Dear 8th Grade Cecilia,
Over the next 8 years you will hear a lot of people tell you that if there is ANYTHING outside of acting that you want to do with your life – do it. 8th Grade Cecilia, I’m so sorry you will never find anything outside of acting to pursue. I’m not sorry that you love it and that you are passionate about it. I’m just so sorry about the shitty road you are about to embark on. (I apologize for my language. When you get to college you realize that, while you still love Jesus, you curse a little.)
You will graduate from Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting. During your four years of training you will be involved in the actors lifestyle 24/7; classes 8 hours a day, captain of the improv team, involved in shows year round, participating in as many student films as possible. This will be the life you wanted for yourself.
Look at all the young actors who have no idea what they’re getting themselves into…
And then you will graduate.
You will realize that you were living a lie your entire time at school. This is not what your time will look like after graduation. You will spend more time questioning your sanity than reading scripts. You will cry to mom and dad on the phone more than you will audition. You will hear the words “we’d love to represent you but can you lose 20 pounds first and then shoot us an email?” more than you will receive a phone call telling you that you’d gotten a callback. You will think, what on earth did I get myself into? More importantly, you will ask why am I $40,000 in debt for a degree that seems almost useless at this point?! Not many people will ask you about your degree…I haven’t been asked yet.
Dear 8th Grade Cecilia,
I feel like I need to clarify that this is not a rant about how I wish you had graduated high school and moved straight to LA. No. You will not regret your four years at Missouri State. Please understand that at times you will just get frustrated. Why aren’t casting directors interested in your training? Wouldn’t it be a comfort for them to know that they’d be casting someone with years of experience and training?! No? Ohh…cool. You’ll just keep losing roles to people who have never taken an acting class in their life. That’s fun. That’s good. We’re good. Don’t even worry.
The face you’ll make when you get your first student loan bill in the mail and have yet to make any money in the area that your degree is in.
I should also warn you that, while acting seems fairly easy right now, know that this is because you are still so young. Acting when you are young is the best. You are tapped into your imagination still, walls haven’t been put up yet in your mind about whether or not you look dumb, you are innocent and this translates beautifully with your craft. However, as you get older acting will become more difficult. You will be expected to drop into different emotional states, some of which you may not be familiar with, and you will be expected to do this for other people’s enjoyment. You will no longer be acting for yourself all of the time, you will be acting for your audience’s entertainment. This will not be easy for you.
On top of that, being an actor is EXHAUSTING. It is exhausting – emotionally, physically, mentally, and sometimes even spiritually. I will argue with anyone until I’m blue in the face that this is 100% more true for people in the entertainment industry than most other industries (except maybe those in the medical and military fields. God bless you all.). On average actors audition 3-5 times a week, that’s 3-5 job interviews a week. And on average an actor will hear “no” about 150 times before they hear “yes”. I wish this was an exaggeration. Then after that one yes project is over the process begins again. That yes project could last them a year OR it could last them one day. We are constantly unemployed in our field. When we are unemployed we are expected to pay for headshots, demo reels, acting classes, casting workshops, websites, Backstage subscriptions, IMDBpro accounts, LA Casting profiles, the list goes on and on. I’m told paying for these things is how you get that “yes” project in the first place. I hope this puts things in perspective…
While you’re not working on a project you spend your time searching the internet for castings, you spend hours in the car driving to auditions to then wait hours in line to get in a room for roughly 3 minutes (5 if they like you), you write, you network, you read scripts, you write again, and you work anywhere from 2-5 day jobs so you can go grocery shopping and keep a roof over your head.
When you are fortunate enough to be working on a project you spend anywhere from 12-18 hours on a set, most of that time waiting for the crew to set up for the next shot. When they are set up you have to be ready to dive right into whatever emotional state is required of you in that scene. (Yes, even if that means jumping right into a tear-filled monologue about your ex-husband who you are still madly in love with but you just found out has been murdered.) If you are in a play you spend your nights consumed in rehearsals, and then spend all of your free time outside of rehearsals learning your lines so you can show up the next night prepared and ready to go. On top of that you have to memorize blocking, create relationships with the other characters in the show, and for musicals you have choreography and music to learn on top of everything else.
Here is a picture of you attempting to navigate your way through all of the sketchy casting calls on casting websites.
Even when you are in a project, you spend your time auditioning for future ones, worrying about whether or not you will get a callback, searching, reading, driving, working, crying, laughing, calling your parents, attempting to keep up personal relationships with significant others, staying in touch with friends, having a social life, keeping up to date with what’s going on in the industry, researching, Netflix-ing, eating, attempting to keep your sanity, flying home last minute for weddings and funerals, dealing with your car breaking down, more crying, video gaming, Facebook-ing, going to the gym (gotta stay in shape or the industry will eat you alive) and pretending you sometimes enjoy wearing actual clothes and not just sweats.
Dear 8th Grade Cecilia,
No one will tell you any of that.
And this will only be your experience. There are MILLIONS of actors who have it way worse than you will. I will not lie to you. You will be extremely blessed after you graduate. You will find ways to keep yourself immersed in your career. You will produce and star in a show with a phenomenal cast and crew who will devote their time and energy into a project that could fall apart on them at any moment and they will never doubt you. You will work at an amazing production company with two of the most talented people you will ever meet who are not only your employers but your mentors. You will have representation. You are lucky. You are fortunate. You are blessed. This is not the case for most actors. Please remember this. Please do not take it for granted. Please keep working hard.
Your first time producing and starring in a show. Look at the actors faces, trying to trust you but also very nervous that at any moment you will break and this was just for the poster photoshoot, can you imagine how they were during rehearsals?!
Dear Future Actors,
This is not a lifestyle many choose but for those of us who have chosen it, stay strong. Do not give up on your dreams. Keep fighting the good fight. Create work for yourself. Find inspiration in everything you do. Live your life the way you have always dreamt it would be.
Dear Family and Friends,
For those not in the entertainment industry, please, the next time you see a loved one who is brave enough to tackle this industry, don’t ask them when you will see them on the big screen, don’t ask them how long they’re going to give themselves until they “give up” and move home, just tell them you are proud of them. Tell them you are excited about where they are at in their life right now because right now they had the strength to get out of bed and face another day in a career field that is FULL of rejection. Let them know that you support their decisions (yes even the decision to accept a role in a play that no one has ever heard of that’s being performed in someone’s backyard). That one play will give them the confidence to continue on their acting journey for another year. That one small commercial shoot that doesn’t actually air on TV will remind them why they are doing what they are doing. Writing a complete script will get them to their next audition. Filming shorts with their friends on the weekend will give them the drive they need to make it through that double shift at the restaurant that they dread working at.
Dear 8th Grade Cecilia,
Remember this – Jim Carrey said it best, “I learned many, many lessons from my father, but not least of which is that you can fail at something you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love.“