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Down (and Out) the Rabbit Hole

Righting Ourselves in an Upside Down World

I imagine reading these sorts of posts a year or so in the future, looking back to our days amidst this pandemic, and thinking: man, it seems like we had all been sucked down some bizarre rabbit hole into a dystopian Wonderland. We certainly can identify a bit better with Alice now that our world, for too long, has been turned upside down and inside out.

We’re seeing too many seams wearing thin and the fabric of society being pulled in too many directions. Anxiety, worry, and depression are becoming more commonplace, especially among those whose livelihoods had been abruptly shut down. Even while some productions are starting to crank back up – with Covid-mandated safety procedures in place – it’s still very tough on most actors.

Actors are typically a self-doubting bunch: Am I good enough? Do they like me? Did I do something that will forever ban me from working again?! And so on. Well, thanks to 2020, there are a few more tangible worries to deal with. Here’s a rundown of the five I’ve heard the most, coupled with some encouraging news:

Worry #1: My momentum is broken …

The popular adage that "an acting career is a marathon, not a sprint” refers to the years of work and persistence that goes into building a successful career. Each new role booked builds on the body of work that preceded it, leading to larger and more interesting and demanding roles. Most actors don’t take much time off from the industry in fear of losing this momentum, becoming sidelined, or even forgotten. And it’s been difficult for just about everyone – financial pressures notwithstanding – when the industry has shut down.

Even though we’re all dealing with the same situation, worry persists that there’ll be inevitable delays in career progress. And there’s certainly truth to this. Productions are re-working scripts and cutting many smaller roles to reduce cast size, mostly to reduce the risk of Covid, accommodate social distancing, and ensure that budgets and timetables are met. Unfortunately for actors, many look to these co-star and small supporting roles to prove their acting chops, make industry connections, and build their body of work. Even those more seasoned performers who were preparing to move to LA or pursue bi-coastal opportunities are feeling their options are stymied.

Don’t Worry … Too much

There’s no getting around the fact that work HAS slowed down or is still stopped in some areas. But nothing lasts forever and productions in Atlanta, Vancouver, and overseas are beginning to ramp up again. Not much can be done about the lost career momentum, but that may be more of an illusion, as everyone has been in the same position. Consider the past seven months or so a “freeze” in activity for the industry and not a personal spiraling down into irrelevance.

The true loss in momentum is if the actor has not done anything to keep those acting and auditioning skills sharp. There really hasn’t been much of an excuse to have not done so. Since last spring, there has been a flood of virtual classes and workshops offered, plus monologue competitions and open calls by casting directors inviting all actors to submit their best work.

Worry #2: Exposure to Covid on set

Safety concerns remain high, especially on non-union sets that are not required to meet the stringent SAG-AFTRA requirements. While some non-union have strict guidelines and safety precautions, others are much more lax.

Don’t Worry – Be smart and choosy

Common sense dictates here. If you are in a high risk group, such as having a compromised immune system or pre-existing condition that makes you susceptible to Covid, don’t audition for any project that may expose you to the virus. There are some projects that involve filming your scenes from home or only with others with whom you’ve been quarantining. Commercials especially have been booking family members, couples, and roommates for their projects.

Some productions have also been stating their safety compliance procedures with their auditions, so that actors can decide for themselves whether to apply for the roles. Even after booking, directors may talk with cast members to review the precautions on set. And SAG-AFTRA actors know that the union has their back, with compliance officers and nurses on set and plenty of Covid testing before and during a shoot.

Mike G., an Atlanta-based actor, says that he was very impressed with the safety and protocols put in place.

“Film sets in general seem to be one of the safest work environments around. The amount of precautions taken before actors even venture on set – not to mention once you’re actually here – are very reassuring.”

Worry #3: Loss of (union) health insurance

SAG-AFTRA sets a minimal amount that a member actor must earn each calendar year to qualify for union health insurance. With the industry effectively shut down less than three months into 2020, this fear is certainly understandable. For many, losing affordable health insurance for the next year when they’ve already lost their means of income is a cruel blow.

Don’t Worry – SAG-AFTRA is helping

The union has announced a bit of a safety net. If an actor loses earned eligibility, they may be able to continue their plan's coverage through COBRA for a specified time period. Click this link for details. It’s not cure-all, but it can help in the short term.

Worry #4: Newer actors losing opportunities to the veterans

On the surface, this sounds like a complaint voiced by newbie actors at any time, not just during a pandemic. Yes, it’s high likely that at any given time, we all will be competing against more experienced actors for a role. That’s the business, and the casting director, director, and/or producer will choose whomever they think will best bring their character to life. Sometimes it’s the seasoned veteran, sometimes it’s a newer actor.

The concern being voiced, though, refers to the few number of roles available and the stiffer competition for them. And it’s quite likely that at this time, veteran actors WILL benefit more. As they say, “them’s the breaks.”

Don’t Worry – be proactive … and patient

The answer to this concern is two-fold: Up your game, keep training, and become more competitive. And second, realize that this industry IS slowly coming back and with it, more jobs. Lisa T., an actress in the Southeast, reports:

“I’m surprised but thrilled with the number of auditions that are popping up. So much for rumors that the market is dead!”

Worry #5: All of the above worries have my energy and attitude going down the tubes

Yup, we’re right there with you. 2020 has been a test of resilience, fortitude, and determination. Not to mention patience. Most of us have not done too well by it!

It’s been a balancing act, too, as actors try to balance risk with reward. For those booking jobs, the question in the back of their minds may be: Is this role worth it if I bring Covid home to my family? How much do I need to make to justify the risk?

All these concerns can drain actors of their normal hustle mentality. And make them question again the wisdom of working in an uncertain industry where most of the decision-making is out of their control.

Don’t Worry – You have the power to choose your reaction

When we can’t control the situation, we can at least choose how we will react to it. We’ll each make the decision whether or not to audition for a role, which sets we’ll be willing to work on, and for what fees. We can – and should! – continue to take care of ourselves with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and – if we can – a positive attitude. Continue with online classes, get new headshots (plenty of photographers are taking proper safety precautions), learn a new skill or language, read industry-related books and listen to podcasts … you get the idea.

Yeah, the world is a bit upside down now, but people made their way out from under the Spanish Flu and we’ll get through this century’s pandemic, too. After all, Alice found her way out of Wonderland, even though the silly girl eventually went right back in via the Looking Glass.


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