When I came to LA with the plan to become a working actor and allow that career to afford me the freedom to write on the side, I was well aware of how ridiculous and far-fetched an idea that was. I knew I had to work my ass off, not to succeed as a working actor, just to be able to live semi-comfortably in Los Angeles as I pursued the dream. I worked at coffee shops, cafes, delis, and eventually bars and restaurants. I worked my way up to fine dining and became a sommelier all to support my career goals in the entertainment industry. Somewhere along the way the JOB turned into the goal I was striving for, not my CAREER. My time and energy were going toward making the job better and making more money (especially after my daughter came into existence). I had this horrible realization that I had abandoned my career, neglected the dream set forth by fifteen-year-old me.
A few years earlier, I was working at a posh hotel during the day, making great money and great benefits. I would do theatre at night at some little company who struggled to fill their audiences. I was acting, but I couldn't audition. My day job was not very flexible and it was a challenge to get someone to pick up a shift. I missed and canceled a lot of auditions and lost the confidence my agent had in me as a committed client. So I moved up to nights. Finally free for all of the auditions.
None came, or very few. My night schedule didn't allow me to be in plays. I wasn't acting. I was making decent money and my family had incredible health insurance, but I wasn't acting. What did I go to school for and put myself in a shit-ton of debt for if I wasn't going to be an actor?
The idea seemed simple enough at the beginning. Get an agent, book a commercial, commercial pays for classes, classes improves skill, skill leads to bigger parts and recognition, book better paying parts. I had the agent and I booked one commercial that never aired and didn't pay out. I took the classes, sometimes putting myself in debt, but did the work and honed the skills. That's as far as I got because of things like rent, food, car payments, childcare. My focus was forced onto work instead of THE WORK.
I attempted other long shot ways of paying the bills, stand-up comedy, selling a script, writing a book, producing a podcast, creating a TV show. I was reminded of a class I took when I first came to LA called "The Hustle" or something similar. Do anything you can with the skills you have to make money. It is easier if you enjoy what you do. The things I enjoy doing take way too long to generate income and/or have impossible odds. What's easier, selling a book or getting a paid acting gig?
I had friends who had become successful with Voice Over. They were making decent money auditioning from their home on their own time. It was kind of like my plan but a little different. People had always told me I had a great voice. It was why I started the podcast. I thought it was something I could do. My VO friends told me it was very hard and very expensive to get into the industry. You have to study with someone reputable, then spend money on a professional demo. You have to invest in VO as if it is THE career, not a side gig to make extra coin. I smiled, and nodded, and attempted to do it anyway on my own, thinking it was a racket to get actors to spend all their money. I took a couple of "workshops" in VO and decided to record my own demo. I sent the poorly produced product to all the VO agents I could find with zero response. It felt like the beginning of my on-camera career a decade earlier.
I short changed myself by doing challenging English training gigs for somewhere in Asia for very little money and two days worth of recording and editing. Nothing else came. My VO friends wouldn't send along my demo because it wasn't good enough. It was another attempt and another flop.
I was back at restaurants, working hard to be at better restaurants so I could work less at better restaurants and make more to provide me the time and energy needed to achieve my goal. After almost a decade nothing had changed. I mourned the loss of my actor self. I was too steeped into working with wine and fine dining, handing my free time over to writing and being a dad. I was about to say farewell to my acting career when a good friend questioned my choice. I participated in a table read for a script he wrote. He and his colleagues were blown away by my read. "Why would you give it up?" He asked.
I was almost 40 and at the place I wish I had been twenty years earlier. I had a great paying job at night that only took three to four nights away from my week. My daughter was in school during the day, giving me ample time to work on whatever. I could pay my bills and have money left over. The acting career didn't have to end. This was the perfect place for it to begin.
I started studying with a VO coach who came highly recommended from the industry and my friends in the industry. We worked together for over a year honing my storytelling skills and my cold read skills. The beginning of this year I saved enough to pay for a demo to be produced. I am still on the fence on whether or not it is a racket, taking money away from this struggling actor, but I am pleased with the result. Who knows what will come of it, but I am happy to have not given up.