By Axel Avin Jr.
How many time have you heard these phrases and ones like them mumbled by your friends or even yourself?
- “I can’t wait until I’m rich and famous, THEN I’ll be able to do what I really want to do.”
- “I can’t wait until I book a pilot.” “I can’t wait until I get signed by an agent, THEN I’ll start working.”
- “I’m sick of waiting for casting directors to cast me.”
As actors, there is a lot of support for the idea that our careers are in the hands of other people. This idea is one that I personally struggle with. Like many actors, I have spent hundreds of hours in classrooms and studios working on and perfecting my craft…
…not to mention accumulating over $100,000 in student loan debt. I don’t think we could imagine medical or law students who did not fully believe that coming out of medical or law school they would start careers that would easily cover the investment made in their training.
So why do actors settle for it? Why do so many of us think that it is simply our inherent right to fame, riches and adulation from our peers and the masses? We must realize that the entertainment industry is structured differently than the rest of the work force. It is fueled by a never ceasing pipeline of–at best–young, hopeful, hungry, talented people who want to “make it.”
This is not meant to be discouraging; this is simply the truth of the world in which we exist as actors. You must put into perspective the odds that are against you and realize anything that you do to support those odds is a huge detriment to yourself and your career.
Nothing is a given in this industry. You must grab the bull by the horns and take charge.
But so often I see actors waiting (and not just tables, although there is a strong double entendre in the chosen survival job that often turns into a career for aspiring actors). As an actor you shouldn’t settle. You shouldn’t wait on agent phone calls, casting directors to finally say yes, or for your “big break,” because honestly it may never happen that way.
I recently came across a great example of someone not waiting. The Off-Broadway production of “Black Angels over Tuskegee”, is written, directed, choreographed, and produced by its star, Layon Gray.
While watching this production, I was moved by a very compelling, well told story. More moving though was the feeling that I was witnessing the manifestation of a true labor of love. “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” is the direct result of action and persistence by someone who was sick of complacence and stagnation.
Through a mutual friend, I was arranged to meet Mr. Gray after a particular performance. During the course of our conversation, he expressed to me the core source of energy for the 5 year journey the production has been on–the pilot light of inspiration, if you will.
“You can’t wait around for these people to give you anything, so I just did it myself.”
This idea, is simple enough, but to put the steps into action is a place where many actors fall short of their potential. So what are you doing to ensure that you are not just waiting?
Three years ago upon completion of my training, I made a decision to myself, that I would be a professional artist the rest of my life. Fortunately, I was given the opportunities to work on a couple of major Off -Broadway productions out of school.
I naturally thought “Oh, this is it. I’m just always going to have a great job and another one lined up because I’ve worked hard and deserve it.” As the run of the second show came to an end, I began to ask myself “What are you going to do next?”
This is when I made one of my personal steps to end the waiting. I took my love and skill of photography and turned it into a business and opened AAvinPhotography. In retrospect this was a relatively easy action. I asked some close friends to let me shoot them for free so I could build a portfolio, I went to my computer and having never done it in my life, built a website, published it and just like that my side job was created.
This action ignited a spark in me, I now had my own business! I realized that I now had control over something, the success of AAvinPhotography is directly proportionate to how much energy I put into it.
I then felt the need to take it further, first in order to make more money to survive
but also I knew I had more in me to give. I then took another step to end waiting by offering private acting lessons and directing plays.
While none of these side ventures are acting jobs, they allow me to stay in the industry–and I cannot deny that after I started coaching my own work strengthened significantly. I found myself getting a higher rate of callbacks, thus leading to better, higher profile auditions leading to the creation of stronger relationships with casting directors. Once you decide to take control and to stop waiting the results of your actions will feed you and reward you in ways that you may not even be aware of yet.
Even though I thought I had taught myself this lesson and was set on a path of productivity and action….I fell into the trap the lure of money can create. After booking and shooting a major national commercial, that I was expecting to start airing only a month after I shot it, I very consciously went into “waiting mode.” I had some money saved up and I figured, sure I’ll be fine for another month or two until these checks start coming in.
The first month passed…no commercial. The second month…still not my face on every commercial break like I was anticipating. Three months, four months…. I sat around for five months while waiting for this commercial to air. As I lived in this self created world of waiting, reality continued around me and I all of a sudden found myself 5 months behind on rent, student loans and other bills piled up to the point where the damage seemed irreversible. AAvinPhotography and my private coaching fell out of focus and I began literally wasting my energy.
But out of this dark and non-productive period, I learned the very hard way one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an actor. We’ve all heard this but it sometimes takes the threat of eviction (or it did for me anyways) to realize you are never done working in this career. The day will never arrive when you have “made it”, when you can just sit back and start waiting. You must always continue. The world around you will change and evolve as the years pass and it is up to you to change and evolve with it. Do not ignore your calling to be great in this world and affect change, it is why you were chosen to be an artist and to carry out this most noble of missions.
Aristotle says: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” I find this quote highly applicable to actors: happiness is in doing everything within your power to fulfill your life’s purpose.
So ask yourself “what am I doing today to achieve my goals, to exercise the purpose of my life?” You must develop a strict system of checks and balances for yourself so that you are being proactive and taking steps in the right direction. No matter where you are in your career there is further to go and the very last thing you need to do is wait. So do that mailing, make that phone call, put all your effort into that audition, write that e-mail, whatever you need to do…DO SOMETHING. You will get nowhere by waiting.
I leave you with a favorite quote of Mr. Gray, from Abraham Lincoln:
“Good things come to those who wait…..but only the things left by those who hustle.”
-Axel Avin, Jr.