#EK – Actors, are they showing you the money (Or Not)?
Written By Kipley
Especially at the beginning of your career, it’s important to take any opportunity to act.
Now, of course there are exceptions to this rule. We don’t recommend doing “adult” entertainment as a way to build an acting career, and you may come across some truly horrible people that are simply not worth working with.
However, refusing a good opportunity simply because it doesn’t pay can be a mistake, even for more established actors who have begun to make their living as actors.
If you think unpaid acting is “below you”, consider the following two examples:
Becca and John Lloyd
Over the past several years, I have met and interviewed many actors. Most of them are working professionals, people who are making their living as actors.
Two of these actors are Becca Ayers and John Lloyd Young. I bring them up because they’re both now Broadway actors.
John Lloyd won the Tony for “Best Actor” for his work in Jersey Boys. Becca has appeared in several Broadway shows including a role as “Kate Monster” in Avenue Q , as well as roles in Les Mis, Dracula, and more.
When I interviewed both of them, they were performing together in a small, out of the way, fringe venue down in Greenwich Village. This was a “showcase” type production of a new script, and it was not a paying gig.
Now, big whoop, right? We’ve all done these types of gigs as we built our careers. But what I think is noteworthy is the fact that both Becca and John Lloyd were already making their living as actors!
Both were in Equity and performing high-profile local and regional gigs. Both were “in demand” and could have refused to do the showcase work for free.
But these two actors are smart… they’re always thinking about their next gig. And this aggressive approach to work (“always be in something”) is what moved them quickly up the showbiz food chain.
The thrill of landing your first paid gig is unmatched. Finally, you’re doing what you love AND getting paid!
Relish this moment, but don’t lose yourself because, as we all know… no gig lasts forever. Within a few days, weeks, or months, you’ll be back out there looking for work again.
You can, however, take steps to simultaneously…
- increase your “visibility”
- expand your network of friends and contacts
- improve your acting skills.
Crucial among these steps is getting involved in workshop and showcase productions, which typically do not pay a salary. They can, however, pay huge dividends down the road!
For example, a while back Becca was involved in a workshop production of a new musical by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx… who, incidentally, went on to create Avenue Q. Which, incidentally, Becca was eventually cast in. Coincidence? Ummm… no.
In an earlier article I mentioned Richard Speight, Jr., who was involved in a student film whose creator went on to write the CBS show, Jericho… On which, incidentally, Richard had a recurring role. Coincidence? Ummm… no.
It’s Who You Know…
Okay, look… I don’t believe that old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I find it insulting when people write off years of training and experience, reducing all acting success to the notion that simply knowing the right person is all you need to do.
HOWEVER… I do believe that BOTH statements are true.
It’s what you know AND who you know!
As a producer and director, I definitely prefer to work with people I know. If an actor is great to work with and supportive of something I’ve done, yes… I’m definitely going to bring that actor in on future projects.
For example, when writing a new script, I will often have a “reading” of the script using a bunch of actors who do the reading for free. These are casual events intended just to hear the dialogue and get feedback, but at the same time, it’s also a sort of audition for when the script is finally done and going into production.
I do know a few actors who (to some degree) make their living at it and now flat out refuse to do unpaid work. Some feel that working for free cheapens the value of their skill, and some simply cannot afford to work for free.
It is my opinion, however, that these actors are missing out on even greater opportunities by refusing to get involved in the many, many new and exciting projects being created.
They’re missing out on great networking opportunities, they’re missing out on the chance to improve their acting skills, they’re missing out on an excuse to do some self-promotion (“Come see my show!”).
Perhaps the saddest result of refusing this type of work is that these actors are cut off from the vital creative energy that comes from a group of artists working together.
In the end, isn’t that why we do this?
Yes, there are definitely some jobs I myself would refuse. There are some people I would never work with again, and some situations are simply not worth the hassle.
Additionally, if you’re in the unions, you are strictly forbidden from doing non-union work. This doesn’t mean, however, that you cannot do unpaid work. It simply means that the producer has to have an agreement with the appropriate union (SAG, AFTRA, EQUITY) and meet certain conditions.
But as a general rule, the only reason to refuse acting work is because you’re already booked on another gig.
As John Lloyd says…
Always be in something, even if it’s a showcase that doesn’t pay you anything. Even if it’s bad! You don’t have to invite anyone… you can send them a postcard the day before it closes just to tell them you were in it.
They see your picture, they see your postcard, they know you’re working on something. It’s an excuse to be in someone’s face.
Source – http://www.actorslife.com