"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

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dear Struggling Actress

Hi Lira

I have been here close to three and a half years now and I'm frustrated. I feel like I have been out here for a "long time" and that I haven't done a thing; I'm worried I am doing something wrong or hindering myself in some way.  
I have had an across the board agent for the past two years.  He sends me out on mostly commercial auditions and I get called back and I have been put on avail, but I have never booked.  I have only had maybe two or three theatrical auditions from him and when any auditions come they seem to be few and far in between.  I feel like I should be doing more to get my face out there, my problem is I can't afford to send out postcards and headshots all the time, or at least without knowing that they are actually helping me.  I don't have enough money to be able to "waste" it.  I get good responses from my acting, I definitely have a lot of room to grow, but I feel like I do good work.  
Auditions are another thing.  I am a shy person, I am from the Midwest and I don't like conflict. Auditions make me nervous and I tend to get hierarchy in my mind, feeling as though all of these people are against me and that I am not worthy.  I have come a long way with all of that, I am so much better than I was when I first arrived, but I still worry that I am not giving my all in auditions.  

I don't know what I need to be doing right now.  Should I be sending out postcards?  And if so, what do I put on them?  Should I be looking for a new agent?  I'm not completely a fan of my agent, he finds me auditions here and there which I really appreciate, but it seems very apparent to me that his focus is on the money and how quick he can get it and not so much on my continuing career.  The reason I haven't left is because I am afraid I won't be able to get better right now since I don't really have much to show and I have found it very hard to figure out what "better" or "worse" is.  I would really appreciate some advice.  I want to take charge of my career, I just have no idea how.


Hi Meghan, thanks for reading!

I do have some advice for you but hey, what the hell do I know? If I knew everything, I wouldn't be struggling myself! So keep that in mind when reading below.

1) I hate to tell you Meghan, but three and half years is NOTHING. You know how in high school, if you have a boyfriend for three months, that's considered a long term relationship? It's the reverse in LA. You have to understand that you will be here for 10 years and either two things will happen: You will either quit way before that and move back to the Midwest, OR you will stick it out and possibly be making some really good money on year 12 or 13. Depressing, right? But it's the truth. Everyone you see on tv who is early to mid twenties has been working since they were babies. True story. Find your favorite actress on imdb and see if I'm not right.

That's not meant to depress you, but to give you some perspective. By their year 12 or 13, they too started making some seriously good money.

You know Progressive Lady Flo? She is freaking ROLLING in money right now. But where was she before she booked her campaign? She played a secretary on Mad Men, getting co-star credit. She was in a few episodes; a recurring co-star. Not very glamorous, and she was in her 30s already. But she stuck with it. She put in a lot of time. And it paid off. Once she's done being Flo, she can do whatever the heck she wants.

So there's that. If 3 1/2 years seems like a long time, the rest of my advice is just going to sound worse and worse.

2) It is my belief (again, I'm struggling) that having a different agent for commercial and theatrical representation is ALWAYS better than across the board.

If you are across the board, the quickest way for your agent to make money is to send you out for commercials. If he is lacking on the theatrical auditions - you feel stuck. You can't fire him for just theatrical and keep him for commercials. Well, you could try, but why bother?

Summer is starting. Submit for commercial agents now. Submit every three weeks until someone calls you in. Do your research for commercial agents, and target 20. Keep at em. They'll bring you in eventually.

You say you feel like you should be doing more to get yourself out there, and you are 100% right. I'm assuming you are already on Actors Access and submitting like crazy. But if that's not getting the results you want, you need to create your own things. Write for yourself. Record yourself performing. Upload to Youtube, keep on keeping on. There are so many opportunities to get yourself work - but YOU have to create them. Not a writer? Not a film maker? Tough. You HAVE to be. A Struggling Actress today is never just an actress. If she is, she's back home to the MidWest after two years. You HAVE to be a writer, a producer, a graphic designer, a blogger, a tweeter and on and on and on. Plus, all the other creative outlets will only make you feel more powerful and more in control of your life.

You say you can't afford to send out postcards and headshots all the time. Well, I don't really think postcards do a ding darn thing except go immediately into the trash bin of whomever you're sending them to. But if you can't afford to send out headshots, that's a huge problem. That's part of your job as an actress right now. And so is going to an acting class. If you can't afford them, get another job. You have to.

I myself took an entire year off from acting a few years ago. No classes, no agent, no self submitting, no auditions. And I worked like a dog and saved all my money. Not only did I have a nice chunk of change in my savings account, but staying away from acting also made me miss it. It helped me realize that yes, this is what I'm meant to do. Am I Flo yet? No. Might I be in another few years? Maybe! I'm gonna stick it out and see!

You might want to consider leaving to see if you really want to stay. That's not an admission of defeat - it's a year for you to pursue other interests and to see what else there is in this town for you. You could find a living social coupon for a raw vegan "cooking" class, find out you really freaking love it, and then move back home close to your family to open up your own raw vegan cafe. Does that mean you failed at being an actress? NO! It means you found something else that spoke to you more, something that made life worth living and gave you a creative purpose and a happier life. That's not failure at all, is it?

Or you could find, like I did, that this is it for you. In which case you now have a chunk of money set aside just for acting expenses and you've got a safety net. And you're reinvigorated. And you're ready to stay here for another 10 years.

3) While on your break from acting, get a casting internship. If you are feeling unworthy, you need to sit on the other side of the casting table and see what it's really like, because trust me, you are waiting for each actress who walks into your casting office to be the one for the role. You are rooting for each actor who comes into the office. And once you learn that, going back to the other side as an actor again, will stop the nerves. You are worthy. Get into casting. Now.

4) The hardest part about being an actress is that there is no mail room in Hollywood to start at. There is no right way to go about your career. What works for me isn't going to work for you, isn't going to work for him, isn't going to work for them. What doesn't work for me could work for you. We just don't freaking know! Isn't that awful!? Argggggh!!!!

There are a million different routes you can go, but here's two I'm suggesting:

Route 1 (my second choice for you.)
Submit to commercial agents and sign with a new one. Do the same with theatricals. Create content for yourself and your friends. Make it good. Get another job and make more money. Take classes. Keep on keeping on.

Route 2 (what I really think you should do.)
Take the year off from acting. Reassess if this is really what you want. Get a second job or take on more hours on at your current gig. Get a casting internship. Learn how the other side works. Find coupons for classes that are not acting (belly dance! raw vegan cooking! writing!) and go to the local community college and see what they've got. After your year of actor free living, you will either decide to go back to it, with a renewed vigor and sense of self and wants and desires and goals, OR you will find something else that you love more. You owe it to yourself to make sure you're pursuing this because you really love and really want it and you really believe in yourself to stick it out and make it.

Like I said, you are probably not happy at this point in the post. But if you follow my route 2, I truly and honestly think you will be happier than you have been these last 3 1/2 years.

Gather your friends and family and see what they think you should do. Gather your LA friends and family and see what they think you should do.

But for either decision you make, stick to it. If you commit to taking a year off acting, don't act. Find yourself and who you are aside from the stage. See what other adjectives and nouns define you.

If you continue to take the acting route, then commit to that. You are the CEO of your acting business. Lay the employees off who are not pulling their weight, and promote the ones who are. Find employees who will work hard for you. Be the CEO.

I wish the best for you.



  1. Lordy, lordy, you ladies have spoken to my soul with the question and the answer. I, too, have been here for three years, and when 2012 came along, I got myself into a lot of extracurricular activities that were not acting (music, writing, yoga teaching, etc.). Fast forward to now -- nearly halfway through 2012 -- and I realize that I am happier than I've been in a long time, and I have hardly acted at all this year (though it had been my intention to "buckle down"). Now, what does this mean for me? I think that's a blog post I've been meaning to write (maybe I will go write it now) -- but, Lira, you have allayed my fears. I was afraid that my newfound love for Life Without the Struggle meant that I should stop pursuing acting altogether. But why had I not thought of the more moderate option of taking this rest and then waiting to see if I want to give it another go? No harm done! After all, I do know that your more-than-10-years rule is true: I have personally seen a few friends "make it," have gotten jealous, and then realized that they've been out here slugging along for over ten years. Yeesh! Okay; am rambling now - guess I'll continue this over on my blog! But THANKS!

  2. Lisa is right on here. I'm on the back side of this. This is a tough business. I met a number of people when I was starting out. Some of them have quit acting/directing/writing and moved into something else. Some of them work fairly infrequently in a role in indie here and a TV appearance there. Others work more consistently but they've never hit it big. There have been a few who've really made it. They are certainly a minority, but some people break out.

    It takes different amounts of time. I know one person who hit it big only a year or two out of NYU grad school. I know another who took a lot longer.

    There are different choices for different people. Some want it so much that they are still going after 10 or 15 years with little acting/writing/directing income. This has to come from the individual and isn't a path for everyone.

    I like Lisa's suggestion about being a casting assistant. I'm doing something now I never imagined I'd do and I'm loving it.

  3. Great advice, hon. I wish someone had told me years ago that it would take 10-12 years to even really start booking (or making connections in this town.) I'm glad people are asking your advice, because you give great tips. :)


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