Not too long ago, my husband-the-actor and I were going for one of our nightly walks, discussing a recent wave of “I quit-itis” flowing through the acting community. Of course, for every actor we know who is giving up on Hollywood, we know another who has embraced the journey and is reaping career rewards like never before. And for every actor who is actually packing it in and going home, we know another ten who are whining about whether it’s time to pack it in and go home (but who remain here, plugging away to some degree).
Because there are absolutely some legitimate reasons for an actor to STOP the pursuit and move on to something else, I decided to focus this week’s column on when you can be sure you’re finished with this business (and when you’re just dealing with a case of Bitter Actor Syndrome, Actor Funk, or the Other Costs of Acting). Note: This is not a one-size-fits-all column. What may be a good reason to bail on acting for one person may be a cop-out for another. What I’m hoping to provide here is a nice little kick in the butt for those of you who hem and haw about leaving the biz. To paraphrase Yoda: Leave or leave not. There is no whine.
Bad Reasons to Quit
Most of the things that bring you to the question, “Should I pack it in and go home?” are bad reasons to quit. Generally, you’ll find yourself thinking about quitting when you see other actors around you doing well, when you stop getting callbacks in certain offices, when you get dropped by your agent or manager, when the haters are in attack mode, or when everyone back home asks you when you’re going to give up and come home. Okay, let’s take those in that order.
When those around you are doing well, that means that you are in a peer group for which things are happening. This is a good thing. Just as you would absolutely take your friend’s headshot to your manager, if your friend needed a manager and your manager were looking to expand his roster in your friend’s category; you must trust that you could ask the same type of favor of a friend in a similar position. You’re not always going to be met with an enthusiastic, “Sure! I’ll help you out,” in response, but you certainly should be building relationships that could withstand a little professional boosting.
If you no longer get callbacks in offices where you were almost always going to producers, lots of things could be happening. There could be a casting trend that you were happily a part of but which has cycled away to another type, leaving you less in-demand. A new crop of producers may be on the receiving end of the casting tapes and they may just need time to warm up to you, get to know your style, learn how your type is best cast in their projects. Just keep delivering the level of work that earned you callbacks in the past with this team and trust that there will be a need for you again in the future. We all have dry spells. (When I’m not busy casting, I write a book or go on a speaking tour.) When you’re not in demand elsewhere, shoot your own short film.
If you’re dropped by your agent or manager, look at it as an exciting opportunity to get better matched with representatives at the level you’re looking to hit. Getting dropped is not a sign that you are uncastable. It’s just a part of the biz and one you’ll probably experience more than once. Just like agencies don’t fold when their top client leaves them for a bigger, more powerful agency, you shouldn’t pack it in and go home when your agency outgrows you. Do homework and find the agency that is a better fit for where you are today. For some actors, this sort of transition helps a great deal in the long run.
Public people draw attention. Artists in pursuit of careers that take place in the public eye also draw attention. And there will always, always, always be people out there who enjoy the swipes they can take at you in public. And because there are even more people out there who enjoy witnessing the swipes that these folks take at public people (i.e., those who buy tabloids and who can’t get enough of the Hollywood gossip sites), this is something that will not go away. Does an anonymous post on a random message board about your (lack of) talent give you reason enough to pack it in and go home? Hell no! Some high-paid publicists actually go around planting such posts about their clients in order to get fans jazzed up about defending the actors against such attacks. So, when someone takes a swipe at you, psychically thank them for doing you the favor of keeping your name “out there” while you stay focused on your work. If ego blows make you want to quit, you will never last in this town. The better your career is going, the more dirt they’ll be slinging. Get used to it.
As for the, “When are you going to stop this foolishness and come home?” question, some of us are just blessed with such unflinching support from those who know no better. There comes a time in every artist’s life when you decide whether you are living your life for yourself or for everyone else. Obviously, there are considerations such as your age (Kids, sometimes mom and dad do know best!) and responsibilities you’ve taken on (Choosing to bail on your own kids to live a dream without making financial arrangements for their security is just irresponsible parenting.), but for the most part, we really do get to choose the life we live. Just because everyone in your family did things a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. A lot of families prize “the first in our family to go to college” or “the first in our family to own her own business.” I say, let’s value “the first in our family to be truly happy.” And if pursuing a career in showbiz makes you happy, “their” opinions are no reason for you to pack it in and go home.
Good Reasons to Quit
Believe it or not, there are some really good reasons to pack it in and move home, ending your pursuit of acting in a major market. Those reasons include your level of happiness, your personal life, and your baseline of sanity. If you find that you are consistently miserable, regularly questioning whether this is your life path, and always feeling resentful about the success of others, it may be time to move on. As Jessica Bendinger told me, “The world needs more people in the world who love what they do.” As an actor, what you do is audition, improve your craft, and build relationships. Sure, you also book work and act on a set or a stage, but that is a tiny percentage of what actors actually do for a living! So, if you don’t love the hustle — the pursuit of the work — you may need to choose another career.
Do you covet what others have? Does the success of actors around you depress you of leave you feeling that life is unfair? If so, you need to ask yourself whether you can get okay with the fact that this business is unfair, random, and based on many factors over which you have no control. Can you get okay with that? If yes, stick it out. If no, go home. Find something that makes you happy and do that. You will not only be happier but you will also contribute more to the world, if you choose to live as a person who is happy. Being a miserable person who is pursuing a dream she resents doesn’t serve you, and doesn’t serve the world.
Other good reasons to quit include examining the results of having taken a scheduled hiatus (giving yourself time to — away from Hollywood — take stock of your life, your priorities and values, etc.). Many people (myself included) stopped acting and left Hollywood for a few years to reassess and renew. This industry is filled with creative artists who came here as actors and then realized their dream was something related but different. The folks who embrace that sort of discovery tend to be way happier than those who choose a different industry career yet still, somewhere deep inside, wish they were pursuing acting. Whatever you pursue (and wherever you pursue it), make sure it’s what truly makes your heart sing. Otherwise, you’ll second-guess your choices, always wonder “what if,” and find yourself inherently jealous at watching others do what you wish you were doing.
A final caution on this: Remember that what you do as an actor most of the time is pursue work. So I’m not talking about finding yourself jealous of those who are succeeding in ways you were not. That doesn’t count. That’s like being an astronomer and finding yourself jealous that you didn’t discover a new planet. Very, very, very few people have the level of success that draws people to the pursuit of acting in a major market. If you cannot be happy pursuing the work, improving your craft, and building relationships in this industry, you absolutely should consider packing it in and going home. Do not be overly harsh on yourself, should you make the decision to bail on this career. Hey, you gave it a shot and you are a better person for having done so! You have no way of knowing, today, the impact that having pursued acting in a major market will have on who you become as a person. And the cool thing about Hollywood is that you can always come back to it!
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Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000464.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.