Thursday, September 3, 2009

Purified Profession 9/03/09

One advantage to being a retired actor is that I don't have to do any more second rate theatre.

DB - The Vagabond
There was a famous acting teacher in New York City who always began the session of a new class of beginning students by saying that the first thing they needed to know if they wanted to be actors is that they would spend the rest of their lives looking for work, and that if they couldn't handle that they had better leave and find something else to do.

I knew actors who could not handle it for one reason or another and did find something else to do. They would act now and then, maybe in community theatre or in summer stock. But they did not really make a profession out of it. No doubt they made a valuable contribution to society doing whatever else they did. But I wanted to live my life as an actor. And I sure did spend a lot of time looking for work. Being unemployed is a constant state of being for most actors. When the show closes, you're out of work. When the film finally wraps, you're out of work. If you're doing a soap and the writers decide to murder your character, you're out of work.

Being out of work means you have to go looking for work. And that means you go from being an artist to being a salesman. You call agents, casting directors and anyone you can think of who might have a line on something. You go to auditions, looking your best, doing your best to show someone your wares. And every now and then they buy and you get hired. If you're persistent and good you get hired often and you're not out of work for long. As time goes by you build up a reputation and can sometimes get hired just because you walk through their door.

The problem is you never quite know what you're getting into with a new theatre and a new director.and producer. Several times in my career I found myself in a production that I wish I wasn't in and couldn't wait for the stupid thing to close so I could get on with life. Once I was in a two character play with a very experienced actress. We both did our best to make the play work, but it was hopeless. Another time I was with two actors who were fine, but the director had no idea what she was doing and the whole production was ridiculous as a result. I was doing those roles because I needed the work but I'm glad to say they were exceptions to most of my career.

Later on in life there were some auditions that told me to avoid the production even if I was cast. There was a play about George Washington. It was a serious thoughtful play but the director wanted to turn it into a clown show. I'm glad to say I never appeared in that production. Another time I auditioned for a film and was called back to audition again. There were two of us up for the role. In between the two auditions I got to read the full script. The story was so cruel and corrupt I didn't want my name associated with it, or my talent. So I went to the audition, returned the script and told the director to let the other guy have the role.

Banal and malignant things are hard to avoid in any profession, I suppose, but when they appear in the form of work you love and have given your life to it's hard not to draw the line and say "No" to them.

Sing a silent song, wherever you are.


Beth said...

A clown show about George Washington? Umm...yeah, I'm not feelin' it. It sounds as though you were able to maintain your integrity and stay away from roles that you knew were not right for you. Looking at the broader picture, of life in general, not everyone can say that. Hugs, Beth

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Integrity, that was what I was going to say, not to be a copy cat :o)

Integrity is one thing that nobody can ever take away from you.