Note: this piece was originally written in November, 2015.
By Caroline Aimetti
Last weekend, I officially became old. I was at a family gathering, and was being told by a cousin that all her eight year old talked about was becoming an actress and moving to New York City “just like Caroline.” I think I actually grumbled a little, and then replied, “tell her no.”
If you had told me last November, as I finished up my last few weeks as an undergrad at NYU Tisch, that I would be sounding like a cynical old biddy in just one year’s time, I probably would have run screaming in the other direction, assuming that some terrible disaster was going to befall me during my first year out in the business. But, as I approach my one year in the real world-iversary, I can confirm that none has occurred. I’m puttering away, trying to establish myself in the New York industry. And I promised myself that no matter how tough things got, I would never become a jaded dream crusher, warning aspiring artists to turn back while they still can. I heard it too often growing up. So who was this grinch I was becoming, telling peppy little eight year-olds not to follow their dreams? Let me explain.
I knew early on that this career would not necessarily treat me kindly. Perhaps because my plan to pursue it has been in place basically since I was ten years old, giving me enough time to hear words of discouragement from anyone who could get my ear.
- Stop Complaining. Yes, I vent to my mom and boyfriend and actor friends when I need to, but I discovered that in the larger world there is no sympathy for someone who chooses a career in the arts. So as much as it does not seem right at times that someone with a college degree should be made to feel their work is not work at all but frivolity, at the end of the day the cranks of the world are right: I chose this. So now I need to put up or shut up.
- It’s All About That Survival Job. As Meghan Trainor tells us it is “All About That Bass,” I tell you your side job will make or break you. Although I am still figuring this one out myself (I am not making enough money from nannying alone), I find that it must at least fit this criteria: be flexible for auditions (or be a night job); pay you enough so that your rent is half your income (in other cities it would be a quarter, but damn you New York City!); not exhaust you physically or vocally (or those early morning auditions will not happen and suddenly you will not be an auditioning actor anymore); not suck your soul away (this one is tough). Though survival jobs are not known to be pleasant, I have found that a soul-sucking job is the reason why actors leave the business almost every time. This is because unlike most professions, your soul needs to be intact for you to do your work. Which brings me to my next point:
- Super Soul Saturday Needs to Be Everyday. Oprah was onto something- our souls need recharging. As actors, our souls are flying out in the wind every time we act, so they need some extra TLC. The winter after I graduated was brutal- dark, snowy, and lonely. I started feeling not quite like myself. I was crying a lot, and I had a hard time making to-do lists or getting up for auditions. I went from acting non-stop in college to not acting at all. The thing is, most careers allow you to compartmentalize your feelings to get the job done. If you are an actor and try that route, you will suck the life and humanity out of your acting- I found out the hard way. So on top of feeling low, I was not feeling good about my work. That can make things seem very dark. The day I called my therapist for the first time, I had tears streaming down my face. I see now that I should not have let it get that bad- we need to give ourselves as much of a fighting chance in this business as possible, and that means acknowledging that this career can bring lows. Society often regards self-care like therapy as indulgent; but an actor needs self-care (in whatever form works) simply to get the job done.
- It Is a World of Catch-22s. You can’t get an agent without being in something, but it is much harder to be in something without an agent; you cannot get appointments for Equity auditions without getting your Equity card from an Equity show, but you cannot get into an Equity show without being seen at an Equity audition. This stuff can drive you crazy. The way to get around it is think outside the box, and find loopholes. I take classes with agents and casting directors so they can see me work (but another catch-22 is that these classes cost money, which means you must work, but these classes are held at night when you would potentially bartend or wait tables, but I digress). I also solved the Equity puzzle by stage managing for a show I did not get cast in- yes, you can get your card that way! I am trying to get used to the fact that what matters is that you meet your goals, not that the way you meet them is conventional. (Plus a fun fact: Equity stage managers are paid more per week than Equity actors AND I have a new, money-making skill!)
- It Is All Random. This lesson scared me at first. It worried me that those who work hard and do everything “right” do not always meet with success first. But then I began to see that when a fellow actor gets a role, that was the one meant for them, not me. “Compare and despair” as one of my professors said. But then I began to see that opportunities that at first seem to have little value often lead to great things. I co-founded a theatre company with my boyfriend because we love Shakespeare, nothing more. But the director who directed our first production hired me for the stage managing gig that lead to my Equity card! I suppose You Never Know and Jealousy Is Useless could also be part of this lesson.
- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. Most actors do not celebrate getting a role until they are at the first rehearsal, script in hand. That is because acting jobs can fall through at any moment. A project I was cast in lost its funding; I had a friend get her role re-cast with a bigger “name.” But the craziest part about acting is that even something exciting like a guest spot on a TV show is temporary. All of our work is temp work. So no matter how big a role or production, once the shoot or run is over, it is on to the next, and that next thing is never guaranteed (another reason why Jealousy is Useless).
- Let It Give You Life, Do Not Give It Your Life. Let me explain this one. I always thought that the noble calling of being an artist meant walking around with a bleeding heart, putting off personal pursuits for artistic ones. I always told my grandma I wasn’t getting married until I was 50 because I needed to focus on my career. But it is things like the recent attacks on Paris that make you realize without family, friends, travel, love, etc., life is useless. Acting fills my soul with purpose and joy more than anything (besides the people I love). But that does not mean I need to hand over my sanity, my health, and enjoyment of everything else the world has to offer. It can be hard, because this business puts an imaginary timeline on your shoulders that makes you feel guilty every moment the business is not occupying your thoughts. One of my professors would say “Relax, you’re playing make believe for a living.” But I am somewhere in between, because I know what art can do for people and what it has done for me. Another professor reminded us every class that in ancient Greece actors were treated like warriors and sages. There is a purpose to what I do that is noble. But I do not need to let that weight crush everything else.
But what I have surprisingly made peace with very quickly is that this is my journey. It is filled with a lot of disappointments, lots of money spent (someone tell me why headshots cost more than two weeks of groceries?), but also moments of great joy as I get my business off the ground. And though I have amazing support, ultimately it is my doing. I am proud of that. So no matter what anyone has to say about it at the Thanksgiving table this year, I am finding peace.
“If you practice an art, be proud of it and make it proud of you. It may break your heart….but it will fill your heart before it breaks it; it will make you a person in your own right.”-Maxwell Anderson
Caroline Aimetti is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has trained at the Atlantic Acting School, Stonestreet Studios, and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. She is a proud member of Actors’ Equity and a lover of coffee, Disney, and all things food. She lives in Harlem with her boyfriend and cat. This is her first contribution to Theaterific.Follow @theaterific