“Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You”
It’s not just a punchline in a movie. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” is a way of doing business that’s – for better or worse - alive and well in the entertainment industry. Not too surprising, considering that the supply of talent greatly outstrips demand. And pretty much has since the first silent movie hit the theaters. Perhaps even before, in vaudeville, Broadway, and on stages everywhere going back to the ancient Greeks.
The same can also be said for those aspiring to become professional athletes, musicians, or visual artists.
It’s not an easy career path. While the public may assume that talent rises to the top, no matter what, so much depends on things that the individual artist, athlete, or musician can’t control. There is no ladder of success that can be climbed based purely on talent, experience, and years of service. No guarantee that even the most gifted performer will be a commercial success or a recognizable asset. It’s a subjective business, driven by the personal tastes of the decision-makers or the whimsical public. It’s the opportunity to be seen or heard by those with the power to launch or further a career. Perhaps hardest of all, it’s career with very little positive feedback – hey, often with no feedback AT ALL - except perhaps when the talent is first booked, while on the job, or worst of all, summarily fired. (Not that being fired is a natural follow-up to being booked or directed on set. Most of the time.)
Actors new to the business often hear, “if there’s anything else you want to do – do it.” This is a thankless business and those who work in entertainment primarily do so because they can’t imagine – or want – to do anything else. As in professional sports, attention is focused on those at the very pinnacle of success. The famous A-listers, the money-makers who can be counted on to draw a large audience, generate widespread media coverage, and increase the odds that the production will be successful.
Most of know firsthand that it’s a hard business, and the statistics bear it out. Only 2% of actors make a full-time living from practicing their craft. That’s 98% who undoubtedly will meet living expenses by doing other things. And for those of us in the 98%, we need to find our balance outside of the acting world. We must find meaning and purpose within ourselves, and not let ourselves be defined by the massive amount of rejection that makes up an actor’s career.
Since there’s no way of knowing when – or how often – we’ll be requested to audition or play a role, it’s important to focus on what we CAN do. Don’t wait for the call that may or may not come tomorrow. We need to actively build our lives today, lives with meaning and purpose. Focus on your life and if they want you, they’ll know how to find you. Assuming that all your support materials are in order with proper contact information, of course - or at least make sure that your agent knows how to get a hold of you when opportunity comes calling.
Here are 12 tips for coping with the realities of an acting career:
1. Develop yourself as a person and cultivate interests and hobbies outside of acting
What are your other passions? Come on, I’m sure you have one or two. Take time on a regular basis to pursue these interests. Not only will they give you greater satisfaction, they’ll make you a more interesting person to the casting directors and producers. Unique qualities that set you apart, additional skill sets, and interesting life experiences are all part of the “value add” that you can bring to a role. Your agent can use those to sell producers on your overall package as an actor. And decision makers will notice.
An example? Skateboarding. Horseback riding. Even baking. If you have a talent for turning out the best chocolate chip cookies since Mrs. Fields, showcase your skills on your social media and note them on your resume. Post photos of that delicious triple layer cake you just made, or a time-lapse video of your latest souffle-making adventure, or even a simple how-to on whisking the batter like your life depended on it … perfect for those roles as a cook, a chef, or restaurant manager. They'll catch the attention of those looking to cast those particular skills. (And who may also be hoping that you'll be bringing edible samples with you to set!)