"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear Struggling Actress

Danai is freakin gorgeous. Ethnically ambiguous, she looks like a young Lisa Bonet, and her skin is so creamy, if you saw her, you'd feel like it would be your duty to ask her what her skin care regimen is so you can tell everyone you know and do the world a great community service.

Dania wants to act. She asked me if I wouldn't mind going over a few pictures to type her and to see if I thought she could make it as an actress:

I'll be in LA from mid-August through mid-December (after that I'll be back in Cambridge, MA for my studies) and will, unfortunately, not have a car. I don't mind spending hours waiting for poor public transportation, however, if it's what I have to do. Also, I think I might be able to use USC's Zipcar to get around if it's more of a time-pressure situation...I'm a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator on the pre-medical track at the moment (random, I know), but have done several plays in high school. Sadly, no professional plays.

I'm German-South African-Zimbabwean-American and was raised 100% bilingually (German and English). I'm pretty athletic, flexible (maybe useful if playing a gymnast or a clown?), a fast learner, and can play piano and cello (but, admittedly, not very well). I think that's it as far as performing arts talents go...I want to act because I want to make people happy, I love dressing up in a whole different persona and being someone different in some other life (it's what draws me to writing, too), and because acting is one of the things that makes me happiest. I really like to explore the different emotions and think acting provides a unique insight into the human condition.

Do you (honestly, I can take it) think I have a chance?

Do I honestly think you have what it takes to be an actress? Absolutely! 
Do I honestly think you have a chance to be an actress for the five months you'll be in town while also studying? Not at all.

Danai, I think you have a very interesting life path ahead of you, but first, let me give you some reality, and then I'll give you a direction you might not ever have thought about, where you can still act, still cure cancer, and still make people happy.
The Reality:
You will be in LA for five months. In School. And you're not studying pretend, you're studying science. So you can't fully concentrate on your studies if you're also trying to live the life of an actress. 
You will need headshots. Professional ones. That sets you back at least $400. Then you need to print one so you can submit yourself to agencies. Although you only have high school plays on your resume, that's actually ok. You look twelve. You could probably find an agent who would represent you. Except for the fact that you're only here for five months. Not one agent in their right mind would sign you because it takes at least five months to get started. As soon as you might have some momentum, you'd have to go back to school in MA.
But let's say you did it. You got headshots, you submitted to agents, one picked you up. A few weeks later, you get an audition! Crap! It's during a very important test. Or between two classes. And you don't have a car. If you're going to be an actress in LA, you absolutely need a car. Los Angeles has the absolute worst public transportation system in the country, and it's very limited with where you can go. So you call your agent, saying you can't make the audition. Now your agent has to tell casting why you can't make it, and now this agent looks bad to casting. Because of you. 
Well, let's say you got the headshots, submitted to agents and no one picked you up. No one called you in for a meeting. You are agentless. You can still join Actors Access and submit yourself on projects. But you are green. You are too theatrical. And when the director says, can you please slate, you have to ask what that means. You don't have the training that your competition does. You are competing against other girls who have been acting since they were 6 months old. You are up against a lot of very good, very grounded, and very directable other actresses. The liklihood of you booking anything is very slim. But, What if you DO book something? And they need you for 10 hours a day for 6 days straight. What about your classes? What about your schedule? Are you available? No. You're not. They're not going to work with someone who is still in class. They'll hire the 23 year old who still looks 17, and came to LA to be an actress and has extensive training and credits.

BUT so what!

You are going to be studying at USC! One of the top 3 film schools in the nation. All you really have to do, is go to the film school and inquire about student films. Forget the headshots, forget the agents, forget all that, because you have a direct link to a ton of student films that need actors. You can find auditions that way. You might book something. And they'll work with your schedule because they have classes too. 

Five months go by, you go back to MA to finish your degree. 

Five months is not enough to be an actress in Los Angeles. It takes you two years just to figure out that what you thought was the absolute right way to do things, was the absolute wrong way. It takes you two years to get situated. It takes two years to find that bread and butter job that makes you enough money to keep taking acting classes and works with your schedule to allow you to jet off to auditions. 

Have fun while you're here, audition for USC student films, and make the most of the weather, the friends you're going to make here, and your time in LA in the fall and winter when it's still in the low 70s. 
And now, for some Direction:
I think you have a purpose with why you love writing and acting and science. Just because you like to act and write doesn't mean that you have to live in LA to be an actress. 

If you want to act, you don't have to live in LA!

But the thing that is so wonderful about you and what you're studying Danai, is that I think there's a reason you enjoy it all. 

What if you are a doctor at a Children's Hospital? What if you are curing autism and develop a program to help sick and terminally ill children help express themselves? You like making people happy? Maybe you are a doctor who wears a red nose and does a cartwheel if your patient doesn't cry when you give them a shot. 

I don't know what direction you're going to take, but I hope, I hope with all my heart, that the above paragraph inspires you. You are going to do great things, and make people happy, and do everything you love, but you're also going to heal people. You're a creative/healer. A Creative Healer! 

There's a whole world of opportunities ahead of you that you don't even know exist yet, but you'll find them, and you'll create some of your own. 

I know without a doubt that you will find a way to fulfill your soul. You write, you act, you heal. Listen to the universe, and use your gifts for good. What you have, is a superpower. 

Use it for the greater good.  <3



  1. Thank you, Lira, for your honest (and thorough!) advice. You have probably just saved me a great deal of disappointment!

    Now that you, an experienced actress, say it, it does seem a bit much to try to juggle translational neurological oncology research at the USC Keck School of Medicine with an acting career...

    Instead, I will take your advice and try out for student films at USC (which sounds like great fun!).

    Once I return to Harvard in the spring, I will join The Storytime Players - it's this group of students (mostly pre-meds, as well) who perform funny skits and play improv games with sick children at the Children's Hospital.

    I've kind of been thinking (passively) about joining, but you've definitely inspired me to try it out!

    Thanks for all of your help (and your kind words - I've always been the "strange" looking one, so I'm really flattered)!

    I'll be looking out for you in the films! Best of luck!

    :) Danai

  2. You're welcome Danai! And I'm so glad something like The Storytime Players exists. I think you will really shine and enjoy it.


  3. Lira, not only do I have so much respect for you as an Actress, but also as a human being. You have what people in Hawaii call, the Aloha spirit. Willing to help others whole heartedly without expecting anything in return. Thank you and Mahalo!


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