Things have not changed today. I still dream of being on set. In my worst nightmares, I am onstage with fifty people making up lines and hoping we get to the next scene, completely unaware of what the next scene is even about. In my greatest dreams, I am sitting backstage playing musical instruments I could only hope to play and singing for an audience that isn't even there.
*Seriously, I have been memorizing lines and last night I had a terrible dream that I was running
late on opening night."*
Well, I can't actually say they haven't changed. They have. Now I have bills to pay, most of them forced upon me(but let's not talk politics), some of them of my own doing, but all of them have to be paid. This is the cost of being alive. I don't have cable. I cook at home for myself as much as I can. I take maybe one vacation a year, and that is usually for two days. When I am not doing a show I teach acting and dialects, bartend and hold the occasional CPR class. You know, the things that are necessary to eat and not dig a deeper hole for myself while I try to make my way towards living the dream, working as an actor 12 months out of the year instead of 9. And I am making headway, no thanks to the economy and the world in general.
Where is this all going and where did this come from? Yesterday my boyfriend handed me a newspaper. Yes, I still read newspapers. In this newspaper I saw a few plays listed and one given a great 10 our of 10 review by a friend and fellow theater lover. I love seeing good theater reviews, but that was not what got to me, it was WHO put it on that make my brain itch.
Last year, while I was in Beaufort playing Pirate and auditioning all day, a friend of mine sent me a link to a great studio they had been attending. I looked it up and instantly fell in love. They offered training workshops for longer periods of time where you spent a day to seven days a week rehearsing and practicing your craft. That is so great, I thought, I can go here and practice acting every day. Then I looked at the cost. I'm not saying it was expensive, but I don't think I could live off the universe for 4 months. Seriously, a month at this place would cost me a third of my yearly salary and literally did not guarantee I was going to be making money afterward, just that I would be a better actor. While I think it is worth the cost, I have starved for my art and will do it again, to spend that money would go way beyond starving for my art into killing any more chances I have to audition. Did I mention this friend who was taking classes was quite wealthy?
This bummed me out for a day, until I went to do some modeling for a painter. So I went in and told her about how bummed out I was and she had this great story. Once, when she was a little low on funds, she paid for a workshop with a well-known painter by working for him. This gave me some hope so I emailed the head of the studio asking how to join and mentioning that I am REALLY short on cash, any cash I make has to be used to get to auditions and feed and house myself, but would be willing to work it off, be it by teaching something or taping or selling tickets or scrubbing the toilets or cleaning his house for free. It didn't matter what it was, and I wasn't asking for a handout, I just would not be able to pay cash.
The response from the head of the studio made me first sad and then angry. He said he only accepted cash. I get it. He offered me a class where they only met once a week that still cost 3 times more than I spend on food in a month, and I love eating. And said if I couldn't afford that, I could always take their one day class. Which cost $10 less than that. If I can't pay for the more involved studio, I am not paying part of that to meet for 4 days, or worse, once. Seemed really offended that I would ask him to teach me in exchange for anything but cash because he had been in the acting game for fifty years and he was worth the price. I get that you worked hard sir, and I respect that. But even I give a few free classes to students because they can't afford it, or because I don't know if they are going to like what I tell them. And it's not like I was asking for free. I was offering one service for another. I am sorry if you were offended. I just really wanted to work with you. He then said to email him back when I had the money and was serious about my career.
At this point, I politely thanked him, said if I ever had an extra 6 grand lying around I would happily pay him (and I do sincerely mean it) and if he ever offered a scholarship to please let me know.
He then immediately emailed me back and said he would never offer a scholarship.
So I have been applying for grants to go to this acting studio. I told you I meant it. Yes, I think acting seven days a week is worth it and there is never a bad education. This was who put on the show with a cast entirely from his studio.
It's what is rarely discussed in this profession. It is meant for the wealthy. Or for children whose parents devote their lives whole lives to giving their child an acting profession in some way or another. I have met several people in my life who were at Sundance this year, funny enough they just started getting enough money to pay for things on their own...in their 30s.
Honestly, people are talking about it. Even the great Dame Judi Dench mentioned it. Even Spacey send the ladder back down to help people up. *As a quick side note, Middle-Class England families include doctors and lawyers, in other words people who can afford to pay for school. Yes RADA and LAMBA still charge their students about $10000 a year on top of their government funding. If you are American and want to go you are looking at $20000 a year American not including the cost to live there. I wanted to audition and so I looked.*
Let me just break it down for you. Good headshots are a minimum of $200. Really you should be getting those every three months (hands on anyone who actually does?), or every time something on your face changes, whichever comes first. You have to pay for a casting websites. I know most of them offer a free version but you have to pay $2 for ever submission, why not just pay for a small package that gives you access to self-submit. That runs about $300 a year...over $500 if you include IMDb and Backstage. Then there is the equipment to shoot auditions, which is thankfully only a one time cost, but still, about $900 for a basic set up. Or you can pay a taping service $25 every time you tape You can't live off a regular phone anymore so you need a smartphone to keep in touch with the world, $80 a month. $75 to cut your reel together. $10 a month gym membership. $250 to pay someone for a speed scene if you have no film to put on your reel. The list goes on and on and that doesn't even include having to pay for food, rent, utilities, gas, health...which, according to the government, should equal about $1600 a month for a single individual. No wonder most of our most famed actors came from families who could afford it.
Is it fair? Probably not. Is it right? Not even a little. We have lost hundreds of Mark Ruffalos...Ruffaloes?...to the need to eat. Seriously, Mark Ruffalo did a Clearasil Commercial in 1992 and then didn't work for 8 years. There are so many AMAZING actors out there who can't afford the big acting studios. They can't afford to attend the premieres and watch the plays due to the cost. I know I will not go see a show simply because I can't afford it. They can't afford to pay the best headshot photographers out there to get headshots done. Really, if you can't afford to pay for these things, some may say you should just give up on acting and find another job. It's not for you. And for some, this is for the best.
But there are those of us who are just stubborn. Maybe a little proud and insane too. Maybe we just want this more. So we work, and save. We quit jobs to go work regional theater. We take 3 weeks off a good paying job, or just quit altogether, to go and shoot a film where we make $125 a day. We sit in our backyards and tape short films. We save for 3 month to take a workshop that costs $100. We beg a little to get into studios, or save to be able to go to The Actors Studio auditions in NY. (By the way the Actor's Studio is free.) We apply for grants. We don't sleep. Much. We are poor actors, and we will not go quietly into the night. We will prove we are worth it and we will show you we can. And when we get as high as we can go, we will reach back and pull others up. If we can't climb and high we will push those who need it most higher. Who knows, maybe one of those someones will reach back with a helping hand.