Idil Tekeli on the Challenges of New York City as a Foreign-Born Actress

People always say that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. The city that never sleeps and feeds on art every corner. Even though I believe, with all my heart, that you can make it anywhere as long as you have the right mindset, New York can be very challenging regardless of whatever field you’re in.

Being originally from Turkey, Istanbul, moving to the city to follow my so-called impossible dream of becoming an actor was a very scary and a big step for me. I felt incredibly lost at first, not knowing what to do or where to start. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to study at New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts for two years, where I learned most of the things that helped me become a better actor and prepared me for the brutal world of our industry, however; I did have my bad days too.

First of all, acting in front people you barely know every day itself is a very hard thing to do. It was for me, anyways. I was undeniably shy and had to break all the walls I’d built around me, which pushed me to be vulnerable, completely out there, naked.

On top of that, I had to focus on learning a completely different dialect from mine, American English, in order to broaden my possibilities as an actor. Both in my classes and my auditions, for every scene I’d ever worked on, I’d have to face the inevitable question that soon became my nightmare; “Where are you from?” which translated to “Where’s your accent coming from?”

People started to ask me that so much that I knew I had to do something about it. I didn’t want to lose my accent completely, but I had to learn how to drop it for certain parts. As a result, I bought all the voice and speech books and cd’s I could find, took Accent Reduction classes at my school, listened to the way people were speaking very closely, and read out loud for 30 minutes every single day for about a year.

Upon graduating from my school, I was able to audition for a lot of different projects, such as short films and web series, and the majority of the parts I got cast was American roles. I went from getting the smallest parts where I had almost no lines to being cast as the lead actress. I even made my Off-Broadway debut with a small theatre company last year.

Of course, no matter how much progress I made, I still messed up SO many of my auditions and missed SO many opportunities to play the parts that I really, really wanted. I either let my nerves get to me or got way too emotional during certain scenes that I forgot every single thing I’d worked on. But that’s how we learn, isn’t it? By making mistakes, sometimes over and over again, until we learn not to make them anymore.

So for those of you are reading this who are foreign actors pursuing work in America, I hope you feel less alone in this crazy yet life-changing journey. If you’re struggling to learn any dialect at all, know that it’s not an easy task and takes one to be patient. Just remember, as long as you have the right mindset and consistency, you can make anything happen. Anywhere and everywhere.

Written by Idil Tekeli

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