Breadcrumbs & Pots of Gold.

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Are you?   There is a certain smugness…a self-satisfaction artists often have.  Even when their mojo isn’t working, they are still attempting to do what they love, chasing their dream.  It’s a luxury not everyone has {discovering what their dream is, let alone being able to attempt it}.   It’s a strange journey, freeing and also one that makes you a bit of a prisoner.  A love affair you stubbornly cling to even when it starts to fall apart.  Persevere though you’ve been cheated, faithful to the promise of a happy ending.  It’s a marriage contract between your reality and your dreams. For better or for worse?  For richer or for poorer?  When do you throw in the towel?    I’m far from throwing in the towel, but I am ready for some change.

Currently, when asked about my career – I describe it as a ‘tapas menu’.  Luckily, I have several little things going on (2 films, a radio show, 2 popular web series, videogames, staged readings, etc) but I’m looking for a new main course.   I’m tightening my belt hoping the entrée is just around the corner.     I’m ready for a feast!

I’ve been talking to friends about this new ‘illusion of working’.    In the past 5 or so years, the economy of acting has drastically changed.  Partly when the writers strike happened which changed the landscape of the industry and the contracts, and partly with the advancement of technology and digital filmmaking.   It means that on one hand more work is being done than ever before, more quickly and for less money.   On the other hand it means it is harder than ever to stand out and get attention, so the studio work is ever more difficult to land.  It also means the pay for all of this work has dropped dramatically.

It is easy to suddenly feel how overwhelming the odds are…but you have to remember there ARE opportunities out there.   Keep walking forward!

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I’ve been working a lot the past few years, and I am shocked when I realize you can work consistently and find your bottom line has been ‘dropping like its hot’.  I find this crazy-making, but I also find this is par for the course in my peer group.     We are all hustling to get traction and reach the jobs that are steady and can still provide a living.  To book those jobs that can still turn into amazing opportunities that will potentially butter your bread for a lifetime – at least if you manage it right.  But those jobs are scarce.

As pay rates keep going down each year, you have this widening gap, between wealthy super stars and those struggling to make it work. It feels a bit like the death of the middle class actor.  The actor who worked all the time and made their living ONLY acting, but wasn’t super famous (hey I know that guy…but what is his name?).  There has always been a misconception of how the working-actor lives.  The public only hears about the mega pay-day that the top stars get, but this is entirely unrepresentative of most of the industry.   Its like comparing the CEO to the secretary.

Pretty soon I fear seeing actors hanging out outside of studios like day laborers in front of Home Depot.  Just hoping that someone will drive by and pick them for a day of underpaid, under-supervised, underwhelming work…but still work.

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Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!   But then I calm down and reassess.  Things are different now.

Almost everyone I know is doing jobs now or accepting pay now that they would have never considered 10 years ago (sure I’ll do that short film for free- or that ‘co-star role’  or that web spot, or that {hopefully} viral video…’you never know what will hit!’)  You can’t help feeling like you are going backwards – but you also have to accept this is the new reality.  Readjust your thinking.  It’s the wild west and you have to carve out your piece of the pie.  Mine for the gold.  And we’ve gone from out right ignoring all of the ‘ultra low budget breakdowns’ to actively hoping some of them will hire you.   Pragmatically, you don’t want to lose your insurance….but it’s also about building your career, your homestead brick by brick, now that we are in this new frontier.

It gives you the exhilarating and terrifying opportunity to think of things in a different way – to channel your inner mogul.   Make it happen in ways that weren’t even considered in the past.  Yee-haw.

I see breakdowns sometimes that just blow my mind – ultra low budget deferred, you must cover your own travel and includes nudity, submit star names only.   Gee, sign me up.  Wait, no seriously, sign me up.    Ok, not really, I do have my standards – but you get what I’m saying.    Also, years ago it would have been impossible to imagine a star name being submitted for this….but lately it’s happening.   This is horrifying on one hand – and amazing on the other.   Everything is in flux.

I ran into a friend at a voice over audition the other day.   The material was quite gnarly.  It was a commercial for a restaurant, but needed to sound like a phone sex add.   We commiserated afterwards that we couldn’t believe we’d gone in for it…we were both disgusted and semi-humiliated by the content  “its the worst thing I’ve ever read, its terrible”. But we also both semi-joked.. “oh, I hope I get it!”    And though we cringed at the material, it was a great paying national job.   And you hate being in that position.   Hoping you book the project, but embarrassed to admit that you did. Not being in the position to turn it down.

When I was younger, I felt like a genius for picking this career.   Lately I occasionally think “why didn’t I go to law school?”.  If only because taking that route makes it easier to predict and count on the outcome.  Stability and predictability can seem like tantalizingly exciting ideas when they are out of your reach.   There’s a very specific frustration that comes along with having just enough to keep you pressing forward, but not enough to confidently build a life/career on.    It makes it hard to find a sense of peace.   Hard to feel you have the security to start a family, buy a house, or take that big trip, or even leave town… for fear of missing opportunities.     But this is a career that has benefits that are extraordinary.   ‘Spoils of victory’  that will take your breath away –they are worth the fight, the struggle, the persistence.

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I once heard it said that out-of-work-actors are to LA, what homeless people are to Calcutta.  That comparison is obnoxious and in obvious bad taste, but there is a grain of truth in the observation of the pervasiveness.  People arrive by the thousands each year, hoping to make it.   Many get swallowed up by the journey. Some are weeded out by lack of talent, or lack of good judgment or lack of funds.  Some come face to face with their own demons.  Some realize they only wanted fame and move on to other ways of getting attention.   That still leaves a wealth of incredibly talented actors in the mix pounding the pavement every day.   The actor who is between jobs is still working – each day attending meetings, classes, auditions, writing, rehearsing – just not getting paid for it.    They are taking the initiative and practicing alchemy…truly making something out of nothing.   Turning something of little obvious value into GOLD.

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There is a renaissance of people doing their own projects.   This is fantastic creatively and I’m lucky to be part of and to watch as so many of my friends aren’t waiting for studios, but are doing it themselves.  Creating brave, smart, unique projects that are inching their way into the mainstream.  But the vast majority of these projects aren’t yet paying the bills.

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I was talking to my sister the other day and telling her about this interesting job I was offered, I ended with – “but of course there is no pay.”   And she said – “oh, you’re doing more charity acting”.   I laughed at this description and also loved it.  Charity acting.   I’m adopting that phrase.   No its not SAG-Ultra low budget deferred…..its me donating my skills for a worthy cause.   Maybe I can write that off on my taxes.

The fear of being part of the ‘has been’ crowd is deeply embedded in all of us. We see fortunes changing every day.  We see both sides of the mountain…the rags to riches and the boom to bust multiple times in one career.  I recently found a book at the used book store that was a compilation of the ‘biggest stars of 1999’  – the shocker of the book is that very few of them are still working, still celebs, still known.    To be big enough to be included in a book like that – and to have vanished a decade later – is stunning.   It keeps you on your toes!

I never want to be the girl that stays too late at the party.   I don’t want to miss my cue to exit.   Don’t misunderstand, I’m hoping this ‘show’  is just getting started and continues to run for years….but I’m aware that is usually an industry with an expiration date. Know when to fold them.  Know when to walk away. I’m feeling at a crossroads trying to figure out the choreography of my next few moves.  How to finally reach the next level that will allow me to share the deep well of work I have burning inside me…and to find happiness during the lean times when the only audience who truly appreciates and witnesses your brilliance is your dog.

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I was talking to a friend recently who knows my work and has great expectations for my career.  She talked about signs from the universe. I am working consistently. I have good feedback. I’ve carved out a career I’m proud of without connections, without knowing anyone.     She told me that I had to focus on the breadcrumbs…that the universe was giving me  – these consistently positive signs that I am still on the right track.

So how much faith do you put in breadcrumbs? How do you interpret them…is it great you are working or is the sign that it isn’t more/better work?   How long do you put up with the struggle? And then the “aha!” hits you.  The breadcrumbs ARE the feast.   Celebrate all of the successes – even the minor ones. Don’t miss the extraordinary ‘now’.  Let go of your ‘plan’ and trust that it is all coming together as it should.  Put your best out there and believe it will come back to you.  You will lose your mind if you think of it any other way.

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5 thoughts on “Breadcrumbs & Pots of Gold.

  1. Well said. I am amazed at how often other people find themselves exactly where I myself am at. No, I’m not an actress, I’m an artist & designer who does much of what you do. I have that steady consistent job, but it only gives so much. I offer up what talent I have, often for nothing, just to showcase what I can do & improve my own skills ever faithful it’ll move me forward to the bigger dream. I hope you continue pursuing & learning & growing in this new flux the world is in. At some point, those of us that have learned to go with the flow, to keep working & to keep hoping, are going to find ourselves exactly where we want to be. \m/

  2. Follow the breadcrumbs! It’s hard to know when to knock down a door and push for what you want, or try to get, versus stay back in the shadows and be patient for the right opportunity to present itself, almost falling at your feet. I find life to be at either extreme. I think you’re going about things the right way, the best way, although it may not be the fastest way. Hang tight, Adrienne! And don’t forget about your personal jeweler along the way. 😉

  3. Wow. So true. All of it, even at different times of life and different lines of work. Just getting out of college and looking for work has been driving me insane. I’ve questioned my choices, doubted where I am and been so frantic to follow this so called plan I had. It is nice to get a reminder that things will come together as they should and that I shouldn’t be trying to see so far into the future that I miss the wonderful things right in front of me. Thank you for sharing. Wonderful post.

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