Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who does the actor work for?

Since my work for the public schools came to a close, I have had some time to polish my resume and CV, update my references, and all that job-seeking business. I have also had time to refashion some of the professional tools of an actor.

To be honest, pursuing that line of work is going about as well as anything else. The official unemployment rate nationwide is 9.1%. This does not count your humble correspondent, who is not eligible to collect unemployment insurance. It also does not count masses of others. New Mexico's official unemployment is 6.7% and the latest unemployment figure I've seen for Luna County is 15.8%, which is actually down from 23% last winter.

Some employers and staffing firms have also taken to discriminating against qualified candidates who are unemployed. There are job postings on Monster and Indeed including language such as "No unemployed candidates will be considered."

So in addition to submitting for office jobs and registering with staffing agencies and even calling around on some construction jobs I could do, I've gotten some updated head shots and begun calling on the local agencies and watching audition notices for anything that might pay.

The acting profession has changed since I was 25. Black and white head shots are a quaint relic in a world where actors are expected to have online demo reels, a professional web site, an IMDB page, and even a Facebook artist page.

While researching actor web sites and businesses that design and host them, I came across a promotional interview with an actor, Amy Russ, who now runs a prominent actor-website business. She spoke about the necessity of websites being interactive, including options for people to register as "fans." (Sometimes the Facebook pages are also referred to as "fan pages," where anyone who "likes" your page is referred to as a fan.)

A lot of actors say, “I don’t have any fans.” Or “I don’t need fans.” Or “Why would I need to have fans?” My answer to that is, “Well isn’t that the whole point? You are an actor and the fans are really who you are working for. So if you don’t have any fans, you better get some!

That's an interesting question: who does the actor work for?

Actors are entrepreneurs. Our tools consist of the body, voice, appearance, and all their skill and talent as performing artists. When we are in business, we are employed by film producers, theater companies, and sometimes directly by advertisers. In terms of business, that's literally who we work for.

A fan base does make a difference in an actor's marketability. No matter how pleased Johnny Tabor was with my performance in Folklore, if he could have gotten Gary Oldman to play my role I could hardly be surprised or offended. The presence of an actor with a large fan base obviously adds value to the film.

At the moment an actor thinks of himself as working for the fan base, they have embarked on a different profession, I think: that of the celebrity. I cast no aspersions on this at all. I could rattle off a long list of celebrities who are also very good actors. Indeed, those who manage to be both actor and celebrity are greatly blessed in this lifetime.

Can you be a successful actor without being a celebrity? Sure. I know quite a few such actors personally and know of many more. They work steadily enough to manage mortgages, raise families, and live quite well. Some of them, you've seen in commercials or supporting roles on television and movies. You've heard their voices without seeing their faces, in commercials and animated features. Some of them tour the country in live theatre. Some of them are lucky enough to work in a single region, doing plays and teaching to supplement their earnings.

I would like to think that the work is the thing. I'm not in love with Gary Oldman, but I'll watch anything he's in because I think he's one of the finer actors working in feature films. I'm reminded of Henry Fonda, who once said (and I am paraphrasing) he didn't care about being a "star," he just felt happy to be working.

I'm not celebrity material, and I'm getting too old for that anyway. But as an actor, I do a decent job. My feeling about the work is very similar to that of the excellent Japanese actor and teacher, Yoshi Oida, whose major book on acting is actually entitled The Invisible Actor. I like to do the best work I can, take my bow (acknowledging the audience's appreciation with dignity), and then disappear. It's about the work.

Yes, I may start a Facebook artist page in the future, and use it as a promotional tool. It will definitely not be a "fan page." You can call it a "swamp cooler page" instead, and I'll invite you all to be swamp coolers. That's what we use here in the desert to keep the air fresh and cool -- and it still gets hot here in September. If you ever "follow"such a page, I hope it is out of an affection and respect for this work and what it contributes to our world. It ain't about me.

[Photo: on set in Radium Springs, New Mexico, filming Folklore in 2010]

1 comment:

quid said...

Enjoyable post. I have rewatched Oldman many times in "The Contender"... one of my favorite films, and he was amazing as Oswald in JFK. His own "Nil by Mouth" that he wrote and directed is a masterpiece. I'm a huge Gary Oldman fan and a huge Algernon fan. Hope you find a "day job" and some acting engagements.