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10 Ways to Stay Motivated as an Unemployed Actor

We have to fight for every contract because god knows, our competition will… Here is a list of things you can do right now to stay sharp and motivated in the dry spells.

unemployedListen up unemployed Theatre Suckers. I’m talking to you: you with the bong in one hand a cigarette in the other; you who have masturbated four times already today; you who feels like you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life because you just realized theatre is for suckers. This post is for you.

Life After Theatre School

We all experience it: the moment when the bobble pops. You graduate theatre school full of potential and energy and are ready to show the theatre industry exactly what you are made of. You send out your packages with headshots you spent too much money for to agents all across the city. You hear back from none of them. Or, even worse, you only hear back from the ones who work from home in a bathrobe. You attend every open call audition only to learn that the gig does not pay and the director sleeps with the prettiest actors in his shows. You attend casting director workshops, spend $250 to meet Stephanie Gorin and realize you are one of the 200 desperate actors hoping that Gorin will remember your name at the end of the day… and she doesn’t. And then the bubble pops. You realize that the industry that you spent four years and thirty-thousand dollars to be a part of is actually a load of shit. That only 5% of all actors gain their full incomes from work in the industry (and of those 5%, most are extras in movies). And then depression sets in. You get a job at Starbucks. You smoke pot every night with theatre school friends and reminisce about the “good old days” when Professor so-and-so told off that bitch you never liked for doing that thing she did. And “how funny was that?” And, “Oh my god! Did you hear about how Tina is starting her own theatre company? She’ll never be successful.” And, “I can’t believe I didn’t get called in for that audition. That casting director hates me.” Sister Sucker, Brother Sucker… Wake up! Guess what? The theatre industry is nothing like Theatre School. In theatre school, parts, roles, projects are given to us on silver platters because we PAY FOR THEM. In the real world, we have to do everything we can to earn those parts, those moments on stage that make us feel whole, make us feel alive and worth something. We have to fight for every contract because god knows, our competition will be. And that guy who looks just like you will steal that part away from you yet again. So get off your ass. Put your bong down, put your dick away and get motivated. Get excited about your life and see this dry spell as a time to improve yourself as an artist, as a man or a woman (or both… or neither). Realize that this time can be used to make you into an artist that is hireable, that is desirable. So that next time you walk into Stephanie Gorin’s casting studio, she is forced to remember you.

Here is a list of things you can do right now to stay motivated in the dry spells:

  1. Create and follow a schedule. Schedule when you will wake up, and when you will work. Then look at the rest of the day as having the potential to make you more hireable. See all that time in your schedule and then fill it with experiences and opportunities.
  2. Network. The biggest and most tedious job of the actor/artist is networking. YOU NEED TO KNOW PEOPLE. And the only way to know people is to go to places where people are. That means going to see theatre and introducing yourself to other theatre professionals. It means going to classes and having drinks afterwards with whoever will go with you. It means volunteering for theatre companies (both mainstream and indie). It means participating in play readings held at people homes. And for the very ambitious it means starting little networking events of your own with friends and peers and having them invite someone you don’t know. The more people you know, the more names you remember, the more connected you will be to the people who are working, who are hiring. These are the people who will change your life.
  3. Work on your craft. This is obvious, but almost always overlooked. If you aren’t working on your craft then you are getting stale. If you get an audition and you are stale from lack of practice, you will not book the role. If you do not book the role you will not end your dry spell. So schedule a few hours each week to work on a new monologue, to do your voice workouts, to do some Viewpoints or Contact Improvisation with a friend. Do these things regularly and I swear to you, you will feel better about yourself as an artist and you will be ready to book that role when the time comes.
  4. Work on your image. Firstly, ask yourself: How can I look like the parts that I want to book? This involves a little research into knowing exactly what your “type” or “hit” actually is. Secondly, admit to yourself that all talent aside, our industry worships appearances (especially in film and television). Then take a cold, hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what you can do to improve your image so that when you walk into a room you are breathtaking, memorable, and most importantly, cast-able. This might require getting a gym membership (or for the frugal, making a space in your home to work out). Then get yourself on a workout program and grow some abs. Work on your chest. Get bigger and stronger (or slimmer depending on your needs). Maybe you need to get your hair restyled or recoloured. Maybe you need to buy some new clothes that complement your body shape (whatever that may be). Be judgemental (but gentle) with yourself and make the changes necessary to look like the best/most hireable version of you.
  5. Focus on your financial stability. Being an emerging actor/artist can be so financially draining. Headshots cost money, so do classes, and demo reels, and beers at the bar with working actors, and going to opening nights, and buying new clothes for auditions and gym memberships and new hair styles. So, while you have the time (cause you clearly do, you stoner) take a look at your financial income. Are you making enough to support yourself and your emerging actor endeavours? If not, why not? Is it time to make a change? An upgrade? If so, get your real life resume in order and start knocking on (and down) doors. Get a job that works for you and earns you enough money to be both happy and financially capable.
  6. Read. Yes, read. Pick up a goddamn book and stick your nose in it. Be inspired by someone else’s words. Maybe you like sci-fi and fantasy books (like me) and like to soar from star to star exploring terrains unknown. Maybe you like to keep your feet on the ground with real people, so read a biography of an artist who made it big. Whatever you read, allow your imagination to be inspired. It is your greatest tool as an artist. Oh! And read plays. Many, many plays.
  7. Start a hobby. It’s so easy to forget as artists that we are real people to, with interests and goals that exist far outside the realm of the theatre world. So, take up a new hobby and get really good at it. And when you do, list it on your special skills.
  8. Dump the Debbie Downers. Misery loves company. And when we are unemployed and have nothing better to do, we sit around with other unemployed and bitter actors who want to do nothing but complain about their lives and rip on the lives of the people that are actually making something for themselves. Understand that these people are keeping you from doing the things you need to do to be successful. They may be your friends, your family, or your lover, but for your own good you need to dump them and start surrounding yourself with people who are positive and living the life of a motivated and inspired artist. Here’s a rule to live by, if you surround yourself with nine bitter actors, you will be the tenth. If you surround yourself with nine inspired (and inspiring) actors, you will be the tenth.
  9. Start a blog. I started TheatreisforSuckers.com because I needed an outlet to vent about my life. Then it turned into a forum for discussion for theatre practitioners and a place to share resources for emerging artists. Maybe no one will read it, or maybe everyone will read it. Either way, it’ll be an outlet for you to share your feelings and thoughts in a way that puts you on the internet. And being on the internet is a good thing in this technological age. And if you don’t want to publish your every thought online, start a journal, just for yourself.
  10. Live your life. Being unemployed is really not the worst thing ever. It is not the end. You are not a failure. You did not make the wrong decision to get into theatre. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself and find things in your life that can make you smile. Work on your social life. Find a boyfriend or girlfriend that you absolutely adore. Travel and see places in the world that make you feel small. Lie on the grass and see the stars. Remember that being an artist does not mean you are not a human being. So, now that you have the time, be the best human being you can be. Make your life a better life, and the world a better place. Be the person that people want to be around. Love yourself for everything that your experiences have created you to be, and what you absolutely cannot love, change. It is your life to do what you want… Do it.

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Caleb McMullen

Written by Caleb McMullen

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheatreisforSuckers.com

There is 1 comment

  • Topaz Kelly says:

    As always Caleb you’re an inspiration! I’m feeling better already!

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