Actors Equity: The Hurry-Up-And-Wait Game (AKA The Roller Coaster Ride)
Hey! Happy March to you all! I know, I know. It's been a minute. You're probably wondering how I'm doing and how things are going since I officially became a full-fledged member of the Actors Equity Association back in December. Especially since I hear things like: "Are you in any shows right now?" "You're going to get all that money!" "Have you auditioned for anything yet?" "Have you gotten anything yet?" "I'm just waiting for you to make it Broadway because you deserve it!" Do you want to know how things have been going since I joined Actors Equity? Well, if you want the truth... Not that great. Not one bit. Do you want to know why? It's been a lot of sitting around, waiting, questioning your talents, more waiting, agonizing over whether you joined the union too soon, more waiting, researching all of the theatre companies and organizations for audition opportunities, more waiting, having a rough week that led to breaking down sobbing, more waiting... You get the idea. It's been a challenging few months, dealing with much change and adapting to the rules and regulations of being a union member. That pretty much means saying no to non-union jobs, no matter if they're fantastic shows or even if they're paying opportunities. That pretty much means attending official Equity meetings and having discussions with others who are in the union. That means listening to others rant and rave about not being cast in some of the most incredible projects in the region. That means not having a chance to voice how I feel after listening to others and observing from a distance. Technically, I lied about that last statement because I had a chance to voice my feelings and even do some intense reflection. Which includes right now after a rocky start of February. There's been plenty of time for reflection, observation, listening, and - dare I say it? - ranting about how I've been doing and what's going on around me, but I've never had the chance to put it into words in a space where many people have the chance to see it. Until now. Hang on, this week's blog post is a bit of a roller coaster ride... Just like the one I'm on right now.
Do you want to know why it's been so hard for me lately as a newly minted member of Actors Equity? I'll give you a hint: PRESSURE. I was on a roll these past few years by doing over 15-20 virtual shows that led to in-person projects with well-established theatre companies and organizations, including the Lincoln Center, last June. I initially thought I could keep the ball rolling by joining the union through the Open Access program in December, especially with all the contacts and networking I've done in the past few years. Boy, was I wrong! Here's something they don't tell you when you join the union: You're starting over from scratch by building up your credits and getting exposure, even if you've spent years, even decades, doing the very thing you're passionate about to gain a footing in the industry. I'm finding that out the hard way, and it's on a repeated basis. And that's in the form of seeing the same people I know and admire getting cast in projects I've auditioned and submitted for. Over and over again. Now, don't get me wrong. After two years of not doing theatre, we're still coming out of a pandemic and regaining our footing. I understand that you need the best and most well-known talent and commercially successful shows to get the money coming in to keep the arts alive. But can I say a simple sentence, especially for the people in the back? I'M HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm sure this is the same throughout the country right now. People like me are getting looked over for more established talent, or even individuals who just graduated from college and are getting a substantial footing in the industry. Even more than those trying to get their foot in the door for several years or longer. I'm going to be blunt about this: This is favoritism in the worst way, and it freakin' SUCKS. I understand that theaters need to be safe to be financially stable, but when does "being safe" mean not giving others who've been pounding the pavement for years a chance to shine, let alone take a risk on new talent who's thirsting for a chance to shine in their community and not have to go somewhere else just to get work and exposure? What's wrong with taking risks? And I know I'm not alone when I say this: Things need to change, not just for more "diversity and equity," as stated in your company statement. Things are unbalanced right now, and while we as actors need to do more to turn heads on the artistic side, shouldn't those in the creative teams do more on their part to indeed allow the arts to be opened up to everyone? And I mean, EVERYONE? It's not enough to update casting databases with new headshots and resumes to look over once a year when you're not even going to take a chance on using at least up to 50% of new talent and staying safe by using the same people over and over again for the sake of bringing in the bank. Maybe things need to change with how the industry is run because the old way is outdated, and there seems to be deafness towards change with how stories need to be told, especially with new voices and fresh talent in the community who long for a chance. That's all I want: A chance. A chance to say that I'm here and love what I do because the arts save my life. A chance to say that I want to work with some of these amazing artists I've worked with these past few years and deserve their turn in the spotlight alongside me. A chance to say that the numerous rejections and closed doors were worth it for this moment. A chance to say that it's possible to make an impact through being an actor and how much the arts matter to others as much as it matters to me. A chance to bring about change in a minor form by being a good person and loving others through the stories and lessons worth sharing with others. A chance that maybe being vulnerable enough to bare it all in the audition room and onstage is the most courageous risk worth taking. I could be risking my career and future relationships in this industry by saying these words. Still, one of the things I'm proudest of is how willing I am to be vulnerable and open about the pieces of my life that are often the hardest to put into words. Words are often unspoken because of the fear of being delisted and ostracized in this industry. We shouldn't have to be afraid of showing the complex parts of life in the arts for fear of being unable to work again. It's all a part of being human. And at the end of the day, that's what we indeed are, even more than the titles of "actor," "director," "producer," and so forth. And I learned what it means to be human when I nearly kept a rant after a particularly frustrating period on my Facebook page. I was so upset and discouraged after seeing so many others being cast in projects, some I've auditioned and submitted for, that I couldn't hold it back anymore. What made it even more frustrating was that I listened to others' problems when I didn't have much chance to express my feelings and fears. I just had enough. I was tired of doing nothing and feeling like all I had to give wasn't good enough. I cried, ranted, struggled, and just had to stop. I needed to step away, which in my case, meant going off of social media for the rest of February and not searching for any acting opportunities for a while. I needed to take care of this human, and at the time, I thought I was doing a good job. I needed to speak up and express my thoughts, fears, and struggles from the first of the year. That's a big reason why I do this blog for all of you: I express my fears and feelings without bounds, and at the end of the day, it helps me see that maybe I can find people who know exactly what I'm going through and remind me that I'm not alone. I could come from a place of love, strength, vulnerability, or even fear, but knowing I spoke up and wrote all this down is enough. And here's a big piece of my life that I want to share that I've been scared of sharing for a while now: I feel like my career's lack of work, and movement is letting others down. There's so much pressure to book the next opportunity, make that callback, win the awards, make it big on Broadway, get the healthcare, get the paycheck, and whatever else comes with joining Actors Equity. And when I see others shining brighter than I am when it's supposed to be my turn after all of the hustling and networking I've done over the past few years, I can't help but feel that pressure becoming almost too unbearable. Even to the point of blaming yourself and wondering if you're good enough in this challenging field, the arts. Maybe that's what the most challenging part of being in the union is: The pressure from others to succeed and thrive after doing it for many years, especially during a pandemic. It's that expectation of getting the roles, booking that big break, and all of the privileges and premiums that come with a union member. But if you want to know how much pressure is getting to me, I've submitted to only ten projects out of hundreds because of the location and character descriptions, and not enough of them being union in my region. I'm at a severe disadvantage despite the years of hustling, networking, and doing great things these past few years. Because to those in the union theatre companies and organizations, I'm a nobody, even a novice, compared to others who've been doing this for a lot longer than I have. And this is where I'm genuinely being vulnerable here: There are times when I regret joining Actors Equity too soon because of how difficult things are right now. Even when I try to submit for non-union projects with the idea of using a pseudonym, I get little to no success. There are even times when I want to give up. Because I feel like I'm letting a lot of people down right now, especially after doing all of the great things in my career these past few years, including people who haven't seen me perform in-person theatre in over three years, like my mom, my aunt & uncle, and my friends from the theatre community and my brothers and sisters in Christ. Why should I put them through any more agony if I'm nowhere closer to achieving what I want in my career than seven years ago when I first started? And it's even worse when you're a Christian. Praying, crying, reading the Bible, and hanging in there have challenged me. Right now, I'm in a desert of some sort, where God hasn't answered any of my prayers, let alone sent me a sign or spoken into my heart directing me into where He wants me to be and what He wants me to do. Direct answers don't always come from God in seasons like this. And that's equally frustrating for someone who believes in the power of prayer and faith. And to make matters even more challenging, no one else in my family of brothers and sisters in Christ has answers on what to do during this season. Other than to be reminded that I'm not alone in seasons like this. Other than realizing I did nothing wrong to displease God or anyone else. Other than holding fast to the Bible and the words, especially the Psalms. And also, this...
None of us truly have the answers to everything that happens to us in this life. Only a divine being like God/the fates/the universe can lead us to where we want to be and where it aligns with a higher power. Let's face it: None of us know what we're doing, primarily when so many things work against us, no matter how hard we plan every detail of our daily activities. I think the best thing we all can do is... LET GO. That's what this Lenten season is teaching me. It may not be the answer I'm looking for, or even if you want to hear it, but it's the best I can offer now. Sometimes going with the ebbs and flows of the day is all we can do, and just be open to the lessons, guidance, and encouragement when it comes our way. And being reminded that none of us are ever alone also helps, too. (I'm sorry I'm not my usual witty self this time, but in times like these, being vulnerable and blatantly honest matters as much as offering some words of wisdom. Like my previous blogs, these are just my thoughts and observations, and you are welcome to disagree with anything I've written. Just the same, I will not tolerate any disrespectful or offensive language against myself or anyone else. Kindness matters in every situation, and if you can't find it in your heart to be that way, I will block you.)
There's a reason why I'm in this place and time, and while it's not exactly the most pleasant, it's teaching me some things. Like being open-minded to opportunities and guidance. Like having patience with the process... and myself. Like believing in myself and that I'm exactly where I'm meant to be right now. Like not blaming myself for the setbacks or the lack of movement. Like giving up the pressure from others and going at my own pace. Like being confident in all that I know I can do, even when I don't know what I'm doing. Like speaking up about my feelings, no matter how shallow they seem. Like loving myself and allowing myself grace to feel all the emotions that come with being an actor. I know my time's coming, even when it seems like this desert is endless. But right now, I can only allow myself to be teachable, encouraged, guided, and celebrated for all that I've done, shared, and experienced. And also, allow me to remind you that not one of us is alone, not one bit. Somewhere out there, someone may be reading this and be mentally saying, "Finally! Someone who gets me!" I wish I could offer more answers to wherever you are on your journey, but know this: This desert or valley you're in right now WILL end, hopefully soon, but complaining isn't get you out of there any faster than if you're in a garden. It's hard, I know. But maybe taking it slow, like one day at a time, and being open to whatever comes your way can make things easier. And reaching out does make a difference, too. You may step away from social media to care for yourself or take time off from your career or job to heal. But whatever you do... Don't stop doing what you love. Don't stay on the ground forever because if you do, you just made it harder for the ones who love you and are rooting for you (even those who don't know you) to stop fighting for you. It'll be okay; trust me on that. I know I have to tell myself that every day. I'm rooting for you every step of the way, and I hope you know how awesome you are. I must remind myself how awesome I am, even though modesty greatly overpowers me!