Written by Paul Kampf
Every actor pursuing a professional career comes to that daunting fork in the road: ‘Do I continue pursuing the career or do I give it up?’ For many, that fork seems to be around every corner.
The answer to the question feels like it should be connected to making a certain amount of money. However, for nearly 95% of all SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY actors, that certain amount of money isn’t enough to live exclusively on acting work. When you also take into consideration all the talented non-union actors trying to secure work to achieve union status, pursuing an acting career can be quite a discouraging prospect.
Assuming that you’re not one of the top 5%, you’ve got to love the process to make up for the struggle of the lifestyle. The best thing that you can do is to rely on the joy that comes from exploring the depth of your talent. This is the bridge that will carry you over the many, many difficult times.
Yet, as a teacher of acting, I often see talented actors lose site of their personal growth and the joy that comes from the art itself. In as short a time as a couple of months, I’ve watched actor’s work slip backwards. A few months more and it’s clear that, for whatever reasons, the work doesn’t garner the same focus as it once did.
That actor isn’t as sharp, prepared or willing to take risks. The disappointment of not getting work erodes the tools one needs when opportunity presents itself. Therefore every acting opportunity will be denied that actor’s best efforts. No actor can be free, alive and available in his work when he thinks it ‘counts’ and prepare halfway when he thinks it doesn’t count. It must always count.
My advice is to give yourself a window of time (three months for example) to decide which path you’re going to take. This window of time isn’t to book X amount of work, or make Y amount of money. This window of time is to do, to your fullest capacity, everything you can to improve your depth, courage and craft as an actor.
During this time, make a personal commitment to work on every scene, every character, and every audition with all of the effort you have in you. Choose to perceive every chance to act as a gift and every scene and partner as an opportunity to learn.
Refuse the impulse to apologize or rationalize your work to anyone. Promise to find the personal risk in the work and jump towards it. Require yourself to identify the actors that inspire you, and break down why. Most importantly, pledge to be fully committed to your work, and disconnected to the end result.
This might possibly be the hardest period of your acting career, but I assure you after this period of time, you’ll never question which road to take the next time that fork comes upon you.
Paul is an award winning filmmaker/teacher – paulkampfstudios.com