It's been over eight years since I stopped pursuing acting as a profession and started training to be a lawyer. When I think back on that time, I inevitably feel some regret and feelings of "what if"?
What if I had taken that part that I turned down? What if I hadn't gotten drunk the night before that big audition? What if I had put the same effort into building a viable acting career as I did in law school?
It's easy to get lost in that melancholy alternate reality. But that obscures the awesome things that happened during that time.
So instead of wondering what went wrong, here is a brief recitation of what went right.
1. I performed off broadway in a production in which I got to play a political activist and firebrand. It played to hundreds of people every night and was well received.
2. I performed in a two-hander with my best friend to mostly empty houses for weeks. It killed our young theater company. The company was not the only casualty. One night, when we arrived for the first show of the week, we found the theater manager dead in the lobby. I think it was a Tuesday or Wednesday and that he'd been there since Sunday. This is "awesome" in that it is the kind of life experience I wanted so badly when I moved to NYC. We used to sing part of the into to the Muppet Show, in the Waldorf and Astoria parts: "Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know. It's like some kind of torture, to have to start the show!"
3. I produced and directed a night of Beckett pieces. Directing that show, as well as a Shakespeare production, showed me that I was a director through and through.
4. I found a like-minded director who worked in an ensemble spirit. We created, from a straightforward script, an out-of-this-world abstract movement piece with live cello accompaniment that fully honored the script while adding layers upon layers to it. In this work, I discovered that I was exceptionally good at certain improvisational exercises (and admittedly not so great at others).
5. I got to go to Vermont and Maine to perform. In Maine, I was able to tour the poor and desolate northern part of the state with other struggling actors. We went from school to school. It was the first time I was paid for my craft. My first professional gig after something like four years of feeling such work was beneath me. I learned it wasn't beneath me. It was perfect.
6. I went out again and again, month after month, year after year, seemingly getting nowhere, until I started to build a real resume and real career. 1000s of headhsots mailed. Hundreds of auditions. Until I found that people would in fact pay me for my acting abilities.
7. I shot a couple of movies, one which paid me and one which promised to pay me but never did. I learned that shooting a film is, for the most part, incredibly boring and that the lack of continuity makes it incredibly tough. Theater is the actor's medium, film the director's.
7. After something like five or six years, I finally started to land the leading man roles I had never been able to get before. I realized I could do it. I could be the romantic lead. For a guy who struggled with anxiety and confidence issues, this was no small achievement. I play earnest, arrogant, rock stupid, and anxious very well.
8. Overcame an intense fear of singing in public and having been told by friends when I was younger that I was tone deaf, I learned to play guitar and sing in order to play Pony, the young rock star in SubUrbia. The last audition I went on was for a company that had seen me the year before. They called me because they liked my audition for a particular part so much. Did I give them that? No. But I sang for the first time ever in an audition. To prove I could do it before I gave it up.