Actor Mary Flannigan Reflects on Her Unpredictable Year in New York City

To Act or to Demonstrate, That Is The Question

Everyone set on having an acting career in America seems to set their sights for either LA or New York. I had chosen the latter, and was sure I had my year all mapped out, as I was preparing to audition for every project I could. Applying for gigs nonstop through Backstage, and having worked in New York’s top non profit Greek Festival, The Euripides Festival directed by long time Equity member Stephen Diacrussi, and become a member of The Complete Theatre Company which produces new shows every month. But, I was not expectant of the next gig of mine from a job I’d applied to on Backstage labelled as Theatrical Sales. This simple click of an apply button would drastically alter my time in New York as I got the job and was off to working at North America’s biggest toy store, FAO Schwarz.

The job I got hired for was further classified as being demonstrative, which means you’re more or less acting as a salesperson, but you create a script and a show as a presentation with a product for the day. This range of jobs in demonstrations meant one day you could be conveying to people that you’re an artist, the next an athlete, or even a scientist. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine  becoming a salesperson, or figure sales could turn into a form of entertainment, but when your audience is kids you have to put a spin on the typical. Thus, looking back on my past year in demonstrations I say with complete certainty it was of the most value to my growth as an actress.

Working in demonstrations I came to develop a specific skillset. I learnt how to work any product into a scene stealer, as other products would compete for an audience less than five feet away. I had to believe in every word I was saying, and tell something amazing (because working with kids, they will always see through you), and lastly as an actor you are always in the product of selling, whether that be the show you are in, yourself in the audition room, or the words you are saying. Thus committing to being excellent at demonstrations I was able to come out with the above skills, as it was some of my most exhausting work, thus testing my true capabilities. Not every day was a good day, sometimes I had weeks of failure, but anyone as an actor knows we’re in the game of rejection, and if unable to face it, most likely it’s the end of the road. So, as the next day would roll around my energy would have to come back to 100 sometimes for 10 hours a day, and I’d have to engage with an audience that didn’t have to watch, so any ego of mine had to go out the window.

Nor was my job in demonstrations the only surprising thing that happened in my career this year, as like countless others I would suffer the loss of  my job due to the impact of COVID-19. This also put me in a unique position as I am originally from Canada, and my parents remain out there so I made the decision to leave the country, considering the impact of the virus in New York compared to my hometown of Vancouver. So while this wasn’t the year  I imagined, I ended up having one of the most fulfilling experiences in my acting career. Proving that sometimes we have to trust the unpredictable road we surprisingly end up on. As for the future, I am preparing for my return to America when it will make sense financially and career wise, and am staying creative with projects like making my own coasters, drawing, baking, and writing.

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