SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

November 12, 2009.

This story is not going to end with the phrase, “And he signed me!” Just wanted to get that out of the way now…

A few months ago, when I asked my friends for referrals to their agents and managers, one girl said that she would be happy to refer me to her manager when the timing was right. I did mailings to the commercial agents I was referred to but never heard from any of them. Then last week, out of the blue, this friend told me that she had spoken to her manager and he had given me the go-ahead to send my materials. I sent him an e-mail with my headshot/resume the following morning and by that night I’d heard back from him. He said, “L. speaks very highly of you. Can you come in for a meeting next Wednesday or Thursday?” I cried when I read the e-mail because he is a legitimate manager who handles a number of recognizable, working actors, and it was at long last a drop of rain in the desert. It was also going to be first time I seriously “took a meeting,” which is one aspect of the working actor’s life I want to have.

Yesterday was a crazy day of getting to one of my three jobs earlier than usual so I could take off early. I worked quickly to get everything done in half the time. Then I raced to get some food and change clothes and touch up my make-up. Gave myself plenty of time to get to the manager’s office that was located on the east side of Hollywood. Got a huge case of nerves and tried walking around the block to calm them which didn’t help. Finally I checked in with the security guard who called up to the office. They gave me the go-ahead to take the elevator up. I came into a lobby where the receptionist checked me in and asked me to wait. I sat on the huge over-sized couches in the hip lobby with its great view of Los Angeles. I tried to take in the moment and to be grateful for it because I was finally in a position to start meeting with legitimate representation. I waited for several minutes before an assistant came to get me and took me into the elevator again to go to another floor. He was the from the east coast as well so we chatted briefly about that before he installed me in a conference room with a glass of water. Then I had another ten minutes to sit there and get more nervous and run out of things to look at. The whole morning was really about conquering my anxiety so I didn’t sabotage myself.

I’d been doing a lot of research and preparation for the meeting so that I could have more of an experience in the room instead of waiting to answer questions or trying to sell myself. I wanted something simple and funny to talk about when the manager came in but the room was sterile with a huge entertainment center, a table, and nothing else. Finally, at the last minute, I happened to glance down the floor and saw a perfect, red, Lee Press-On fingernail laying beneath my feet. I started shaking with laughter and was smiling when the manager came in to meet me. He was immediately friendly and outgoing and someone I would hang out with in my regular life so we bantered about the fingernail and he said, “I’ve heard so many good things about you from L. and I want to know your story!”

I gave it to him in a nutshell and he was intrigued by the fact that I’d been away from acting for so long and how I came back to it and how much it meant to me now. I felt that I could be completely authentic with him, especially since he’s good friends with Tony and understands the spiritual component to that kind of acting work. He even asked me questions about it so I enjoyed talking about the process itself instead of business.

After some good conversation he told me right upfront that he couldn’t take me on because I would be a “developmental client” and he was at the point in his career where he didn’t have time to develop talent anymore even though it was his favorite part of the job. He said that he’d still wanted to meet me because of the glowing referral from my friend, whom he really respects. He said, “L. never refers anyone but she went on and on about you and she told me you’re the best actor in her class.”

Then he said, “Look, I can tell right away when I meet someone if they’ve got what it takes. In my opinion you can teach acting but you can’t teach someone how to have that special quality. And you’ve got it. You’re the real deal and you’ve got something special about you that sets you apart. Even though outwardly you’re nothing alike, you remind me of an actor like Viola Davis, because it’s just obvious that you’re the real thing.”

He told me that I was right on target with how I was thinking about my career and planning my next steps. He said to keep doing what I was doing and that he was going to think about how else he could help me- if there was anyone he could send me to- and he said he was there for me if I ever had questions or needed a referral from him. He also wants me to get new headshots immediately because he thinks what I have don’t do me justice or do anything for me. I agreed and said I’d never seen them as anything but temporary while my hair was growing out from Saint Joan. Later I sent him a link for a headshot photographer I was considering and he thought I’d made a good choice about who to go to. The outcome wasn’t really a surprise; this manager represents actors who are the leads of hot television shows and I’m nowhere near that level in terms of my career.

So I left the meeting feeling very good about the experience in general but very sad with the state of limbo I find myself in. I know I need a few television credits and a reel. The only way to get the credits is to keep getting in front of casting directors via workshops because that’s the only way I can see them without an agent. And the only way to get an agent is to have the reel. And the only way to get the reel is to save up the hundreds of dollars needed to create one and that means… more time waiting and working. In other words, more of the same. So the only outlet for my talent continues to be class and I have to keep channeling my frustration into that work since it’s the only place I can do it. I knew for sure after the meeting that my talent and who I am as a person are two things I need never question again. I have what it takes in those areas; it’s the other stuff that’s missing.

It was a long drive back to the west side with just enough time to e-mail thank-you notes to the manager and my friend who set up the meeting. Then I had to go meet with my Cat on a Hot Tin Roof partner to read through the scene for the first time and figure out some basic blocking and schedule rehearsals for the following week. After that it was time for class…

When Michelle was going over the work for class she looked at me and said, “Dawn, why aren’t you working?” I told her we were putting the scene up next week. I’ve only had two classes off from scenes but she gets on me about it in a way she doesn’t with anyone else. When she went into her lecture she talked about how we have to do the things that are hard for us and she said, “For instance, I don’t know if you’re not wanting to work on Cat?” I said, “No, no. It’s just a matter of having the time to get it ready. I’m really excited about it.” She said, “Well, you have to find the time to work on your dream. It’s about time management. There has to be time for the thing that is most important to you. Even though I know you may be working forty or more hours a week…”

I just listened and I didn’t feel angry or defensive. But I did have a moment of wanting to cry because I was bone weary. Every spare second I can I’m working on my acting and I’m actually very good at planning and managing my time. I have to be. But that still doesn’t mean I’m in a place right now where I can do everything I wish I could do. Because I can’t. I’ve tried and I’m ready to collapse and if I’m not careful I’ll get sick or hysterical and then I won’t be able to function at all. I know Michelle wants me to stop working so much and start acting more but that’s just not an option at this point in time. That’s why meetings that don’t lead anywhere or projects that fall through are so discouraging… because I want so much for someone to decide that they will offer me a helping hand while I do as much as I can for myself. No one succeeds in this business alone. Somewhere along the line everyone receives a boost from someone who is further along. And so far I haven’t found that person.

Because I wasn’t working on a scene, Michelle threw me into an improvisational exercise with five other actors where she told me I would be playing, of all things, a manager. I made my manager arrogant, snarky and impatient and had a great time doing it. In fact I had the first line of the scene and Michelle stopped the scene immediately to say, “That was so funny. That was a great line and we need to coordinate the action on stage because that’s the kind of line you don’t want to miss.” Then she directed when each part of the scene would be played (because it was divided into five locations) so that the dialogue wouldn’t overlap too much. The entire improvisation was a blast with each actor contributing amazing things and she let it run for almost half an hour.

I got my acting fix and I got to vent about the business in a strange but satisfying way. Class was so fulfilling, as usual, that I completely forgot about my disappointment and just felt happy to be right where I was, doing the work. Even though it was close to Midnight when I got home, I put on my Maggie costume and worked on Cat until after 1:00AM. This morning I was so exhausted that I almost got sick when I moved and the disappointment is back. But sooner or later, something’s gotta give.

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