In April Actors Pro Expo asked me to write a piece entitled "Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Moved to New York City." This list is constantly evolving and changing, as lists are wont to do. Here are three more....
1. You Improve.
For some reason when I graduated from college, I was dumb enough to think I was Done Learning. "I just spent thousands on my education," I recall saying to someone. "I'm not taking an acting class." Nor did I take dance classes or voice lessons.
While I may have needed a break from a formal classroom, I was also an idiot. If you stop taking classes, if you stop learning, the best case scenario is that you stagnate. The worst case scenario is that your skills atrophy. I thought at age 22 that I was the best dancer I was ever going to be. After my ass had been handed to me one too many times at auditions, I humbled myself and got back in class. Surprise, surprise! New York has some of the best teachers in the world. I improved tremendously. (In fact, I'm not sure I really understood my center until I was 28.)
Because I continued to apply myself, I am a much better actor, singer and dancer at the age of 36 than I ever was at 26. Never stop learning. Strengthen your weaknesses and fortify your natural talents. In short, grow.
2. There is no map.
Up through college, the path to adulthood is pretty well laid out. You go to school, work hard, focus on what you love, and attend a college or university majoring in that field. Then you graduate and get a job. That's where things get tricky, especially in this business.
Some people graduate, book a Broadway show right away, then leapfrog from show to show, gaining momentum and acclaim. (Google Telly Leung.) Some people graduate, do a tour, do a Broadway show, say to hell with New York, and decide to be fierce in another city. (Google Stephanie Binetti.) Some people get to New York, work hard, get better and better jobs until finally they win a Tony, then they say fuck it and move to Wisconsin. (Google Karen Olivo.) Some people move to the City, work in summer stock for years until they pull their shit together, stop making excuses, decide they deserve better, start working consistently, and decide they've amassed enough expertise from their own mistakes to write an audition advice blog. (Google me.)
All of these paths are valid. These career trajectories don't mention the heartbreak, victories, choices, milestones, mistakes and the just plain mundanity of life in between. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," John Lennon famously said, which makes one wonder what exactly John Lennon was trying to do in the first place. Whatever it was, he didn't waste so much time comparing himself to, say, Bob Dylan that he didn't do what he was so clearly put on this earth to do in the first place. You shouldn't either. There is no map. There's just a series of victories, choices, milestones, etc, coupled with luck, timing and preparedness. Live life to its fullest.
3. Having money is your responsibility.
If I was 28 when I figured out my center, I was 30 before I figured out that having money isn't just a nice goal. It's my responsibility.
Hopefully this strikes you as obvious. But this simple truth eluded me for years, along with other truths like, "If you're sick and you rest, you get better," or "If you wear a down coat and a hat in the winter, you won't be cold when you go outside." Boom. Mind blown.
Having money is your responsibility. I'm not here to poor-shame anybody. (Is that a Thing?) I grew up poor myself. I can stretch a dollar. In fact, I'm too comfortable stretching a dollar. Not having enough money was such a common excuse in my house growing up that it became an acceptable excuse for a variety of things as I grew into an adult.
The truth is, I was in my comfort zone as a starving artist. I knew how to play that game. What I didn't realize was that I was operating from a mindset of lack, not of abundance. I know that sounds hippy dippy. My wake up call came when I was blessed with a national tour on full production contract, and I still managed to rack up credit card debt. I realized it was never that I didn't have enough money. It was that I was afraid of not having enough money.
Now, I'm not suggesting that I should have recklessly gone out and blown my production contract money on stupid crap. It simply served as my 'a-ha' moment. My attitude towards money had less to do with actual cash than about my expectation of being broke because, well, I was used to being broke. Once I realized I had set pitifully low expectations for myself in that area of my life, I was able to recognize my own self-fuckery and raise that expectation. One thing I know about me is that I will work my ass off to make the money I need. I will work my ass off to create the kind of life I want to live.
You can, too. You don't need designer clothes. You don't even need Lululemon. (You really don't.) You do need a top-of-the-line headshot. You need to live in a safe area. You need insurance, even if it's purchased through the Marketplace.
You also need enough money to be a functioning member of the artistic community. You need to be able to support good causes, be it your friends' artistic endeavors, your local NPR or PBS, or those poor battered animals in those heartbreaking TV commercials. Author/speaker Marianne Williamson said it best: "Having money is like anything else, a tool. And if you see it that way, not making it about you, but about a way that you can play a part in the dynamic by which money is used for the betterment of all things, then having money is not only a blessing, it's a responsibility." (Italics added.)
Boom. Having money is your responsibility. Make it your mantra.