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.

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One thought on “Can you call yourself an actor if you are not a working actor?

  1. I had a professor tell me, once: ” You want to be an actor?! Don’t be an actor! There are too many actors in the world. The last thing this world needs, is ‘actors’. Be a man; a woman; a human being who seeks to grow every day and enrich the lives of others that they encounter with who they are and what they love to do. If that particular thing is ‘acting’, then be that genuine, loving person who aspires to achieve excellence in what they love and you will find so much success in all of your endeavors and inspire more people than you ever imagined.” Your desire to tell stories is so admirable. This business needs more light-fueled people who believe that theatre, truly, can change the lives of others and make this world a better place to live in. Your desire and passion is where true magic in the theatre comes from. Keep trail blazing the path that you are on. Your tenacity and love for this career choice will be the wind that directs your sails. Best wishes to you.

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