When I was four years old I told my mom that I wanted to be a cartoon when I grew up. Not really knowing what to make of that, she put me in modeling and acting classes and I've spent the rest of my life in the entertainment industry, in one form or another. My career goals really took shape when I performed a monologue from Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" for my sophomore acting class final. My father was in the audience and afterwards, he came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "You have to do this. You need to go to school for this. You're an actor."
My father, who was working as an executive in the high-tech industry at that time, fully supported my desire to become an actor. It was a defining moment in my life. I was given permission to follow my dreams and that permission has shaped me as an actor and as a mother. Knowing that my parents are behind me 100% gives me the confidence to take risks in my career but whether it was their intention or not, they have also instilled in me a strong work ethic that has allowed me to find success in my chosen profession. Now, let's be clear, success as an actor does NOT necessarily equate to financial stability.
It's virtually impossible to support oneself by acting gigs alone. Frankly, if I wasn't married to a generous and successful partner who contributed significantly to support our lifestyle, I would most likely not be able to live where I live and do what I do. As artists, we need to be honest with ourselves about what success looks like for us. For some, it could be supporting oneself working as an actor/educator. For another, it could be to find financial stability from a different career but still pursue their love of costume design or stage management during the evenings and weekends.
For me, my dream has always been to work in the theatre and I'm blessed to be able to do that. Over the years it has meant learning new skills and putting acting on the back burner while I developed my skills as a director or educator. I'm lucky that my dream has continued to evolve in ways that I never imagined. After graduate school, I came back to the Bay Area to get married to the love of my life and the plan was to then move down to LA and start auditioning for television. I could see myself writing and acting in a sitcom and I was eager to start making connections. But at that time I had just started working with a youth theatre group called the Dream Team through the Starting Arts organization in the South Bay and as my husband and I looked at rental places down in southern California, I felt myself getting sad and then depressed at the idea of leaving my students. Suddenly, I realized that my dream had shifted. I was loving working with such wonderful talented kids and the idea of leaving them was no longer appealing. So I spent the next seven years working to grow that program and develop the talent of those young performers. Did I ever regret that decision or feel like I had abandoned my dream? Never. Instead of hanging on to the dreams of my youth, I was able to step back and reevaluate what I wanted from my life now. And that meant a departure from acting. At least for awhile.
When my students tell me they want to become a professional actor, I ask them if there is ANYTHING else they would consider doing. I ask them this because frankly becoming a "professional actor" is extremely difficult and if my student feels that they would be equally happy as a veterinarian or a lawyer, then I tell them to pursue those industries and just enjoy theatre as a hobby. But to the handful of students that take off to study acting in college every Fall, I tell them to never stop working. The work ethic that it takes to "make it" as an actor is outstanding. You will need to keep auditioning through rejection, through despondency, through heartbreak, all while waiting tables or working retail so you're able to have a schedule that allows you to switch shifts and go on last minute cattle calls. If you're able to use your talent to supplement your income that is a HUGE boon! Keep practicing piano and then you'll be able to teach someday! Or get a minor in education and work as a teaching artist after graduation. Because getting your big break will take some time. And the reality is, even if you get a Broadway contract, that contract won't last forever. Acting is transient work, guys. There is not much job security in this profession.
Okay, so back to those parents who's child just told them they want to major in theatre and become a professional actor. I know you're torn between wanting to support their dreams and wanting your grandchildren to be raised with a silver spoon. I'm here to tell you that while pursuing the dream might not be the most lucrative life, it absolutely makes for a happy soul.
I say this now, but if my daughter ever comes to me with a head full of Broadway Dreams, I know inside I'll be screaming "But what about my dreams of raising an engineer and retiring in the Bahamas?!" But I hope I'm able to encourage her to follow her dreams the way my parents have always encouraged me.
Incidentally, my father has come up with a quick and easy reply when his colleagues are incredulous about my chosen career. He tells them "Well, my daughter can get up in front of thousands of people and speak without breaking a sweat. Can you say the same thing about your kids?" That usually does the trick. And there are thousands of other amazing ways that working in the theatre trains you for other careers! I promise to post all about those in an upcoming blog. For now, if you're wrestling with concerns about choosing an actor life for yourself or your children, know that the biggest difference between an actor that has success and an actor that does not, is that one of them gave up.