A cynical, faux-investigative journalist voice in my head asks:
“Was it worth it?”
And I can’t answer it like that. Not that I haven’t asked myself that very same question, in some form, here in my mid-life crisis moment amidst the world’s end-life crisis.
I’m not sure if actors really have mid-life crises. Aren’t we impervious to them since we tend to have them every month? Or is it that when we have them they’re particularly explosive?
What I can answer is: “What was it worth?”
It was worth something. Had I had a different bit of steering over 10 years ago, after I’d traumatically dropped out of my “elite” acting conservatory after two years, when I working as a waiter and playing in a garage band for fun/to recover from the trauma, then maybe I could imagine the alternative.
A life with stable income. A life with more stable emotions. Perhaps a life with more stable relationships? Maybe not that.
But on the negative tip probably a life where I’d have felt compromised.
That’s the number one most stated reason for people to pursue this when they want to, right? They won’t have any regrets.
So yes, after ten years, if I transitioned to something different tomorrow — I would have a lot fewer regrets. Even as I will always carry regrets with me, I will have a handful of experiences, people, places and things that I will always think back on and say: “that was special.”
But other than that, what is it worth?
I think its worth having created an imaginative foundation. Even if I were to move away into a sphere that is not at all “creative,” the pursuit of acting, especially in a town that is so business oriented, gives you an understanding of how long it can take to build up the skills, the know-how, the knowledge of self in order to really put your best foot forward. How to be a creative professional, with an emphasis on the second part.
Sadly, without beating myself up too much for it, after ten years, I think I have a foundation, but not a whole lot else. If you’ll accept the analogy, it’s like I have a bit of scaffolding and the wood beams cut but no real energy or help to start building upward.
But foundation is something! As I contemplate moving to NYC and possibly visiting the flip-side of the industry — theatre, I feel imaginatively daunted but not altogether afraid. I learned how to act for film, I can probably re-learn how to act on stage.
The relationships are harder to pin down. With only day-player credits as an on-camera actor, and voiceover (my primary unchosen career path) being something you rarely do multiple days in a row; the connections I made with actors, directors and crew members we’re short-lived things. Some of them felt special, but they were, all things considered, mere moments, like flashes of promise of what it could be.
The greater, more valuable relationships are with those other actors who are also trying to do what you do. Seeing and supporting each other. Helping each other with auditions. Recommending each other to an agent or manager. Playing together. This last one being the most impactful.
Then there’s the work. The satisfaction of doing. All those auditions that seemingly go down the tubes but in the moment you were trying to be present to it, to really delve into it. You drive across town to give a tiny black-box performance to one disinterested casting assistant and a two hundred dollar camcorder. You dance too vigorously for a commercial audition and your pants split. You write your name cheekily on an indie audition that you weren’t invited to and get a call-back. You do a cold-read because you got the wrong sides and you still the book the part.
You get on set and you’re crawling out of your body and you have to gather every single bit of your past experiences, your training, your composure and siphon it into the moment, your breath, just being there, trusting, having faith, trusting, being present. You fumble your line at the beginning of the take and you ask, no you tell them you’re going back to one. You do the scene. And it goes okay. Okay is a great victory.
You almost get a huge break. Your own scene in the biggest movie in the world. You have the most amazing experience filming. A few months later you’re told your scene was cut. It’s a strange kind of devastating. The kind that opens up an alternative reality that you just can’t stomach to look at. Instead you focus on the positive. It was a fun ride. Who the fuck was I to deserve any of it anyway?
In the end it was worth something. It might have been just enough for me. For others that devastation, that feeling of having diverted precious time down a path that holds scant promise but constant promises, may not be worth it. For others they could probably accomplish my ten years in five or less. But that’s not what it took for me, it took ten. The same amount of time it took me to graduate college. A decadent decade. A formative decade. A decade I’d probably not trade, not easily anyway.