Acting With a Full Time Job

Acting With a Full Time Job Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column includes four great questions, addressing the issues of pursuing acting with a full time job, how to break out of being typecast, how to get the most out of your college program, and taking care of your voice. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column includes four great questions, addressing the issues of pursuing acting with a full time job, how to break out of being typecast, how to get the most out of your college program, and taking care of your voice. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
Dear Blair,
I must say that I've enjoyed every single one of your columns. I find them insightful and very useful to the aspiring actor. I have always told myself that I would write to you one day, but I never got around to it until now. I'm glad I finally did it!
I will be graduating from college in a few weeks, and like many others, I dream of going to New York to audition for musical theater. Although I have performed extensively in many shows at college over my four years, I haven't studied much theater, and instead I will be graduating with a business/marketing degree.
While many of my friends have decided to jump right in and hope for a job waiting tables somewhere, I am seriously considering another option. I have received many offers for jobs in the business world around the NYC area that pay very well and work about 40 hours/week.
My question is this: do you think it is possible and reasonable to try auditioning for shows on the weekends and at night? Do many shows even have auditions on the weekends? My goal would be to keep a steady job in the area while making contacts and paying bills, until I hopefully landed a decent part.
Does any of this make sense, or am I just being naive?
Sincerely,
Confused at the Crossroads of Life

Dear Less-Confused-Than-You-Think at the Crossroads of Life,
Thank you for taking the time to write and offering your kind feedback. It is so nice to hear it when people get a lot from the column.

Your question makes complete sense and in no way are you being naive. What I LOVE about your question, is that you are not putting down your business degree, but instead thinking of putting it to good use! I can't tell you how many e-mails I get from miserable business majors who want to throw it all down the drain to act. As someone who may successfully bridge the two worlds, you set an example for others.

For a non-Equity actor like yourself, I believe a steady job is a great thing for you AND your acting. There are many non-Equity (which unfortunately usually means non-paying) productions which hold auditions after work hours and on weekends. You could fill your weekend with auditions on most weekends if you wanted to. Some auditions you can do on your lunch hour- although if you are working on Wall Street, it's unlikely because that's so far away from where most auditions are held (midtown). You could potentially, if you are honest about your theatrical interests in your workplace and have understanding bosses, be in productions while maintaining your job. When I was acting, I was in a few productions while working a 40 hour week. The showtimes were mainly Friday & Saturday nights and Sundays. I missed maybe five hours of work, if any, for each run.

I have done both the 40 hour work week, and waitressed in NYC. I choose working at a decent day job over waitressing any day. Many actors and artists will disagree. The late Jonathan Larson, composer of Rent, worked at a fancy diner for years! He felt any job more structured took away from his true work. He was a hardworking, low-income artist, and really liked it that way.

To me, the myth of the starving artist is passe. For an actor, with so little to be sure of and so much at risk, I think a steady job and a nice place to live are wonderful things. A steady job can give you a sense of purpose and structure in the chaotic world of show business. It enables you to know you can provide for yourself--and your acting career. It's important to be able to pay for classes and headshots, etc.

You will have to budget your time, but if you are committed, there is time for everything. You can wake up early in the mornings to work out, or find time at your lunch hour, take classes at night, memorize lines on the subway, rehearse scenes on weekends or evenings.

As an intelligent and resourceful person, I felt there was not much room for my creativity or resourcefulness as a waitress. By virtue of your major, you have other skills--why not use them and make some money? I strongly recommend you get a good job with your degree. Then you can get a nicer place to live in, from which you can create a comfortable space to build your acting career. You'll know when you've had enough and it's time to act full-time.

Best of luck, Jonathan.

Question
Dear Blair,
I am seventeen years old and have done serious damage to my voice. It's not as bad as it seems...I can still sing and have a powerful speaking voice (and just received a full scholarship to attend the Gov.'s School for the Arts this summer) but my voice has lost range and I have muscular problems. I have seen voice specialists around the country and most were unable to diagnose my problem. I am writing because I hope someone has had some experience with such problems, and can maybe offer me advice on how to help.
I developed these problems when, in ninth grade (while my voice was changing) I sang out of my range in a musical for my high school. Hopefully others will take warning to the serious damage one can do to one's voice--especially young voices like mine. In only three months of singing out of my range...permanent damage was done.
This problem EXISTS and more awareness should be raised. Also, I've read several accounts of mature broadway performers who have strained or damaged vocal chords (i.e.. Julie Andrews).
I just feel that too many young people think their voices are indestructible...when the truth is that they require care and training...and even then can suffer strain. Please back me up, Blair, to help spread the word and prevent anyone from suffering the way I did.
Sincerely,
Stephen Karam

Dear Stephen,
Thank you for your e-mail.

It is sad that your vocal gift appears to be somewhat of a damaged package, but it sounds like you are pulling through that tragedy with flying colors.

I hope other people can learn and benefit from your experience. If anyone has a response to Stephen's e-mail, he has volunteered his e-mail address. You can contact him at: karamfam@worldnet.att.net

BTW--sometime around October you wrote me about baritone roles...have you found any that you want to play?

Question
I am currently taking some classes at a local community college to help improve my acting skills and plan on making theater my minor once I enter a four year college. Is it possible to enter a conservatory or other such accredited training center later on so that I may study classical theater --with only theater as a minor-- or does it matter? Also, because of my deep voice and imposing stature I tend to be cast as villains or the like. Although I enjoy it is there some way to break the mold or at the least expand my horizons?
Jason

Hey, Jason.
Thanks for your questions. I don't think you need to worry about your undergraduate degree that much. If you graduate college with theatre as only a minor degree, or even no theatre degree, there is plenty of opportunity to continue studying classical theatre post-college.

I believe you can enter a conservatory with any degree. Some people study economics for years before they realize their true passion for the stage. If they have some theatre experience, show commitment and give a great audition, they are as a good a candidate as anyone for a serious theatre program.

When actors have a specific persona or certain features, avoiding typecasting can be very difficult. You are lucky you are realizing this now, and not after you've been paid big bucks to do one thing only! The only way I know of how to truly break that pattern, is to make a commitment to yourself not to audition for any roles that fit that stereotype until you land a different type of part.

When you go to auditions, make it clear which role you are auditioning for. If they try to cast you as another role in the old stereotype, you must decline. You need to experience being and being seen as another character type.

After you perform a different role successfully just once, it should be easier to avoid getting typecast. Then, you can go back to playing what you're usually cast for if you choose.

Good luck, Jason!

Question
Hello! I am a senior in high school and I recently learned of my acceptance in the musical theatre B.F.A. programs at three universities, two of which are very prestigious. I was accepted at Emerson College in Boston, The Boston Conservatory, and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I was simply dying to go to The Boston Conservatory because of its reputation and success rate-they are currently considered the #3 musical theatre school in the country, but my parents decided, for financial reasons, that I would have to attend Wright State University. Wright State is a great school, we get a New York agent showcase my senior year, and I even know a graduate who has made it on Broadway, but I can't help feeling that this is the wrong school for my career. Do you know anything about these programs? Do you think my parents made the right decision? How can I make the most of Wright?
- Joshua

Dear Joshua,
Congrats on being accepted to such great theatre schools!

I don't see any point in discussing other programs or whether or not your parents made the right decision . You're going to Wright, right? Don't make Wright wrong. Fully investigate the program you are going into. If you simply and honestly intend to make the most out of your time there, I believe you will.

Here are some suggestions:

1)Continue to talk with students in attendance and graduates of Wright (like the Broadway guy). Talking to people and hearing their stories can inspire you, help you steer clear of a few mistakes, and give you information about the structure of the program and some ways of operating within it--like-- what professors to study with and what classes to avoid if you're going to be in a show that semester, etc..

2)Apply yourself fully to whatever you do. Don't overload yourself by trying to do everything, but fully give yourself to what you can do- whether it be a scene in class or an audition or a part in a play.

3) Cultivate a willingness to learn, to grow, to change. Be willing to start from scratch. Although I've heard some nice things about Wright State, I believe it's less about the program and more how you apply yourself to it. Someone could be in the best theatre school in the universe and if they don't wish to learn or give themselves fully to their experience, they won't get a lot out of it. I hope you can make use out of these tips, Joshua. Have a great time at school!