and the universe will open doors for you
where there were only walls."
I work almost every day. I don’t just mean Monday through Friday; I work Sunday through Saturday. If I'm not at the theatre, I'm usually working on an acting job or some random shift gig. In fact, I get many jobs through ShiftGig, a staffing company created for people like me: Unemployed. Other-employed. Underemployed. Actors. Artists.
On Tuesday, my ShiftGig job consisted of driving to Reading, about an hour north, to hang posters on the walls of local businesses. I didn't have to sell anything, I didn't have to try to get them to agree to anything; it had all been arranged. I was just a blissful lackey. I literally went inside of, say, a hair salon, introduced myself and said “I'm here to hang the poster,” and then hung the poster. I earned $200 this way.
I also made some dough Thursday by having my neck photographed at the QVC studio. I am using a certain anti-aging cream religiously twice a day, every day, for eight weeks, and am photographed every two weeks to track any wrinkle-vanishing progress. I am my own "before and after."
The process takes about 20 minutes. First, the photographer asks me to put on a black headband and cover my hairline, which I do. Then he asks me to put my hair in a ponytail, which I do, and he applies some smoothing anti-frizz stuff to my hair that feels like really sticky deodorant. When I take out the ponytail after the shoot, that part of my hair is kind of gummy, but utterly frizz-free! I really should ask what it is.
Then I sit on a stool in front of really bright lights and a super fancy camera. He tells me to look straight ahead, I look straight ahead. He tells me to bring my chin down just a little bit, and I move my chin down almost imperceptibly and he says Stop! Perfect, right there. Don’t move. And I don't move.
He asks me to turn to my right until I'm facing a huge piece of white poster board and to look at the big black Sharpie dot over which LOOK HERE is written.
He asks me to tilt my forehead to my right just a bit, turn my shoulders towards him, look just above the dot. I do all of this and he says, "Thanks for making my job so easy!"
I'm happy to make his job easy, but really, all I’m doing is following direction. I feel like this doesn't take much skill but, who knows? Maybe it does. Every now and again I may rebel against authority figures telling me what to do, but this, I'm okay with. I even rather enjoy it.
For this, I will get paid. And have a younger neck, to boot!
I had another acting job Wednesday. I was an extra on a true crime reenactment show that will appear on a cable channel I can’t afford. It was supposed to take three hours, but ended up taking six, which is often typical in the world of film and television. I made it to the theatre job four hours late, but they understand.
I won't get paid for the TV gig, but I still consider it a job. Here's why: Everything is an opportunity. It's a little like being an intern. You do the job and you don't get paid, but they may notice you and, if they like your work, they'll remember you. And you get to meet other actors and share info and realize you have a half a dozen Facebook friends in common. You feel that you are in a community. You are becoming entrenched in a creative, artistic, incredibly fun community and that makes you really, really happy. You haven't felt this happy in...how long...? Since your 20s when you stopped acting? You let your dream slip through your fingers 20 years ago for various reasons. So many reasons. So many choices you wouldn't make again. So many circumstances you would go back and fix if you could.
But you can't.
But you can...
What? What can you do?
You can decide what happens now. You can create the life you always thought you’d live, the one you lost half a lifetime ago.
I am busy doing something new and different and adventurous every day. Every day feels like at least two or three. I no longer feel like I’m wasting time. If I'm not working, I’m auditioning, or rehearsing, or performing, or writing. I’ve been in two (if not three) shows at the same time for the past six months so it's not unusual to have two or three or four rehearsals during the week. It’s not unusual to have two on Sunday alone.
This is how my life has been since I started auditioning and acting for the first time in two decades. What's utterly mind-blowing is that I auditioned for four plays in a row and got all four. I'd already been cast in the first one since August when I auditioned for the other three within a three-day period in September and landed them all. Rehearsals for all three were to begin at the same time so my schedule forced me to drop out of one. It was a very small role and didn't excite me the way the others did, so it was the clear decision to make, but it still felt weird to turn something down.
I’d been laid off nine months prior and was surviving on unemployment and temp work in the corporate world. I hated the job I had—which consisted of staring at spreadsheets from 9 to 5 while having zero human interaction—and dreaded going there every day. I tried really hard to be normal and fit in, but everyone still looked at me like I had two heads.
I applied for jobs every single day. Office Manager, Administrative Assistant, Volunteer Coordinator, Dog Walker. Although I was qualified, I couldn’t get an interview. On the rare occasion that I did get an interview, it always seemed to go well, but I never got the job. This happened time and time and time again. My optimism, self-esteem, and bank account were all spiraling downward at an alarming rate.
It's expensive to be poor and it's hard work to be unemployed.
I started planting seeds.
Working on myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I began to feel a change. I had rediscovered my passion for acting and I was getting ready for it. I laid the groundwork and took action: I enrolled in a commercial class. I crafted an acting resume. I got head shots for free, thanks to a photographer who owed a friend a favor. I took an improv class. I started looking at audition web sites and learning about local theatres and researching monologues. I prepared for auditions with a passion and enthusiasm I hadn’t possessed in years. I went running (my version of therapy), and visualized nailing the audition and getting the job.
Within a month, I found myself on a movie set. I was one of literally thousands of extras for Creed, the latest in the Rocky legacy. It was only for two days and I made about $150 after taxes, but that experience was worth any amount of money. Spending 12 hours in a stiflingly hot studio wearing a winter coat and scarf, mere feet from Sylvester Stallone, cheering silently when the director shouted Action! and gazing upon Michael B. Jordan in American flag boxer shorts?
Yup, worth any amount of money.
As one thing inevitably leads to another, here I am, a different person. I haven't worked a "normal" job in about 15 months. I've relied heavily on friends and family for help, for whom I am unable to fully express my gratitude. It hasn’t been easy, but I now see my situation as a blessing. I had been pushed off a ledge having no idea how to fly. During the grieving process, I started figuring out what I didn’t want. Once I did that, I realized that continuing to think about what I didn’t want was giving energy to that which I did not want. I had to let it go. Releasing anger and hurt has been virtually impossible for me my entire life, so learning to shift this focus has been a radical lesson. Once that flow of energy changed, I found I could fly.
For a long time, I labeled myself as unemployed. Now I think of myself as an actor.
Yeah, yeah, "same thing." I get the joke. But trust me, there is a huge difference. I've found the purpose I've been looking for. And I'm seriously really ridiculously busy. I find it difficult to keep things from falling through the cracks. Little things like eating, sleeping, cleaning, opening mail, putting away clean laundry, washing dishes, responding to emails, having a social life. My life has become completely wackado, but I l love it. Man alive, does it make me happy! Now that I've found what I love to do, I can't get enough. I want to spend every moment doing it. I will shove as many gigs possible into my schedule to make up for all this lost time.
What I feel right now is happiness. My eyes well up as I write it. The strange thing is I've been feeling this way a lot lately. I can't tell you how much joy it brings me to hear the audience laugh. Or cry; that’s fun, too, although I've been mostly cast in comedic roles so laughter it is. The significant other recently mentioned that I must like the applause. Actually, that makes me a little uncomfortable. I don't care so much for taking a bow, but I truly love hearing laughter during the show. And then to (sometimes) get paid for it!? A blessing, indeed.
I told a good friend recently--one I've known since just after leaving acting so long ago--that I feel like a newly-popped bottle of bubbly that's been ready to burst for 20 years. I've told some people that the Universe kicked my ass until I got it. I've whispered to just a handful that my soul's desire is finally being fulfilled.
And now it's time to go study lines. I've got two rehearsals on Sunday.