It’s the holiday season, where many actors will encounter conversations with well-meaning, yet confused friends and family members. My favorite question to answer is always, “Why aren’t you on Broadway?” or “So, you’re an actor, and how exactly do you make money again?”
When hit with a question like this, it’s easy to feel like this:
...And then go find the nearest trough of egg nog in which to drown your sorrows.
But what if, instead, we approached these conversations with kindness and assumed that whoever is asking this question is operating out of best intention. They are trying to help or trying to understand or trying to offer meaningful suggestions, even if it feels condescending or belittling.
What if we explained that our industry doesn’t operate like a corporate America ladder. You don’t start climbing the rungs to success the minute you graduate from college and get your first entry level job. You don’t keep climbing until you hit C-Level status and then can sit down in a fancy-ass office with a comfy chair for the next twenty years.
Our industry operates more like a rock climbing wall. Sometimes you have to go down (perhaps in prestige, or pay, or braggability of the role) in order to find the next grip to go up.
Sometimes you have to move laterally (working on building your strength and stamina in low-paying non-union work or a series of back-to-back regional contracts) to find your footing.
Sometimes you have to just hold on to your current position and examine the surroundings before making your next move.
According to REI: “Great climbers don’t power their way up a wall, they ‘technique’ their way to the top using a set of moves designed to help them attack specific problems. If you want to become a better climber, hone your technique and movement. And the best way to do that is by climbing every chance you get.”
When a family member asks you the dreaded question this holiday season, consider replying with: “I’m working on my musical theatre rock climbing game! I spend my days in NYC climbing every chance I get, whether that’s in class, auditions, unpaid concert work, readings with wine at my friend’s apartment, writing my own work, studying inspiring performers, etc. In my industry, there are lots of different ways to achieve success. I’m (insert however you feel: having fun, happy, learning about myself, appreciating the challenge, curiously examining, working to, excited, struggling but determined to, etc.) assessing the wall and looking for my next hold. I'm excited to keep discovering new ways to scale the wall next year.”
Keep going, climber.
We'll be there to spot you and cheer you on in 2020.