No red carpet for this actor in New York - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

No red carpet for this actor in New York

It’s been brought to my attention that actors in our ability to charm and deceive you into believing we’re someone else, have also managed to mislead you about our own real lives.

Being an actor doesn’t mean you walk the red carpet while your parents pay your rent.  It’s a scraping sort of lifestyle and one that takes a particular kind of person – the kind of person that hears about how hard it’s going to be from their family, friends, teller, grocery store check out girl, postman, and dog – and still decides to do it.

Some might call this masochism and maybe on some of the hard days, they’d be right, but I’d say the artist character can be broken down into a few certain qualities, which, mixed with determination, will keep you from starving and living in a box on the street (like your postman suggested when he provided you with the box).

Now, I could give you some raw necessary qualities like courage (meaning you have a dream and are following it), support (eventually you need your family to stop asking if you’d rather be in medical school and ask you how the audition went), and charisma (which means making friends with everyone and remembering their names – particularly the “little people’s names” – because, well, you’re a little person, too, and eventually these little people you meet will be big man bosses and you’ll want them to make you a big man boss, too).

Jana being Jana. What else?

But I know you’re really wondering about the money.  The financial break down.  The scraping.  The surviving.  You’re wondering: How does this actually work?  Are you really a starving artist or do you have back up?  Do you really workand audition?  Where’s the money really coming from?  Let’s get real:

It’s hard.  This is the hardest part of the artist dream.  You have your sights set on a goal, but you have to make a living doing something else in order to achieve that goal.  If that sounds counterintuitive, it’s because it is.  The day job can be so time consuming and so energy sucking, it’s a wonder to me that anyone actually becomes an actor sometimes.

After I graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Drama, I moved back home (I know lame) and worked as a grocer in an organic grocery store (possibly lamer) for six months to save up money.  It was slow, thankless (lame) work, and it almost turned me into a vegan, but it also allowed me to move to NYC with enough bucks in the bank to pay my broker’s fee, put a deposit down on my apartment, cover my first month’s rent, and tide me over to the next month while I searched for a job.

The actual job came in the form of the Siren.  Working at the Starbucks next to Columbia University meant cleaning toilets, witnessing a drug hand off, eating too many pastries, and closing the store at 3am – all while fueling my coffee addiction (it’s the new cocaine).

Then came the tutoring job, marketing outreach job, and office assistant job.  When that got to be too much, I dropped Starbucks and picked up a hostessing-turned-cocktail waitressing job and added in some childcare of the weekends (just for fun, of course).

It paid all my bills.

It also meant it was hard to get out of bed with a coherent thought in the morning and even after I’d had my coffee, I still wasn’t sure where I was supposed to be that day or what I was supposed to be doing… Was this office or restaurant day?  And where’s my lucky audition scarf?  Ugh, the audition was yesterday?!  I missed it!  To quote 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, “Blurg!”

It’s hard.  It’s a balancing act.  Eventually, you learn to let go of a couple of the day jobs and get by on a little less.  You start discovering the 99 cent pizza places and $3 Margaritas.  You drink less coffee.  You have coherent thoughts and you go on more auditions or make more of your own theater.

When does this magical transition occur?  Slowly and gradually as you start to realize that madness isn’t worth the money and that making coffee isn’t what you came to NYC to do.

It’s scary to let go, but you stay afloat and you’re happier.

Now, I would be a liar if I didn’t say my parents are rock stars and pay for the cheap Megabus ticket home anytime I need a visit.  But I always make sure to maximize on that time at home and get a good DC audition out of it.

The postman is right.  It is hard.  And it is straining, but the saying doesn’t lie when it says, “less is more.”  And you can survive on less to gain more as an actor in the city.


About the author

Jana Stambaugh

Jana (it rhymes with “banana” or “anna”) is an artist from Clarksville, Maryland. Growing up her parents always told her to “be whatever you want to be.” Seeing as she has come from three generations of doctors, she obviously became an artist. As an actor, she has performed internationally Off-Broadway, and locally to the Baltimore/DC area. Favorite roles include Juliet, Ariel, and Caliban. Jana is the Founder of Red Connect Online, a social media marketing company that creates customized advertising campaigns for small businesses. You can listen to her podcast, Confessions of a Closet Christian, on the E-Squared Media Network. You can also follow her on Twitter (@Jana_Stambaugh) and friend her on Facebook. Contact the author.
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