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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Getting Real

Featured Article: Backstage Experts!

Recommended Reading:
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Outliers

I was on Twitter today (much like every day) and was thinking about what piece of advice I wanted to offer to actors. To help me with ideas, each time I do this I look back on my week of coaching and try to find a common theme that actors have been grappling with. These past few days have a richer history to draw from, as I’ve been working on casting two projects I’m producing. I’ve reached out to actors I respect and adore, hoping they'd be able to participate in one of these projects. Astonishingly, more than once I was told,

“I would love to, but I have to work.”

You have all heard me talk about this before - that actors need to “Get Real” about what it actually takes to make it as an actor. I’ve waxed philosophic about being an expert and overcoming obstacles. So, you know my position on day jobs -- which is pretty much everyone’s position on day jobs: they need to be flexible, but they also need to cover the basics so that you don’t starve. The trouble is, we get this idea into our heads that we’re limited to only a few types of jobs that will be flexible for our career (temp work, serving, bartending, etc.) I’d like to challenge that assumption. I believe that there are hundreds of flexible jobs waiting for you to come grab them, and thousands in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Why haven’t you found them, you ask? The “Get Real” answer:

Because you haven’t asked for them.

When I moved to New York City, I made myself a firm commitment that I would a) only take day jobs that were in the performing arts industry, and b) the jobs must be so flexible that I can canceling coming into work - even the day of - and not be penalized. It’s a tall order. And sure, the interview process was tricky. I got turned down for way more jobs than I was accepted, which was previously uncommon. But the good news was that it wasn't because of my skills or talent - I was turned down because I was clear about my expectations. I told each employer:

“I’m looking for a flexible work schedule that will allow me to attend to my acting career on a moment’s notice. In exchange for that, you’ll get an employee who gives 110%, who’ll work evenings and weekends to complete projects on time. I offer unparalleled experience and skills for the low money being offered, and I’ll take that pay in exchange for the quality of life that I need.”

The managers always appreciated my candor, and those who hired me had a clear understanding of what I was talking about. I didn’t walk in there asking, “If I get hired, is it ok if sometimes I use vacation time to go on auditions?” I told them exactly what I wanted, and let them make the decision as to whether or not I was the right fit for their company. And, you know what? I found flexible work after only my second month in New York, and haven’t looked back since. I've been a work-from-home admin assistant, technology advisor, and marketing consultant -- all of which allowed me to set my own hours and come and go as I pleased. There are TONS of jobs waiting for your to grab them. You just have to muster up the courage and the confidence to know that you deserve them.

I want to address another issue when it comes to making a living. A lot of people feel like they can’t really make acting a full-time career until they’re making enough money from acting to be able to leave their day job. They’re concerned that acting won’t be able to pay the bills, and are afraid to really put in the effort until they do. I’m going to go out on a limb here and probably frustrate some of you:

Why doesn’t acting pay your bills? The “Get Real” answer:

Because you don’t demand that it does.

I’ve got a friend of mine who works only as an actor. He doesn’t have a day job, and spends a lot of his time eating mac and cheese instead of going out for drinks with friends. But he gets his bills paid, and do you know why? Because he demands to get paid for his acting work. Now, this is a pretty ballsy thing to do, and he certainly had the talent, relationships, and resume to back it up. But I truly believe that you won’t ever get there unless you ask for it. Case in point: this actor was cast in a show out of town where he’d be making around $700 per week. He then gets a call from one of his favorite directors -- she’s producing new AEA showcase production of a play the actor had workshopped several times in the past few years -- would he be interested in doing the show? The actor was torn - he wanted the paycheck from the out-of-town show, but for artistic reasons he was much more drawn to the little in-town show that would be playing in a tiny theater. So, he asked for what he needed -- in order to do the small show, he asked that producer to pay him the same amount that he was getting for the other show. AND THE PRODUCER AGREED.

Now, obviously... this is an extreme example, and it doesn’t always work. We don’t always get what we ask for. But as Wayne Gretzky said, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

So, how do you make this happen? Well, first you take stock in your skill set and find what makes you unique. What are you really, really good at, and what would be of value to others? Then you start looking for work that allows you to use that skill set. In 2007 I started The Actors’ Enterprise so that I could have flexibility, financial stability, and a passion for how I spend my days. It combines my vast knowledge of marketing & business start-up, with my intense love for helping people achieve greatness. I’ve taken all of the work experience that I have amassed and created something that allows me to make my acting career #1. If I can do it, you can do it.

So, back to my comment about the Twitter advice I offered today. Here’s are the 3 tweets I ended up posting:

• "I have deep concerns when "I can't, I have to work" keeps an actor from doing something important for their career."

• "I’m a big proponent of finding or creating work that is flexible for your needs as an actor. Heck, if I can do it, anyone can."

• "Bottom line: You can have a strict day job and be forced to make acting a hobby, or find a flexible job and have a shot at making it a CAREER."

And you know what? Within minutes an actor in California responded to my tweets saying that he works in the legal profession and is looking for actors to work for his company in several cities across the country (including New York.) It's amazing what becomes available when you just ask for it.

I invite you to examine your day job status and the kind of freedom and support it provides for your acting career. Use what I have offered here as inspiration for what is absolutely possible: pursuing your acting career with full force AND having a day job that provides for that. If you have any questions about how to apply this to your specific situation, shoot me an email and I’ll help as best I can. Perhaps it just a little pep talk you need, or perhaps your career would benefit from a little bit of coaching. I always offer a free consultation so we can get to know each other and you can see if this kind of coaching would be right for you. I would be honored to be a member of your team.


Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.



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