Finding the Recess in Recession
By Anthony Abeson
September 23, 2009
Long ago, a dear actor friend of mine finally booked his first Broadway musical after years of the usual hand-to-mouth performer's existence. Thrilled to finally decorate his apartment, he set about the task with a vengeance. The first room he completed was extravagantly elegant, lush, and yet tastefully done. Then the show closed shortly after opening. When I visited him soon afterward to offer my condolences, his apartment said it all—there, alongside the sumptuous room, were the other rooms, all barren except with only orange crates for furniture.
Many Americans are now experiencing the ups and downs of a boom-bust economy that have always been the actors' lot, along with the need to take part-time jobs far outside the purview of their chosen profession. So, although these words are directed to those actors who are finding their hours cut or their jobs eliminated, I believe many Americans could derive some benefit from them.
Instead of focusing on the lost income, why not focus on the increased opportunity to develop your talent? I propose a formula: Take however many hours you spent on your day job, and divide it by half. Spend one half looking for work, and celebrate the second half as a windfall opportunity to do what you've never had time for before: read plays, mount scenes, one-acts, full-length plays with your friends in someone's apartment. While one would think it beyond obvious that the best way to get better at something is to practice doing it, many actors don't act unless they have an audition or a job.
Also concentrate on developing your strengths and eliminating your weaknesses—both in and out of class. I cannot begin to count those actors who've admitted to me that they're scared of certain breakdowns: having to be super sexy/hot, having to be so emotionally available that tears are abundant, having to be tough, edgy with an attitude, etc. You know what those areas are for you. Yet during times of full employment, there never seems to be enough time to develop them. Now there is. Take advantage of it.
While developing your talent, what about your marketing tools? Now's the time to gather all that disparate footage from indies, shorts, episodics, guest shots, student films, etc., to see which ones are suitable for a reel. Not enough money for a reel? At least you'll have gotten the gathering and sifting of the material out of the way so you'll be ready when you're flush again. Same with reading the trades to get more savvy about the biz, updating your résumé, checking in with your agent, watching film and television to see who has your job, and why.
Finally, this downtime is also an opportunity to reflect, seriously, on whether you want this badly enough. Use this time to check your appetite for acting, which is one thing that cannot be taught and without which you'll never survive, let alone succeed. Unless and until you achieve lasting success, tenuous employment alternating with periods of unemployment will always be your lot. If you can emerge from this time more fervent in your belief that this is what you must do, then you will have gained from the severity of this crucible. If, on the other hand, you realize that for an actor in America, the situation will never really change all that dramatically, take this opportunity to flee. You will look back at this recession and thank it for starkly revealing your priorities.
For those of you who choose to stay, remember that North Star you steer by is not your day job, not your money; it's your talent, which no recession can ever take from you. How fortunate that you are not defined by your day job. If you lose it, your identity is still intact. You carry a recession-proof commodity inside you which "the world can neither give nor take away."
Anthony Abeson is an acting teacher based in New York City. He studied with such greats as Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Jerzy Grotowski, Stella Adler, and Peter Brook. He has coached such notables as Jennifer Aniston, Esai Morales, Ian Somerhalder, Ana Ortiz, and many others. He is currently working on a book on acting and its impact on American culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.