The Worst Thing You Can Ask An Emerging Actor
“So what have I seen you in?” The TSA agent asks coyly, as if to say “Prove it.” Sometimes it happens at the border. Sometimes it happens at family gatherings. Asking “What have I seen you in?” is more loaded than you probably realize. Asking “How is the acting (or writing or music) thing going?” is almost as bad.
My entire life I’ve wanted to be an actress. From the time I was five I begged my parents to put me in acting classes, find me an agent and make me a STAR!
Of course my parents, being the grounded, stable people that they are, were super supportive and paid for dozens of classes, but firmly expressed that I would have to wait until graduating to pursue anything at a professional level. At the time I thought they were dream-killers, now I realize they gifted me with a wonderful and invaluable normal(ish) childhood, full of adventures and the freedom to be awkward, make mistakes and grow into the person I am. I did awful plays and cheesy musicals, and I had the time of my life.
In my senior year of high school my mom asked me what theater schools I would be applying to, which was probably the greatest affirmation I’ve ever received. No pressuring me to get a BA, no leading comments about teaching or looking for a suitable career. Just “What theater schools have you been looking at? Do you know which ones you’ll audition for?”
And theater school was amazing. It broke me down as a person, it taught me that performing is about honesty and connection, not “faking it” or “becoming another person”. I learned that I had a long way to go, and I developed a love of Shanley and Shepard.
Then…the lean years. The “struggling artist” phase…which I am currently in. My acting coach once told me “Don’t give it 5 months if you can’t give it 10 years”…and that is fair advice. Sometimes it’s about talent, often it’s about your weight or your eyebrows, or the fact that you look too much like the lead. It’s super hard. It’s hard to audition for commercial after commercial, to get callbacks and miss your restaurant job for that and then not book the gig.
I’m on the lucky end of the struggling spectrum. I have a comedy partner who I can write with, make fun videos with, create content with. I have a community that supports me, makes art with me, encourages me to create. I have an agent who has stuck with me and got me my very first paid acting job and I sometimes get paid to write!
BUT…unless you see a lot of short student films or random comedy nights or you watch commercials very carefully for groups of “students” laughing with their cool new cellphones, you probably haven’t seen me in anything. I can barely get auditions for the things I want to do, let alone the job. And that goes for a lot of my friends. People who are producing their own shows, developing their voices as writers, taking class, collaborating with other actors and comedians, doing everything within their power to develop their career. They just put up an incredible original play at the fringe and are shooting their own web series. But if they haven’t landed that coveted guest spot on some awful sitcom or starred in a Burger King commercial they are obviously a failure. Asking an emerging artist “Have I seen your work?” is usually just a little reminder that we aren’t yet where we want to be. Then we have to spin a story about how we came really close to booking a pilot this year or try to make some regional theater gig sound like Broadway.
Here’s the thing – you are asking if I am famous. If I was famous, you wouldn’t have to ask. You don’t care that I did a kickass one-woman show, then cried for a week when a 14-year-old beat me out for a Disney channel show that never aired. If it “was going” super well you would know. (I need to clarify that this doesn’t include friends and close family – of course I want, even need to vent about auditions and head shots and class! I want to have long existential talks about the importance of art, I love your texts with shows you think I’ll like!)
So if you meet a young actress or have an emerging artist in the outskirts your life, maybe ask them about something other than their extremely volatile life choice/dream/passion/all-consuming life suck. Ask them if they’ve seen Bob’s Burgers. Ask them if they’ve tried Hot Yoga. By all means tell them if you love their podcast/YouTube channel/online column. If you really care, ask them about class or their new improv group or a friend you think they’d collaborate well with. But maybe avoid blanket questions that remind them how insane they are for pursuing the impossible dream.
Attempting not to have a nervous breakdown,(JK LOLCATS U GUYZ).
Kristy LaPointe is an actress, writer and comedian from Toronto. She is 1/2 of the duo Hot Cousin Productions who you can stalk on YouTube or tumblr. She tweets half-hearted jokes @kristylapointe and once had a dream that she beat Joss Whedon in an episode of Iron Chef, so there’s that.
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