I’m an Actor and proud to be one!

I was at an event last week with a friend, and at some point, we were introduced to another guest as Actors. The apparently humorous response of said guest to the one who introduced us was something to the effect of, ‘Oh, did you have them come to cheer and provide the high energy in the room?’ – And me being me, who can’t seem to suppress my utter disdain, especially when it comes to stereotyping in all its forms and interpretations, ended up saying, polite yet firm, ‘Umm, we’re not for hire, we’re here to support a friend’. Mind you, said guest didn’t make his comment from a place of intentional arrogance, but maybe ignorance, based on his perception of what actors do, and their quality of life and work.

Ironically, I came across a Forbes article not too long ago titled, “Are Creative Careers Now Reserved Exclusively For The Privileged?” –  Even though its a writer’s perspective, it will resonate with anyone in the creative field. It took me down memory lane to my year right after graduate school, and the years that followed – to the incredible artists I crossed paths with, ‘privileged’ and not, NYU-Yale-Columbia-educated and not, struggling and not – and the one thing that seems to have kept us all going, is the sense of passion, community and support for one another. The ‘privileged’ on the other hand, a good percentage of them, seem to prefer creating reality TV shows to showcase their dog or cat or newly done breasts, possession of narcotics, drunk driving and frequent arrests, over practicing the craft and applying it to actual work.

I had quite a few thoughts and questions already brewing in my head when I came across this video titled ‘THE AUDITION’ by Celia Rowlson-Hall floating around the social mediasphere this weekend. It was hard to watch. My reaction went from hysteria to feeling myself cringe, and finally a sense of heartbreak sweeping through.

My mind has been spinning ever since – all of this speaks to a higher question: What is the perception we are giving out as actors?

We are probably the most hardworking and multifaceted personalities, whose drive is fueled by Passion more than anything else. I can’t speak for everyone, as there are always exceptions who have self-centered and gratuitous reasons for being in the business; but for me and the community of artists around me – all we want is to do what we love, tell stories. No actor has just one job – we use existing skills and develop new ones in order to pay our bills, take classes, audition and live the life of an artist. Some of my dearest and most talented actor friends and colleagues from all over the world are my biggest inspiration – jumping through hoops of how to make rent; how to figure out a way to stay in the country legally (or not); how to be okay with the choices made, whether to move away from home, or lose an opportunity of being with someone were circumstances a bit different, or the fact that people around you, including your own family, don’t ‘get’ you or what you do; how to balance the work-life dynamic so that it is in fact possible to fall in love with someone who actually understands and respects the art form; how to then make decisions about having a family, of being a mother, a father, and figuring out the path to continue living the artistic life; how to stay inspired and creative during dry spells of no auditions or work coming in; and in spite of all those challenges, have the incredible courage to be open and vulnerable enough to share personal stories, have the innate curiosity of wanting to know more, of wanting to be better, of wanting to tell a story in the best way possible. And if you’re a woman and/or an actor of color, add to that the consistent battle with under representation, stereotype and caricature.

Viola Davis said it best in her Tavis Smiley interview on PBS when he told her and Octavia Spencer that he was ambivalent about what they were winning for, in context with them playing maids in ‘The Help’ and being nominated for Academy Awards. She said, “That very mind-set that you have and that a lot of African-Americans have is absolutely destroying the black artist. The black artist cannot live in a place — in a revisionist place. A black artist can only tell the truth about humanity, and humanity is messy, people are messy.” Once again, a statement that resonates with anyone who has been boxed in by stereotype.

And yet, as actors, we are the most willing, resilient and courageous people you will ever meet. Though we may or may not move on to wear different hats later on in life, and add other titles to our resume; the training of an actor, the experience of an actor, the WILL of an actor, is what ultimately shapes us, and feeds our future endeavors. Writers, directors, producers, casting directors, talent agents, publicists, pretty much anyone in the business has most likely been drawn into the world through an acting class, or two – No one knows more about the human spirit, the human condition, and what makes us and our relationships ‘messy’, flawed and complex, more than an actor. Not even psychologists, in my opinion. Because we not only explore and learn it, we internalize it, live it, and then offer it right back to the world, staying truthful, present and in the moment. That takes exceptional skill, craft and vulnerability. That is Art.

We have so much to give. We have so much power within us. We go through so much to do what we love. Then why do we end up giving it all up, including our sense of self, in this career path that we chose for ourselves? Why do we have the need to give someone else that power? Ultimately, it is a collaboration isn’t it? Why don’t we stand up for our own talent and hard work, and draw the line? Who decides that the casting table in the audition room needs us less than we need them? Why do we refuse to support our own choices and our own selves? (And when I say ‘we’, I ask this of myself as well) I know actors who have stopped introducing themselves as actors and prefer to either include the other credentials first (writer, director, producer, teacher, filmmaker), or not mention ‘actor’ at all. Why? Because standing alone, the term emanates a vibe of neediness and limited credibility. Aren’t we ourselves responsible to a great extent for creating this perception? And if perception is based on what we give out, then what’s stopping us from reclaiming that power and credibility, owning who we are and what we stand for? Let’s move from a state of desperation and need, to a place of empowerment, self respect and pride in our craft. I bet you, perceptions will change.

If you’re not an actor and are reading this, don’t feel bad for us or pity us, just be glad you know us. And if you are an actor (or any artist for that matter – a singer, dancer, painter, writer, director, producer, poet, anyone) and are reading this, say it with me – I’m an actor and proud to be one!

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8 responses to this post.

  1. IM AN ACTOR AND PROUD TO BE ONE

    IM UOUR FRIEND AND VERY PROUD OF UOU RIGHT NOW. SUPER PROUD! And impressed!!!

    Love you !!!!!!

    Deepti Gupta

    Reply

  2. I am an Actor and proud to be ONE!

    Thank you…

    Reply

  3. I hate that you have to declare what you are. I am very proud to say I am AN ARTIST. I love that word. My touchstone is acting. My first love: words, story. Other countries and cultures do not divide the arts into compartments that have to be declared. I am a creator. There are many disciplines and one great truth: Art is DIVINE and universal and we humbly serve the souls of humanity through the practice of our craft. I think the craft of acting becomes perverted and desperate when the artist has no financial base, support system, creation outside of the “gigs” they get as an actor. You must create a world, a life, to create from or you will get that stench of desperation. It’s nasty.

    Get your life! As Taymar Braxton says. Do you.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Alpa on October 23, 2012 at 3:57 AM

    really well written post Farah!! very insightful!! 🙂

    Reply

  5. Posted by Sue Wielesek on October 23, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I’m not an artist, nor an actress, and I last played a musical instrument in the high school band. But I love that my mom struggled to attend the Art Institute of Chicago during the Depression. I love one of my four kids worked her way through the Art Institute in Portland in clothing design and my youngest kid lives an “artful” life.
    I am so grateful for the many people in Eugene contribute to the arts, though we are
    a poor community in a poorer state. And I’m so very grateful to stage and screen actors who give me a new way to look at the life surrounding me. Thanks for your hard work!
    .

    Reply

  6. Posted by Dan on October 29, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    This post brought up three things for me…

    I sometimes balk at introducing myself as an actor. I’m not a person of color, but I am an actor in North Carolina and my primary training is in improvisational theater – or improv if you want to marginalize it even more. Improvisers aren’t even respected by other actors (by and large). I didn’t go to Yale or Julliard, and I’ve never even worked off-off Broadway. I actually cringed internally on Wednesday when someone recently asked me if it was possible to make a living as an actor around here. It stung me, or poked an old, deep wound, even coming from another actor I was actually working on a job with at the time. So, yes, I have that hang up.

    My older brother is a very successful investment banker in NYC. As in, he’s a millionaire. My younger brother and I are both actors. He is actually an Equity actor. A few years ago he decided to move to NYC to pursue acting work. He asked my older brother if he could stay with him for a month or so while he got on his feet up there. I should also mention that my older brother’s son had just moved away to go to boarding school in CT. So they had an extra, empty room with its own bathroom and private entrance. My older brother (OB) called to complain to me that the younger one (YB) was putting him in a difficult situation. He said to me, “What he really needs to do is get a job.” I told him that YB is an Equity actor. Most of the Equity work is in New York. So that’s exactly what he’s trying to do – find work. But my OB just didn’t get it. And in the end YB ended up living with my aunt in Greenwich for several months instead.

    I’ve been lucky. Everyone else in my family has been very supportive of both our careers. But to have my own brother express that attitude to me knowing full well that I’m an actor, too, was very hurtful. He’ll never know, either, because I could never explain it to him in a way that he’d understand. To him, a man’s worth is measured by the size of his paycheck. Not by their character or the quality of the work they do or how they influence other people’s lives. Of course, I don’t respect my older brother’s work either, even though he’s very successful because I feel that investment banking adds almost nothing of value to the world. It’s just a way to help make rich people richer. And I see no value in richer rich people.

    Finally, I will confess that one of the main reasons I’ve never had kids is because I couldn’t raise them in the way that I’d want to on a North Carolina actor’s salary. YB has a daughter, and it’s such an incredible struggle for him to make ends meet. So I’ve seen that decision from both sides. I’ve certainly given up a lot to be an actor. Even though I have some regrets I know that I wouldn’t be truly happy doing anything else.

    Just don’t buy the bullshit that “do what you love and the money will follow.” But at least I’m doing something that I love.

    Thanks for writing this post. It really got me thinking.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Claire Byrne on October 29, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Thank you thank you thank you for this amazing post! I often find myself speaking more about teaching yoga, or the STRUGGLE of my acting path in order to make sure people don’t think I’m unrealistic about what I do. But I also find myself frustrated by people who request that I list off my resume in order to prove that my acting work is valid.

    I realize that it’s me who needs to own myself as an actor before anyone else can. I’ve been getting better at it, but this article has inspired me to keep working on it.

    I’m so proud of what I do as an actress. I love that I get to explore all different walks of life, even if only for that 3min audition. Do I stress about finances, my future and the balancing act between my personal and professional life? Absolutely…but you really couldn’t pay me to do anything else.

    I feel so so blessed to pursue my childhood dream. Thank you again, Farah, for reminding me why I’ve chosen this challenging yet most rewarding path for ME.

    Best of luck to you on this amazing journey.
    -CB

    Reply

  8. […] pretty inspired with this fellow artist, Farah Bala’s blog post. She writes about how she is proud to be an actor.  In the past, I definitely wasn’t […]

    Reply

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