I graduated two years ago and it’s been hard. Of course the pandemic made things harder but even so, I’m just not sure I want to carry on trying to make it in this industry. I’m scared that everyone will think I’m a failure – my parents gave up so much so I could do this, I feel like I’m letting them, and everyone who encouraged me, down if I quit now.
So something you loved and enjoyed as a child, you no longer love as much? That’s perfectly normal. The person you are at 21 is not the person you were at 11 and studying acting is a very different skill to being an actor. Studying and practising – at Saturday schools, in after-school clubs, in AmDram, at youth theatres, in Drama lessons – all this connects, I think, with what I call the initial spark. At some point growing up you did something, or had some creative experience or awakening, that sparked something in you and made you want to do more of it. We get to play around, get intoxicated by applause, make new friends, break out of the sometimes stuffy confines of a traditional curriculum. It’s called ‘a play’ for a reason!
Being an actor isn’t always fun. Auditioning and being rejected or being overlooked or not being given an opportunity – that’s not fun. Struggling to make ends meet but still having to pay for class to keep your skill set up – that’s not fun. Going off on tour and not being able to put down roots anywhere, missing friends’ birthday parties, and weddings, and celebrations, being away from home at Christmas – that’s not fun. Applying for jobs and never hearing back – that’s not fun.
There’s an awful lot about being a working actor that isn’t fun and when reality bites a lot of people realise this isn’t what you thought you were signing up for when you first thought about becoming an actor. It’s OK (and indeed perfectly usual) to not want the same things out of life that you wanted when you were younger. Things change. We change.
I’ve asked before – what does ‘making it’ mean anyway? In my eyes you made it – you wanted to become an actor and you did – that’s making it. This is the life of an actor – the struggle, the long periods out of work, the hustle – that’s the life of an actor, any actor and you did it! You’re actually living the dream. It just isn’t the dream you thought it was going to be, but you made it. Does that make it easier to walk away from it? Do you feel like less of a failure now? You should. You did what you set out to do and, having done it, you feel the need to find another dream and do something else. We don’t get just one dream, or just one purpose and we don’t have to decide when we’re young what we’re going to be doing for the rest of our lives.
Twyla Tharp writes in The Creative Habit that one of the biggest impediments to creativity is worrying about what other people think of you. I think it’s not only the biggest impediment to creativity but one of the biggest impediments to living a long and fulfilled life. From my drama school graduating year group of 22 only five of us continue to work in the industry in some capacity. Two of us are agents, and three are still performers. Of the rest, we have teachers, fitness instructors, marketing managers, journalists, parents, flight attendants, a doctor. Have I ever thought any one of them was a failure? Never. I’m proud of their achievements and just delighted that we’ve all found things that make us happy. Everyone around you who cares about you will feel the same about you – your friends, your family, your parents – they all would rather you were happy. So, for their sake as much as for your own – choose to be happy.
When I first started thinking about moving away from acting I struggled with the choice for exactly the same reasons you are struggling. A writer friend advised me “If you leave now you can always come back. It will still be here. It will still be as hard, as impenetrable, as impossible as it always was. The industry isn’t going to stop existing because you aren’t part of it. Leave, come back, leave again, do whatever makes you happy.”
I firmly believe that our journey is not a straight path through the forest. We should explore. We should get off the track and get lost in the woods. The universe has a funny way of bringing us to exactly where we need to be – if we allow it to.
Stay connected. Stay creative.
Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]