am working at the top theaters in Chicago year-round, I still won’t be making the kind of money they are. I’ve written before about the concept of making it. Personally, I think someone assuming an actor wants to ”make it in Hollywood” is a little like assuming every lawyer wants to be a Supreme Court Justice. We all have different paths and goals.

I don’t have a charming or funny anecdote to go with this topic. It can suck to be an out of work actor. It sucks so much you don’t even want to TELL people you are an actor. But if there is one thing I’ve learned since leaving college, its that no matter what job I have, no matter where I go, in my heart its my greatest wish to be an actor. To be part of a company of story tellers. To go to the theatre, put on my costume, tell a story, and engage in one of the only places where you can experience real magic.

Live-Blogging a Rejection

“Having a dream, Erin, is awesome.

Having a dream and showing up every day, even when nothing seems to be happening, is priceless.

But having a dream and showing up every day, while sauntering, winking, and hugging everyone, is when the floodgates begin to tremble.

Hugs,
The Universe” –Notes from the Universe

Whoop. You’ve caught me at a bad time.

There was a role that I desperately wanted to play, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming my way. Usually you just don’t hear back, or you get a rejection email. But as fate would have it, I was privy to the knowledge that the calls were being made. I’m feeling nauseous and still staring at my phone willing it to ring. With every minute that passes I can feel the cloud descending. Troubling thoughts are racing through my head. “If I can’t get a part I thought I was perfect for, how the hell am I going to get any roles at all?/I should just give up and try to marry a rich dude/I am mad at myself for getting my hopes up so high.” Luckily, I have the power to change the story I am telling myself.

I learned a few years ago that it is within my power to assign meaning to the events of my life. My happenings don’t have to affect my happiness. When I am feeling anxious or upset I can choose to channel negative energy into positive creation. This applies to a wide range  of events, from a simple rejection letter to a national crisis. For instance, when I learned about the shooting in Colorado last summer, I was heartbroken. I was working at a small summer stock theatre, and I felt like the safe little bubble I had been living in was popped. A cloud of sadness consumed me, making it almost impossible to concentrate during work. How did I make the cloud go away?

I wrote letters. I wrote little cards to people I missed from home. My best friends, my sisters, my parents, even some acquaintances I just admire.  I thought about all the things I loved about them, wrote it in a card, and let them know how much I missed them and I couldn’t wait to see them again. Thinking about all those people I love lifted the cloud. I am not sharing this to say “look how nice I am because I wrote cards”. It was a completely selfish act. I did it because it made me feel better.

So here I am staring at this phone, willing it to ring but feeling in my gut it’s not going to happen. I choose to focus my energy on something positive. I’ve writing a gratitude list. A list of all the things I am happy for RIGHT NOW. Obviously I am grateful for my family, friends, and their health. But talking about specifics can be a cathartic exercise that brings you down from a ledge.

  • I don’t have to move in the near future.
  • I am a healthy young woman with the freedom to express myself in whatever way I choose.
  • The Hawks are in the finals.
  • I am learning a valuable lesson about humility, optimism, and faith.
  • Right now its just me. No husband, no children, no one to answer to but my own conscience, and I like it that way. For now.
  • Its summer and I can wear sundresses.
  • I get to spend most days caring for wonderful children I love, and introducing them to the world.
  • I can play my ukulele ANY TIME I WANT.
  • I am going to a dance party on Saturday night, and I plan on wearing a fabulous dress, and dancing my face off.
  • In myself, I have the agency to create my own destiny. Perhaps this setback is a catalyst into something better. A push that will help me create my own opportunity rather than waiting to be chosen by someone else.
  • There is chocolate ice cream in the freezer.
  • Someone invented sunscreen, and therefore I can enjoy being outside as much as I like.
  • I live in ‘Merica!
  • As soon as Will wakes up from his nap, we are going to bring the bubble-gun down to the lake and go crazy.
  • There are always more shows. More auditions. More opportunities. Not getting this role doesn’t mean I can never do theatre again. The next show could be just around the corner.
  • I am lucky enough to have a wide circle of friends; College friends, high school friends, theatre friends, random people I’ve met in the last two years who I have become amazingly close to. There is never a shortage of entertainment or love, so who am I to feel bad for myself ever?
In every great setback in my life, I’ve always looked back later and thought “Thank goodness. If things had worked out the way I originally wanted, I would have missed out on so much.” So I choose to be miracle minded. I choose to believe that there is something else I am supposed to be doing, and its my job to find it/create it.

Ladies Who Brunch

 “Also, it’s just plain tough out there — for all the aforementioned reasons about the economy and the dating scene and body-image pressures. I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.” ~Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends

I’ll admit it- I’ve been in a funk lately. The combination of post-show depression that followed closing Red Hamlet, and a lack of new opportunities on the horizon has caused me to feel more than a little deflated. I’m looking at another three months at least without a new show to work on. There were a couple of opportunities I was really excited about that unfortunately haven’t panned out. Turns out life up on the wicked stage ain’t never what a girl supposes.

But last Sunday I got a shot of adrenaline pumped right into my metaphorical-theatrical artery.  I had brunch with two girlfriends whose careers are going GREAT. I suppose that has the potential to be an actor’s nightmare, but it was a wonderful morning that gave me a much-needed dose of hope and encouragement.  When I reflect on the last two years of my life, brunches like this one have been a common source of inspiration and support.

Six months after my 2011 graduation, I was in another funk. I was working a sales job I hated, and I hadn’t seen a single show or been on one audition. Fear, insecurity, and a lack of know-how kept me from pursuing the career I had dreamt about and worked for my whole life. At the time, most of my close friends were muggles (non-theatre people). So I sought out advice from an acquaintance, a friend of my sister who was doing very well in Chicago. After I sent her a Facebook message with some career questions, she graciously invited me to brunch for a little pick-your-brain session. The advice and kindness she shared played a major role in giving me the courage to leave my dead-end sales job and immerse myself in Chicago Theatre. (It also helped that she gave me tons of comp tickets over the last two years). Actually meeting someone who had what I wanted, gave me a roadmap to fulfillment.

“Be persistent. Your time will come”. Of course I tell myself these things, but its nice to hear them once in a while. It’s especially nice to hear them from women I respect and admire. It’s not just encouragement we share over eggs in a basket, we share practical advice about the industry. We discuss agencies, submission tactics and laugh about crappy auditions.

I certainly don’t mean to exclude the gentlemen from this post. I could write a whole book of good advice I’ve received from my accomplished actor friends. While in D.C. I had dinner with an old WIU friend who has been doing great in regional theatre. He gave me the single kindest piece of encouragement I’ve had all year.”Keep at it, you are just as good if not better than many of the actresses I work with.” When someone you admire says that… just typing it makes me want to cry.

Being a non-equity actress in a big city is a tough career to maintain. Its filled with rejection, heartbreak, and unsolicited advice from Muggles who see acting as a failure to be normal, rather than a conscious lifestyle choice. The best way to keep your spirits up, is to seek out the company of talented, positive people who have what you want. Seeing women my age who are succesful fills me with hope and reminds me that hard work and endurance pays off. I hope one day I’ll be in a position to pay it forward, and I know exactly where we can meet.

Anyone for brunch?

If any readers have topics they would like me to explore on this blog, feel free to email your suggestions to oconnoerin@gmail.com. 

My favorite part of Rabbit Hole

Quote

BECCA: This feeling, does it ever go away?
NAT: No. I don’t think it does. Not for me it hasn’t. And thats going on eleven years. (beat) It changes though.
BECCA: How?
NAT: I don’t know. The weight of it I guess. At some point it becomes bearable. It turns into something you can crawl out from under and carry around. Like a brick in your pocket. And you forget it every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is. “Oh Right. That.” Which can be awful. But not all the time. Sometimes it’s kinda…Not that you like it exactly, but its what you have instead of your son, so you don’t wanna let go of it either. So you carry it around. And it doesn’t go away, which is…
BECCA: What.
NAT: Fine…actually.

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire