Acting and Plan B
By Steve Gladstone
I recently listened to an interview with Ray Romano and was struck by his rise to artistic and economic success. He had been a moderately popular stand-up comedian for several years and finally got his five minutes on the David Letterman show. A week later, after The Late Show gig, Letterman’s producer called him at home on a Saturday and told him that David wanted to create a series around him. The producer asked Romano to let them know if he had any conflicting offers in the near future. Romano, as you might imagine, said he had nothing in the works and was interested. And then for the next nine years, Everybody Loves Raymond was his occupation.
Our business is like that. Not that most of us have or will ever have a gig that will serve up the financial rewards gained from having a TV series, but if they want you, they want you. It happens without warning. You haven’t worked in a while, or you’re struggling as an actor or a recording artist or a stand-up comedian, and bam! You get a phone call.
But success isn’t forever. Once Raymond ended, Romano had leading roles in canceled shows, Men of a Certain Age and Vinyl.
Certainly most of us would be happy with just the appearances or recurring parts (or being the voice of an animated wooly mammoth) that Ray has enjoyed, but once you are a lead, that’s your standard and what you crave to be doing.
The common ground between day players and series regulars is that auditions and rejections are always part of a performer’s work life. And we cannot control how we come in and out of fashion.
It’s too easy to blame the absence of work on the lack of production locally or too much competition in heavier production markets. The reality is that when you’re labor, you don’t hire yourself. You sell your product and hope somebody buys it. And we really never know what exactly moves an employer to buy what we’re selling, though we are always delighted when we make that sale. We can improve our chops and maybe our looks a little bit, but we’re always subject to the myriad factors that come into play and over which we have no control when chosen for a gig or not.
Sure, the grass appears greener in those markets with film incentives, but those factors change. What doesn’t change in Florida is the sunshine and abundance of desirable locations. What also doesn’t change is your physiognomy, talent and desire to act.
The reality is that, at best, regardless of where you live and perform, only a small percentage of the SAG-AFTRA membership makes a living at being a full-time actor, broadcaster or recording artist. For all the others, paying a mortgage, putting the bird on the table or getting a couple of kids through college can be a recipe for frustration.
That’s where Plan B comes into play: The day job is an income floor keeping you afloat while you hustle for your next gig. Most actors have to cobble together a living. That comes with the territory.
After enjoying working in union gigs and reaping its benefits of timely payments, residual payments, etc., etc., avoid the Plan C of violating Rule One by taking non-union jobs or getting out of the union to do non-union work.
In the real world of acting, doing it for the money is ass-backwards. Do it for the art. Honor that agitated inner voice that screams “I want to act!” and embrace that day job as part of what being a performer is all about.
Keeping the gears lubed between gigs is essential. Workshops, student films and these increasingly popular low budget, deferred pay, new media projects keep you in the game. Even though they don’t pay, you land juicier roles, obtain reel-builders and get a sense of satisfaction.
Things will change. And if you’ve got what they want, that phone call will come when you least expect it. Even on a Saturday.