Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Coming Back After Adversity


Overcoming Adversity: Click for Photo Credit
Over the years dozens upon dozens of actors have come to me with a specific concern: they’ve been diagnosed with an illness or have a family emergency that requires them to put a hold on their career, and they’re afraid the time away will stall things completely. They come to me for help in planning for the “down time” and setting goals for their career’s recovery.

I know first-hand how challenging this can be. Because in the middle of 2015 I myself was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. I was an actor in the prime of her 30s, and I couldn't believe this was happening to me.

I was on a particular upswing in my career at that moment. I was producing two plays - one of which I was starring in. I had just signed with a new manager. But I had this nagging pain in my breast and I was feeling fatigued. I had been to the doctor and they said that breast cancer rarely causes pain and I was too young with no risk factors. But after a few months I simply knew that something was wrong, and a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy later I found out the truth.

I had cancer.

I went into a bit of a panic mode, not only about my health but also my upcoming commitments. Could I somehow fit the surgery, chemo and radiation around my performance schedule? Would the side effects event make that possible? Other questions seemed far worse - what will happen with my “type” when I lose my hair and gain weight from chemo? And how will I explain my absence to casting directors and producers - breast cancer is not something that easily rolls off the tongue in casual conversation.

As I was nearing the end of a year of treatment and would soon get a clean bill of health, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, and all of the sudden my status changed from cancer patient to cancer caregiver. This meant travel out of state several times per year to make sure my mother got the support she needed. I found it even more difficult to justify my time away from acting when it was someone else’s health I was supporting.

So what does one do when they find themselves faced with this kind of situation?

1 - Take a breath. This business is not going anywhere. Yes, there may be a little lag in your trajectory (which sucks, believe me) but the hard work you put into your career will not evaporate overnight.

2 - Be as honest as is comfortable. I chose to be very open about my personal health crisis but I chose to be silent about my mother’s. You don’t have to reveal anything you don’t want to.

3 - Explore the “new you.” If, like me, your type changes because of the illness, take a step back and see what is available to you in this interim period of “new you.” In my case, I lost my hair so I had to wait for my hair to grow out enough where I could get new headshots. My type didn’t change drastically, but my personal style needed to get a bit of a facelift to accommodate the short pixie cut I was sporting. It turns out to be a ton of fun - I looked at other actors who has short hair and observe their style, and then I created new branding that made me feel the most “me.”

4 - Set small goals that are doable in your situation. One of my students developed her knowledge of theater by challenging herself to read three plays per week during her treatment. Another did research watching 2 episodes of every TV show shot in NYC. A third used his downtime to watch webinars on YouTube, making plans for what he wanted to try once his energy returned.

5 - And finally, BE PATIENT. Your recovery won’t go any faster by worrying or getting upset wth yourself. And the business is not going anywhere. If you’re kind to yourself you’ll find that this crisis will bring even more capacity for empathy and growth in your work, making you even more human than before.


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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. She is the Founder/Coach of The Actors’ Enterprise, co-founder and Managing Director of The Seeing Place Theater, and writes an “Experts” column for Backstage. To learn more, check out www.TheActorsEnterprise.org and find her on Twitter @ErinCronican.

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