Hello, my dears!
The fall season is soon upon us, and I for one am getting busier by the day!
It’s been very hush-hush for a bit, but I’ve been given the OK to let you all know the big news! I’m returning to the big screen!
After the recent successes of all the comic book and superhero films of the summer, the greenlight has been given to a project I’ve been eyeing for some time, “The Cougar!” I’ll be playing the title role (of course) of Serena Kilgallen who by day is a mild-mannered nail salon proprietress, but come nighttime transforms into a man-prowling, crime-fighting she-devil!
I expect it to be yet another pinnacle in my career!
You may be asking yourself, “Donna, how will you have time to answer all of our questions?!?”
Don’t you worry. Donna’s not going anywhere! I’ll be here with advice to spare!
In fact, let’s get started!
My name is Jaquiya and I am a 20 year-old actress who can play 13 to 18.
I’m also a SAG member. I believe this is really good in show biz, but the only thing is, I give true meaning to the term “starving actress.” So my question is, what can I do to further my acting career on a part-time paycheck?
And what can I do in the meantime, while I’m sitting around waiting for my agent to call me for an audition?
What a charming question!
A lot of folks out there have this crazy notion that being an actor is a piece of cake. I don’t know where they get that idea, but it sure is wrongheaded, don’t you think?
No, being an actor takes time AND money and a lot of commitment. Often, when we find ourselves trying to “make it” in the industry, we have a tough time trying to “make it” to put food in our mouths!
So the question becomes, what can I do to keep my head above water AND keep my focus on my career?
Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place! If anyone knows what it’s like to struggle, I do. And I’ve got some great tips for you.
You know, there have been many times where even I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make a living at this gig. A few years back (ok, well, a couple of decades ago, really), I hit a bit of a rough patch. I had been steadily employed for about a season on the television drama, “O’Grady and Schatz.” I played Florence O’Grady, the no-nonsense Irish half of a private investigation firm. The other half of the team, the fun-loving and clumsy Ingrid Schatz, was played by an up-and-coming blonde bombshell by the name of Denise Ingerhausen.
The show – the first of its kind to feature an Irish/German detective team – was groundbreaking in many ways, but never really took off with viewers.
Denise, however, DID make an impression on the viewing audience (and the studio heads as well). It wasn’t long before she embarked on a successful film career, starting with the thriller, “Dangerous Vacation!”
Unfortunately for me, I found myself - as many actors do – unemployed, and it wasn’t long before my cash reserves had run out. The phone stopped ringing for auditions.
So, with very few prospects for acting work, it was time for me to seek out a “real” job.
I got myself a position working behind the fragrance counter at Bullock’s department store on Wilshire. Back then, it was simply THE place to shop. Not a day went by that I didn’t see a noted film director or famous movie star.
I must admit, it hurt my pride a bit to be serving those with whom, only months before, I was rubbing shoulders.
My paycheck wasn’t much, but it paid the bills. I knew that I would have to stretch my dollar in order to keep paying my rent. In fact, many times I would skip lunch in order to save enough to pay the phone bill. You see, I had my priorities. The top one was to get back on the acting horse, no matter what!
There are some drawbacks to not eating lunch. For one, you get a little tired and unstable on your feet. Also, your blood sugar drops and I don’t know about you, but I can get a little testy. As a result, I tried to alternate my “no-lunch” days.
Throughout all of this, I tried to keep a good attitude. I knew what my focus was, and I kept telling myself it was a temporary situation.
I also knew that I needed to stay on top of my skills, so I would be ready for any audition that came along.
On one of my “no-lunch” days, I was particularly prickly with the customers. One of them had even complained to my boss, Joan, a weasly-faced harridan who never had a splash of Chanel touch her wrists. What she was doing managing a fragrance counter, I will never know.
Well, she lumbered over and, in her gravelly voice she said, “Watkins. You must treat the customer right. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but if I get one more complaint, I’m sending you to pick up your final check.”
She walked away and as I was shooting daggers into her back with my eyes, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I spun around, enraged. I wasn’t about to put up with anything from anybody! And I was ready to let whoever it was have it!
Instead, I found myself face-to-face with none other than Denise Ingerhausen.
She looked lovely.
“Donna?!” she exclaimed.
I wanted to hide myself. This was just too much for me. I started to look busy. I turned and opened cabinets, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that Joan standing off to the side, arms crossed, watching my every move.
It was a moment of truth. I could stand here and help my successful friend and feel utterly humiliated, or walk off the job and face the consequences of no paycheck.
“Donna, is that you?” Ingrid asked.
Smiling and bucking up my courage, I turned and faced her.
“Yes, dear. It’s me. Can I get you something?”
A look of sadness crossed her eyes.
“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t feel sorry for me!”
“But, I’ve been-“
I don’t know what the rest of the sentence was because it was at that moment my legs buckled and I fainted behind the counter.
Jaquiya, before I finish my riveting tale, I think it’s time to give you some pointers on how you can make your life livable while you try to make it in the biz.
As you can see, my method of not eating is probably NOT something you will want to try, but I’ve learned a lot since then.
First of all, you must remember that taking care of your obligations (like rent, groceries, bills, etc.) is the most important thing you can do, and any amount of money you make should go directly to those things.
I don’t think it’s possible to fully commit yourself to acting, to be at your best, while you have worries about how you’re going to pay the rent or your cell phone bill or where your next meal is coming from.
If you have taken care of all of these things, then you’ll have the peace of mind to concentrate on becoming the best actor you can be!
I’m not sure what kind of job you currently have, but it seems that, whatever it is, it isn’t paying you very much.
The dilemma of the actor is this: “I need a full-time job because I have bills, but I can’t get a full-time job because I won’t be able to go on auditions, and if I can’t get to auditions I’ll never be an actor, and if I’m never an actor, then I’ll die!”
If you’re thinking this way, you need to stop!
This is why so many actors choose to be waiters and bartenders. The hours are usually at night, when auditions aren’t happening, and the tips can be pretty darn good. Granted, it’s not an easy life. The hours can be crazy and you’ll basically have to resign yourself to the fact that you have to work weekends and nights.
What it does, though, is allow you the time to go to that last-minute audition on a Tuesday afternoon at 1:30.
If a nighttime job just isn’t something you want to do, then you may get lucky and find that rare job where the boss doesn’t mind if you take off for a couple of hours for an audition. Mind you, these are VERY few and far between, but since there are so many people in Hollywood in your same boat, most employers have come to expect this.
During an interview, don’t be afraid to ask what the company’s policy is on leaving for auditions. Don’t wait until you’ve got the job to find out it’s a no-no. That’s just going to make everyone mad and you’ll be back on the unemployment line.
PLEASE be smart with credit cards! Don’t get yourself into debt while you try to do the acting thing. This is a sure-fire path to financial disaster! If you can’t afford it with the cash you’ve got on hand, then don’t buy it! Got it?
Trust me on this one.
You might be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to further my career, and keep my skills sharp, if I can’t pay for an acting class or audition workshop?”
This is a fair question.
Like I said, you must use your money for the essentials, and if you don’t have any extra for classes, etc., then you don’t have it and you shouldn’t get yourself into debt.
In the meantime, instead of paying for expensive classes and workshops, I suggest you get together with your actor friends on a regular basis and perform auditions for each other, perform improv games, or read plays – from modern day to Shakespeare. Anything to keep you fresh. You can give each other tips you’ve learned throughout the years in other classes, etc., and set up a great little support group. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it can work. All it takes is a bit of commitment, and it can be great fun as well. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn.
The important thing, as you said in your letter, is to not “sit around” waiting for your agent to call. Be active and involved, even in the most frugal ways possible.
As for me, after my fainting episode, I woke up in the lingerie department fitting room. Joan was standing over me, holding what appeared to be my final paycheck.
Standing next to her was Denise. She bent down and spoke to me.
“Donna, I’ve been looking all over for you! I’ve just been cast in a new motion picture and I think there’s a part you would be perfect for in it! I’ve made arrangements with the studio, and with your charming manager here. She’s agreed to give you some time off to go to the audition.”
Joan flapped the envelope violently, and said, “Yeah. A LOT of time off.”
I got my strength back. I stood up and took the check, grabbed Denise by the arm, and off we went.
I auditioned for the role and got it! It turned out to be one of my favorites, as Sister Patsy Cornelius, in the Otto Preminger epic “Congo Nuns.”
The next time I went into Bullock’s, it was as a customer and I dropped a LOT of money at Joan’s counter…
Jaquiya, best of luck to you! Keep me posted!
That’s it for this month, dearies.
If any of you have suggestions for stretching your acting/life dollar, I’d love to pass them along in a future column.
Simply send them to me, along with ANY questions you might have to firstname.lastname@example.org
I truly enjoy hearing from you all!
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Until next month, all the best!
Donna Marie Watkins