The Reality of Being a Professional Actress
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
Growing up, I never had a doubt about what I wanted to do with my life. If you asked anyone, they could tell you that I wanted to be an actress. This steadfast dream was what led me to beg my parents to move to Los Angeles, California, in order for me to attend my dream school, LA County High School for the Arts, and pursue my dreams of becoming a professional actress.
But the more that I’ve been reflecting on what that truly means - “a professional actress” - the more that I’ve realized the younger me had the entirely wrong idea.
An actor’s life isn’t in actuality acting - it’s continuously auditioning for hundreds and hundreds of roles, only to get none of them. It’s spending hours on a self tape until you finally feel satisfied with it, only to not even get a callback. Best case scenario, you might be asked to film an additional video because they were considering casting you, but then you get knocked out the next round because you don’t “fit” how the director sees the character.
In short, an acting career means constant rejection and failure.
I am someone who struggles a lot with failure, and I feel absolutely awful whenever I don’t book a job or don’t get called back for an audition. I have the issue of hyper fixating over every audition that I send in, and I end up feeling really disappointed in myself and doubtful of my abilities if I do not receiving any updates. When you are sending auditions in over and over, but never receiving anything in return, it takes a toll on your mental health. This process makes me feel like there must be something innately wrong with me, and that is why I didn’t get casted - perhaps its my acting, or perhaps its my voice or my clothes. I especially struggled with my appearance due to this detrimental auditioning process, because I convinced myself that the reason I wasn’t booking jobs is because I’m unattractive and that I need to get plastic surgery.
Furthermore, I’ve given up valuable time that could’ve been spent on other things to instead prepare for an audition. This taught me the weight of wanting to pursue acting- it affects your potential to pursue other career or life paths you might be interested in, because you have to fully dedicate yourself if you want to be successful. You must sacrifice other activities or things you feel passionate about in order to provide more time for preparing for auditions that you might not even get a callback for.
This led me to becoming almost apathetic to auditions, and dreading filming self tapes because I believed that I wouldn’t get anywhere with them anyways. At some point, auditioning was so burdensome and berating of an experience for me that I just basically gave up, and barely put in any effort. I no longer took the time to memorize for self tapes, and just submitted them while reading off of the script in my hand. Acting takes place in how one delivers the lines, and you can’t deliver them well if you’re just reading them off of a page. So you can imagine how terrible those self tapes were.
But after four years of constant auditioning, I’ve come to realize that although it sucks, the job of a professional actress is to audition and wait.
Acting is just like any other passion - it’s fun to those who love to do it, but you have to get through the part that isn’t fun first in order to actually get to do it. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that your only chance to act will pretty much be in self-tapes if you choose to pursue acting, I will warn you that the large majority of your time spent upon your “job” is definitely not going to be on set; it will be in your living room, filming yourself do the same lines over and over until you’re on the verge of going crazy.
That being said, it has become extremely important to me to find ways to protect my joy in my craft while I am sending out auditions. One way to do so is doing an audition, then letting it go and doing your best to entirely forget about it. The painful process of waiting is best to just avoid altogether if you can, and I would recommend to keep yourself constantly busy with a side-job or hobby that you can do to break up the mundaneness of auditioning.
Furthermore, you can find places to do fun, recreational acting even if it is unpaid - for example community theatre, or in my case school plays and productions. Although this isn’t professional acting, it is still acting nonetheless, and it should be treated no differently than something which you are being paid to do. I have found a lot of joy in just getting to be in front of an audience, and I think that many actors can agree with me when I say the best part is connecting with people through our portrayal of a character. So find the chance that you can do that, no matter how big or small. Don’t pass up any opportunities to do your art!
Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of having a support network. As actors, we are social creatures who crave the understanding and acknowledgement of our peers. We thrive off of human-to-human interactions, and building lasting, deep relationships. So don’t isolate yourself, make sure to surround yourself with people who you love being around and who love being around you! Your support network will help you in times of need, lift you up when you feel down, or remind you to take care of yourself. For me, my support network of friends and family is the reason why I’ve never given up on my dreams, even though sometimes it feels really hopeless.
Quick tangent: I used to be scared of being on a team that depended on me, because I don’t want to let anybody down. But now, I love being depended upon, because it means that there are people who believe in me, and who want to see me succeed. So remember that your team, whether that be family, friends, or any other group of supporters, loves you no matter what, but there’s a reason why you’re being counted on - they believe in you, so don’t give up and keep chasing your dreams.
I realize now that possibly, all of this hard work of filming auditions and self tapes, that seemingly never pays off, might actually be going towards something, and I just haven't been able to see the bigger picture yet. There’s this story I read about an actor who was never once called back by a casting director that he auditioning for for over 5 times, and then one day suddenly got a call and booked a job through her in just one audition!
So even when it feels like our failures are just dead-ends, leading us absolutely nowhere, in actuality all of our hard work does pay off. It just takes time and patience, to wait it out and be there when the opportunity arrives. I like to imagine that all of the self tapes I’ve done are piling up into a huge mountain, and I will continue to climb that mountain until one day I can finally reach the peak. Given that it is a never-ending journey for actors, to continue climbing their individual mountains and filming self-tapes, it is still encouraging to know that all of my work isn’t just being thrown away - it’s building towards something, and even the worst failures have the potential to become successes.
For example, after COVID-19 began, the number of auditions I had dwindled to very few. I couldn't help but feel like I had moved to LA at just about the worst time - when no productions were going on. But it was during this time that I remotely auditioned for and booked the role of Fiori on Brat TV's Web Series Charmers.
All in all, life as an actor isn’t a dreamboat. It isn’t even in the least bit glamorous. Instead, it is difficult and grueling and soul-sucking, like many other jobs are. However, it can be extremely rewarding, if you are prepared for every opportunity that comes your way. Luck favors those who are prepared to make use of it.
So that being said, constantly finding ways to hone your craft as an actor, to get onstage and perform, is absolutely instrumental to both protecting our joy in what we do as well as our instrument so that we are prepared to deliver outstanding performances whenever we are called to do so.
I hope that this gives a more realistic view of what it looks like to be a professional actress, to any aspiring ones out there. And I hope that together, we’ll be able to keep holding on to this dream, even when it is extremely hard to do so, and chase after what we love with everything we have in us.
Please remember through all of this to practice self-care, to love yourself, and to put your health first. I love you all, and feel free to reach out if you ever want to share anything or need any support!