Careers: Acting, Performing, Directing/baldness and acting ambitions

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QUESTION: I am a 20 year old aspiring actress who plans to go to a drama school in a couple years. As of right now, I am completing a chef certificate in a local culinary program (so I can have a day job when I get into show business) and am looking to get some community theatre experience.

Earlier this week, I had a really terrible day where, in an instant of temporary insanity, I shaved my head. I was so upset in the moment that I didn't even think about what I was doing. Now I have no hair and am terrified about what this could do to my potential acting prospects. I know that onstage you can always wear wigs but I'm terribly afraid that no one will want to cast a bald actress in a play. Hair grows back, but it takes time and I can't wait that long before trying to get into some plays. Furthermore, my resume headshots were taken when I still had hair.

What would your advice be? Is it acceptable at all to wear a head scarf into an audition?

ANSWER: Well, we have learned something about impulses, haven't we!
To look on the bright side ,
this simplifies your situation while you are getting your chef certificate. There is no way you will be able to audition for anything remotely mainline or rťsumť-worthy until your hair matches your headshot (or has grown into another style worth photographing). You won't be tempted to try to ride two dangerous horses at the same time.
You can concentrate on getting the skills, and much more important the experience and network, that will enable you to dodge in and out of resto kitchens as need demands. While you are returning to normality (at least as far as your hair is concerned), you can build the foundation for your acting course. Look at the possible schools, find out all you can about them and their graduates. What do they teach? How? What do their graduates do? What's the word on the street? What will they be looking for in new students? What should you be finding out about now so that you are remarkable when you audition for a school place?
However, dreams aside
How will you afford the drama course? Typically, people do not find it easy to earn much in term, in the little time away from the classes.
How will you explain to the theatre school that you just finished chef training? Will they not think you're just addicted to being a student?
How much early restaurant reputation can you build up while working at theater school, trying to get your head around new ways of thinking about your voice, your brain, and who you are?

It's your life, and people will tell you "Not doing something is always a bad choice", but do look at what you will have to do alongside your main activities at each stage of your progress from student cook to professional-actor-with-a-side-of-cook.

It's your life and I am not talking from now on as any sort of an expert. I think you should talk to someone, your GP, the chef school counsellor, any adult you can trust, about your head-shaving. I have seen and felt the affects of stress, and self-hurting is way up there. It may be that at one level you were trying to get yourself off the actor hook you'd put yourself on (Certainly, I can't see any way of combining two difficult trainings, leading to two jobs that pay poorly and have ridiculous hours.) We all have to be a bit mad to want to be actors, and it could be simply that your madness quota has been used up by the chef adventure, leaving nothing to drive your actor bus. Don't try to bluff your way through the next five or six years. You may fool yourself and believe you are doing what you wanted to do, but producers and restaurateurs aren't making their decisions for your benefit.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: What do you mean by ďriding two dangerous horses at the same timeĒ?

The head-shaving incident didnít have anything to do with cooking or theatre. To make a long story short, I got into a huge blowout fight with my brother, which completely drove me over the edge. While I canít say my vanity isnít hurting right now, I think Iím more worried about how this will impact my theatrical career over the next year and a half or so. I had a very traumatizing high school experience which made it nearly impossible to audition for plays at the time. But Iíve gone into extensive therapy and now that Iíve moved into a new phase of my life, I intended to use this time to get my foot in the door for local/amateur theatre. The idea that this is going to bring me back down to inactivity is beyond unnerving.

Acting really is my whole world. I could never do anything else. The only reason why I signed up for that culinary program was because people kept telling me that I need a day job. Iíve heard that personal chefs (NOT restaurant/line cooks) can earn decent money and have flexible shifts, which frees up more time to look for acting work. The culinary institute Iím studying at right now is a well-respected program that is also, fortunately, quite inexpensive, which enables me to save money for drama school. A few Iím looking into are the William Esper Studio, Stella Adler Conservatory and Juilliard Ö the latter of which is supposed to be extremely difficult to get onto.

But in order to be prepared for an audition, Iím going to need more acting experience from now until then. I donít know how can I acquire that while my hair is the way it is right now. How can I be productive and ďbuild an actorís foundationĒ, as you say, during this period? What could that possibly entail without actually acquiring stage experience?

Answer
You are thinking about being a professional actor without realising that the actual acting you'll do will take up a tiny proportion of your time, even when you are on a continuing contract. You can't act unless you have a broad basis of knowledge about theatre and film and the world in general. You'll need to know what the arguments are about, and the language used in the business. Experience is the great teacher, but using other people's experience gives you a head start.

When you are starting out, you will rarely be able to rely on an agent -- small theatre and the indie film you have the best chance of getting cast in offer very little money , so it's not worth any agent becoming very up to date about that area. Most of your work will come from people who've decided you are the sort of person they want to work with. As a director, I am more likely to run the risk of hiring people who know what I am doing, understand my part of the business and can talk about what other people have done in my field.

While your hair grows out, you are unlikely to be cast, as you say, but nothing stops you reading, watching others perform (on video, perhaps), and doing your research into schools and their alumni. Schools particularly will want some evidence that acting is  a serious ongoing aim that you have started to lay a foundation for. They will want you to show them the sort of student they like -- academic, driven artist, extrovert athlete, physically expressive. Read what they say and look at their alumni.

Why not look for technical work or stage-management in the theatres you were hoping to be cast by? You will learn lots from watching others try and fail, and fail and finally find something that works for the production. Get in touch with fringe festivals and any small place that advertises.

Two dangerous horses?
Both acting and solo cheffing are high risk, high tension careers. You have to persuade people to hire you without really being able to show them what you can do for them. You work on other people's schedules and you are right down at the bottom of the food chain in terms of the way you are treated and what you are paid. You have no working family to rely on to pull you together, and responsibility for all sorts of things you can't control.

Careers: Acting, Performing, Directing

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Peter Messaline

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This is the place for Canadian answers! My company runs "The Advisors", a Toronto-based career-power network for performers, producers and entertainment artists of all sorts. I am a performer, and I have not had a joe-job in the last thirty-odd years, so I must be doing something right. I can talk about career moves, self-promotion, self-production, and the business sense that turns your art into a living.

Experience

I am the most published Canadian arts entrepreneur.
The Actor's Survival Kit, Tax Kit 2000+, Tax CD, The Art of Managing Your Career.

Organizations
Canadian Equity, ACTRA, AEA, BAEA

Publications
The Actor's Survival Kit, Tax Kit 2000+, The Agents Book, The Art of Managing Your Career, The Organizer, Equity News, ACTRA newsletters.

Awards and Honors
"Many people in the audience applauded warmly when it was time for him to leave the stage" (Local review of my Bill Walker in "Major Barbara" at the Shaw Festival.

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