Q: I am a 43-year-old actress who has been in the Bay Area theatre scene for more than 20 years. I have always dreamed of becoming Equity, but I get very discouraged at times. I'm told, "Don't do it," "There's too much competition for women," "You are too old," etc.
Granted, I do what's right for me and refrain from listening to others. At least I try. I have always pounded the pavement going to auditions everywhere I can. I even try out for directors with bad reputations just to get somewhere.
I guess what I'm trying to ask is how do I keep the dream alive? I do get burned out by the theatre politics, precasting, etc. I act for the love of it; I work a day job that supports me okay, but I would love to make a living as a stage actor. I have no desire to go to L.A. Am I a dreamer or should I just be realistic?
Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.
A: You've invested 20 years in theatre. How to invest the next 20 years is the question. The only way to arrive at your true answer is to ask the deep questions. What do you want to do with your life? What is your mission? Actually write out your mission for this precious life you are living. Perhaps theatre is a chapter of your life that you are ready to close. Perhaps you have allowed yourself to get depleted because of some choices that haven't worked for you like, "try[ing] out for directors with bad reputations just to get somewhere." If you are putting yourself in situations that you don't feel good about, you will start to feel bad about yourself and your career. If your dream is to join Equity, and you're concerned that it's possible to become too old to join (which I don't believe), you will never be younger than you are right now! If you have a dream and then let yourself get talked out of it, that's not going to feel very good.
It's true that there are far fewer union theatres and union roles than non-union ones. Therefore, you may experience a sharp drop in the number of roles offered for a couple of years after you join. I'm not saying that it will happen. I'm just saying it's common for it to happen. The transition can be bumpy. Everyone doesn't learn that you are union at the same time. People who haven't gotten word that you're union will call you for non-union roles. They'll be all perky as they describe their project. But once you tell them you're union, their voice will drop: "Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, that's too bad." And you may feel like, "Oh my God! What have I done?"
Here's the thing: when they say, "That's too bad," it means it's too bad for them and the plans they had for you. It doesn't mean it's too bad for you if you're ready to be union.
What does it mean to be ready? It means that working fewer shows, but under safe and sanitary conditions, for a salary, while earning health care weeks and a pension sounds good to you. However, if you couldn't care less about the benefits, and the possibility of less stage time freaks you out, then it's not yet time to join.
Perhaps you're trying to decide if you should continue acting at all.
Try this: Pretend you've decided to stop being "a dreamer." Now sit with the decision for a couple of weeks.
How does it feel? Experience the shift in priorities, identity and mindset as you go about living with the decision to let the dream go. Don't have any judgment about it; just observe what feelings come up.
Do you feel relieved? Like, "Whew! Man, it feels so good to let go of that struggle and just move on to a new chapter of my life!"
Or do you feel sad? Like, "The thought of letting my dreams die feels like I'm closing the door on something that brings me joy."
Notice what comes up and sit with it for a while. Your heart's desire will become clear.
My bias: I'm always in favor of following one's heart's desire, not what anyone else says, not what you think you should want, but what you truly want. If you decide to keep the dream alive, then maybe re-energize your approach and marketing guided by your mission. If you decide to let it go, then turn to your new adventure with eagerness and joy. You have a right to change your mind any time you want. I just hate to see anyone give up.
Since taking on producing the shows she wanted to see while in college, this month’s Featured Member and two-time Lemonade Fund benefit producer, Megan Briggs, exemplifies how a theatre artist can blow past the constraints placed on early actors to create her own play and develop works that support the field. Read all about her here.