My first round of trying to "make it" as an actor — high school through my early thirties — was marked by a lack of ambition that a number of my teachers, colleagues and friends found troubling. I loved being in plays (films were rarer then), but I never auditioned for, or wanted, a lead role; I had no real desire to play on Broadway or in a hit TV series, and I tended to be unaware of who the "important" producers and casting agents were.
Even a therapist I saw in my twenties, who worked with a lot of theater people, kept trying to talk about my goals in terms of ambivalence, avoidance and fear. I don't think I ever quite convinced her that, although I had my share of those symptoms in other aspects of my life, I had tremendous confidence in my acting ability, my idea of a successful life in the theater was different. I wanted to play interesting parts that helped me to grow as a person and an artist, and to form strong bonds with other actors with similar goals and sensibilities. I had found this in college, and wanted to re-create it in NYC, if possible.
It proved not to be possible for me at that time. I made some good friends, and did some good work, but all of my passion was focused on that, and very little on doing the things one has to do to build a career, and eventually I got tired of attaching myself to the ad-hoc families that sprout up around a play or film, intense relationships that peter out once the work is done.
This time around, I didn't think too much about what I was looking for. I felt no external pressure to be a "success," because everyone assumed I was a cute old lady with a hobby. And in a way I was — facing the empty nest, I needed an activity to engage me.
As it happens, what I wanted fell into my lap. I perform with two improv teams that have become like family to me, and even though improv is associated more with comedy than with high art, it takes a lot of hard work and self awareness to achieve structured spontaneity onstage, especially when music is thrown into the mix, and my teams have supported each other through a great deal of questioning and growth. Improv has also brought me a wide circle of "extended family," people whom I don't necessarily perform with or even see often, but who are there when it is important to be there.
I am also privileged to work with a film director who has built his own ensemble, and who pushes his actors into scary, rewarding places, in an atmosphere that feels safe to experiment in because we all know and trust one another. I don't work with him as often as I would like to, because he shoots in locations that require travel, and I'm not always free to do that, but every time I do, I emerge a deeper person.
I am thrilled that I have found such gifted, congenial people to work and play with. I could keep going like this until I drop, and I thought I would. I am now eligible to join the film and TV actors' union, but I haven't really wanted to. The pay and conditions are better when you work, but there are fewer opportunities and those that do arise tend to be for smaller, less interesting parts (old lady crossing the street behind the star, rather than Grandma having a breakdown at an extended family dinner. That sort of thing.). And if you are in the union you are not supposed to take non-union parts.
But my "real" profession is getting more and more difficult.Insurance companies are increasingly unwilling to pay for legitimate services, and the documentation and oversight demands in New York are draconian. I often spend more time going over bureaucratic requirements with my supervisees than in addressing the serious, sometimes dangerous, conditions these patients are struggling with. This is exhausting as well.
So I need to think about what I'm going to do when I can't do this anymore, and being the old lady crossing the street is looking more and more attractive.
Read more by
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading