|New York is a city full of artists with big dreams and empty wallets. -credit|
I will never forget the words spoken at my NYU orientation: “Don’t let New York make you forget about the sky.” Actors come to NYC full of dreams, but soon become inundated with their survival jobs in order to pay the bills. You think, “I’ll quit as soon as I book something.” Yet, when you do book that $125 a week show in the Midwest, suddenly, quitting your lucrative job doesn’t seem like such a good idea. But if you’re not careful, you may fall into a common rut in which your placeholder job becomes the dominant part of your life. Perhaps you get used to the money, or you don’t want to deal with scheduling conflicts, or you become accustomed to hiding in obscurity to avoid risking failure. However, to truly be an actor, you must take every risk.
New York actor Zach Wobensmith remembers the moment that made him reprioritize his life. He lived in Pennsylvania at the time and worked a loathsome day job when he got a call to be a replacement actor on a tour of The Wizard of Oz. The pay was less than his awful day job, so he turned it down, but immediately regretted the decision. “The problem was, I was so burned out, I’d allowed myself to become trapped.” He quit his job, gave up his apartment, and moved back in with his parents while waiting tables for six months until he could afford to move back to the city.
|Zach missed out on the Yellow Brick Road, but he escaped the dead end road on which he was headed. –credit|
When Zach was offered an unpaid role in a play at a theater with a poor reputation, he jumped on it and got back on track. Today, he is a steadily employed actor who’s worked alongside Mad TV’s Mo Collins in the film, “Big Guns.”
Last fall, I experienced a similar pivotal moment. I had just started a new waitressing job in a Times Square restaurant. It was my first week on the schedule. The following night I was double booked with a dinner theater performance in Westchester, and a shift at work. I couldn’t find any coverage. I approached the manager in her office to find a solution to the problem. “It’s not my job to care about your other jobs,” She said with a cold and unflinching stare. I was forced to cancel my performance and hurt my standing with the improv company.
The next evening at work, after being reprimanded for spilling a tray of wine glasses and thus being demoted to counting borrowed coat hangers in the closet, I thought, “What am I doing? Who cares if I get fired from a job I hate? Service jobs are a dime a dozen, and I only took this job so that I could perform.” I vowed not to make the same mistake again and quit shortly thereafter. I didn’t know where the money would come from, but I took a leap and the net was there to catch me.
|The shattered glasses were a symbol of my shattered dreams. It was time to make a change! –credit|
That moment has since fueled me to laugh in the face of scheduling conflicts. Recently, I have had the good fortune for my survival jobs to actually be performing gigs! Last week I was in New Jersey performing a show in the vein of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding for 300 senior citizens. I needed to make it back to the city for an appointment for a reading of a new musical about Follies girls, which already had Broadway names attached to the principal roles. It wasn’t a paying gig, but it would have been a career boost and a great networking opportunity.
My director casually informed me that I would never make my train,“because the food service will take a long time with such a big crowd.” I sat at the dais eating dried chicken and dressed like an old Italian woman, watching the hours on the clock tick by. I looked around at the people in the audience who were either sleeping at their tables or on respirators. Was this really my life?
|It was rewarding to make their day, but I have higher career aspirations to achieve before I reach their age.|
After taking my bow, I immediately called my own cab, left the venue in my costume, made it to the train at the moment it pulled into the station, changed my entire wardrobe in my seat, put on my makeup and styled my hair with a compact mirror, and ran in my high heels into that audition room. It took all of the training I had to be able to calm my nerves and be in the moment during my songs. No, I didn’t end up getting the part, but at least I didn’t have to wonder, “What if?”
If you want to fully commit to the life of an actor –– never settle. If you find yourself with an opportunity that conflicts with your current job, determine if jeopardizing your job is truly worth it. Use your judgment. Sometimes, you have to put it all on the line for a chance at the life you really want. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Did I do all that I could do?” The rest is out of your hands. I know that eventually my determination will pay off. In the meantime, at least I’m not still sorting through coat hangers.