What it’s really like to be a working actress

Most of the time it’s difficult for me to convey what it means to be a working actress to someone who isn’t a part of that world. I try, but for the most part folks just look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that I have exactly 90 seconds to perform at my upcoming cattle call, or how I’m one of 500 people auditioning for the same role. While the circumstances may be harrowing, auditioning is one of the many day jobs of a working actor, and it goes without saying – an important one. It’s basically the only way to land a job (unless you’re already famous or are the close relative of a super important casting-person-director-person).  Let me help give you an idea of what your actor friends are doing day to day, and why they’ll drive five hours for a five minute audition.

Getting a part in a play is great! But it doesn’t last that long

Unless you’re a lucky duck that is a part of a theater troupe or company, or you work for a theme park or entertainment company, most gigs don’t last for very long. Many professional productions rehearse for as little as three or four weeks, and unless you’ve landed yourself in the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera, the run of the show probably only lasts for a month or so at best. Part of the beauty of theatrical performance is its impermanence. Producers, directors, designers, technicians, and performers pour their passion and talents into a show, and after the last performance the show is struck to make room for the next one. Because of this, performers need to “book out” their year so as to make ends meet, frequently working on multiple projects or going straight from one show to another. I would compare an actor’s calendar to a game of Tetris.

There are lots of people who look like you (but only one you)

As much of game as scheduling can be, auditioning is no joke. There are thousands of talented, attractive actresses and actors that are vying for a much smaller number of jobs. In any given market there is a multiplicity of “you.” This is not to say that you don’t have unique attributes and talents, but rather that you fall in a category: say, attractive girl-next-door-type female brunettes between the age of 22 and 27 who can sing, dance and act their pants off. Honesty it’s kinda freaky. You can generally look around at an audition or callback and see a good handful of other actors that you can identify as being there for the same role.

It’s a game of odds as much as anything

Let me preface this by saying that obviously being talented, trained, hard working, professional and very determined significantly increases the likelihood of success – not unlike most other professions. However, unlike other professions, a great deal of casting choices come down to very specific directorial preferences, that may or may not be arbitrary. This is one field in which image is openly a consideration in hiring practices, too. You might be too tall, too short, too slender, too full figured, have the wrong eye color – or perhaps you just remind the casting director of their ex-partner. Also, it’s possible that sometimes you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and have a downright awful audition, but are regularly a talented, capable human being. Things happen! That’s why you go to so many auditions: Going to more means the likelihood of you being cast increases.

It’s all totally worth it

There is a reason that so many folks put themselves through auditioning hell and back. When you do book the gig (and it’s not just about proving to your parents and yourself that you’re legitimate or that your theater or music degree was worth it – it absolutely was) it’s like the gods have parted the clouds and revealed to you your heaven on earth. You have the opportunity to perform! You get to make art in front of a live audience! You get to make connections and be a storyteller in an age when the majority of our connections are primarily being made through screens!

When compared to theatrical ecstasy it’s easy to see the worth of the personal and emotional investment, the time, the money, and the rehearsal. It is all more than worth it. It’s the reason we’ll drive five hours to audition for five minutes – in the drop of a proverbial hat.

Monica Titus is a writer, actress, and singer based out of Orlando Florida. A part-time bartender, and full-time plate spinner she works professionally both on and off stage. When not doing one of these things she spends her free time feeling bad for having free time, cultivating her writing, performing as a spoken word poet, playing covers on her ukulele, and doodling. She can be found at these internet places: AndThenTheyKiss.com, BlueAsInk.Tumblr.com andMonicaTitus.com

(Image via HBO)