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Commuter

When I was a kid, I decided that I would excel at whatever artistic endeavor I wanted. And that’s how you end up with a theatre degree.

When I was a kid, I decided that I would excel at whatever artistic endeavor I wanted. And that’s how you end up with a theatre degree.

           

They say the odds are a kazillion to one, but obviously someone has to be that One, so it might as well be you. Oh, they love to tell you how you’ll fail. Not because they have something against you personally, but because people like to be right. But you know that the only reason people don’t make it is because they don’t want it enough. You want it enough. You’re committed to doing whatever it takes. It’ll be tough, but you’re tougher.

 

And you sit with your friends at the campus coffee house smoking cloves, buying cappuccino with your student loans and joke about being starving artists. In the scenario in your mind: you, the starving artist, sit on the fire escape outside your apartment’s window, with all of Manhattan spread out before you. You burn Nag Champa incense and perfect monologues. Your mattress sits on the floor, your curtains are thrift store lace table clothes and you cook rather than eat carry-out. Scratch that--you eat carry out. You’re single, living in the East Village, and self-sufficient. You get Kung Pao Chicken and eat it out of the box. With chopsticks. And a bottle of chardonnay. While smoking fiendishly.  If this is starving, you can do this. The people who can’t do this are the ones who need stability, a family, a three bedroom house, the new Mustang. You can do without such crutches. Proud to be an  artist, you are bohemian.

 

Not that you would listen, but what no one tells you at this crucial point is just how completely unromantic starving is. And how finite the niche for which you’re qualified.

 

Enter: The Day Job.  Spending hours as a temp at any number of law firms, folding khakis at The Gap, or serving venti frappuccino’s to teenagers.

 

You’re going to try to find the perfect job that pays well and is flexible enough to support your acting career. And then after awhile, you’re just going to get a job to support yourself while you look for that perfect yet elusive other job. You’ll put your degree to good use answering calls.  Filing.  Fixing broken copiers.  Bringing coffee to clients. Cleaning the bathroom,  ordering Corner Bakery, booking your boss’s suite at Mandalay Bay in Vegas. 

 

Welcome to a 45 to 90 minute commute, staying late, working overtime, picking up extra shifts, and thinking how you should have gone to secretarial school or wishing that you had three years of fine dining experience under your belt. Welcome, to your boss, giving you that superior grin while you still really can’t afford another cuppa coffee heavily laced with an espresso shot every morning, but buy it today because you had rehearsal until eleven last night. Welcome to the balancing act of the double life, the Rubix Cube of Artist Vs. Income. All the world is a stage, and all the men and women…merely actors.

 

Welcome to showbiz, kid.

 

I recently hail from Chicago, where you can spot businessmen by their blue shirt/yellow tie combo. Here, in Hollywood, that’s been traded for torn jeans/sunglasses. They want your availability: do you tell them you’re an actor so you can get a flexible schedule? Or do you lie? I’ve lost jobs because Actor=Flake in many an employer’s eye. But in Hollywood, things seem to be a little different. EVERYONE’S an actor, so is it seems expected, so is it OK to tell? Conundrum.

 

And everyone wants to know your skills.

 

Skills? I’ve got mad skills. I can build twelve foot drops and paint flat surfaces to look like the fucking Coliseum.  I can paint murals, make renderings, build scaled models. I’m a highly believable insane Shakespearean girlfriend. I can walk on top of a ball. I’m a virtual creative genius.

 

I have filled out enough applications to be responsible for destroying about one eighth of the Rainforest. I feel bad about that. I am an expert resume writer, and have numerous drafts tailored to restaurant, bartending, administrative, retail, and freelance jobs. Also, various jobs in the arts. Depending on where I’m applying. For a small fee, I would be happy to proofread and edit yours.

 

I’m sending out one such resume when Quinn, pretty curly haired Quinn with his blue shirt and his yellow tie, Mr. VP investment banker, comes to my temporary desk at my new temporary job and his fingers let fly a crisp sheet of paper on the counter top. I know it. I have five of it’s brothers in my trash already. “But, see how it’s crooked on the page?” he asks. “Just barely, but it is.”

 

Quinn’s a nice guy. He’s just subject to the grand disillusionment of the corporate machine. So I tell him I’ll fix it and then he utters something strange. “Hey, by the way. I heard a rumor you do plays or something?”

 

When I was in college and sat across a big cluttered desk from my advisor, she said to me, “Minor schminor. You want to be an actor, BE AN ACTOR. Want my advice? Don’t waste your time getting a minor in something ‘to fall back on.’”

 

“So being a receptionist,” he says, light dawning, “is just like, your day job? It isn’t what you want to do?”

 

They are so cute when they figure it out.

 

There was this bookstore I wanted to work at once, they sold wine and had readings and story time and supported local authors. But it only paid $8 an hour. I don’t know why everything that is self-gratifying and has soul pays $8 an hour. Max. I mean, that’s the cap. Otherwise, your pay comes out of a cap, the one you hold at the lobby doors after a performance. The pity cap.

           

When I lived in Cleveland, the first thing anyone said to me when I told them I was an actor was “You should write Drew Carey.”

 

Dear Drew,

            Guess what? I’m an actress and live in Elliot Ness’s old town, the Heart of Rock n’ Roll, home of the Jake and the Great Lakes Brewing Company. Your town. And guess what else? We’re alumni. That’s right! Go Flashes! So, can I be in your show?

            Love,

             Tiffany

 PS Cleveland Rocks.

And when I go back home, I see how they look at me.  I have really DONE something in their eyes.  Sometimes I don't feel like I have.  Sometimes I envy their cozy little stable lives. A house with siding and a white front porch, a Ford truck, six acres. They all work at factories, on farms, or in schools. They have latch-key kids and bring home Pizza Hut and on Saturdays go to the mall.  Everyone goes to Youngstown State  or Kent State or Ohio State and everyone majors in computer science, political science, or medical science or they join the military. In my town they are Methodists or Presbyterians and the Girl Scouts come by and you can see the stars at night. The women go shopping and the men go hunting and we get really excited when something like an IHOP or Target moves in. But if I would have chosen to stay in Ohio--if I never would have moved to the city, I KNOW I always would have wondered.  I KNOW I would have had regret. I would have gotten a graphic design degree and snagged some steady job with a sense of security. And benefits. And bonuses. And raises.

 

But see, I don’t want to give in to the Day Job. That’s why I went into theatre in the first place. If I have to work to live, I’m damn well going to spend that time doing something I enjoy. It ismy life after all. That’s why I left Chicago. There’s a lot of theatre there, but you’ll never make a dime doing it. And I have a hard time resigning myself to being said receptionist and just acting at night.

 

If I you have to have a job and act on the side, then doesn’t that make it a hobby?

 

So I came to sunny L.A. where even a silly little print ad can pay $200.

 

Here, where the city is waterlogged with prospective actors, what I “do” doesn’t feel so much like who I “am.” I work for a catering company on the weekends. I’m dabbling in production. And I am hoping to land a part-time retail job.

 

It’s tricky. If you work too much or too steady or have set hours, you can’t audition, let alone get cast.  AOL had this commercial several months ago where the announcer referred to the listener as “Mr. I Had a Drama Degree Now I Work at the Bank.”

 

And if you don’t work enough, you, well, you live in Venice Beach with a shopping cart and sleeping bag.

 

When I started on this “career” path, I never thought I’d be saying, “I applied at this cupcake place down the street from me. It’s run by a baker and her artist boyfriend and they make organic gourmet cupcakes and I really hope I get it because it’s so close to home and it’d actually be creative.”

 

Oh, but I have uttered these words. And I didn’t get the job and I still wonder why and I’m still sometimes a little disappointed.

 

Larry was one of my bosses. He wore blue shirts with yellow ties. He said to me once, “Do you know who you are?” And I said yeah. Sure. Thought I had a good idea of who I was, where I was going, what I wanted. I liked myself. That I had no idea what he meant. And he continued, “Because in ten years, I don’t think you’ll even recognize yourself.”

He didn’t see the difference between a hobby and goal. He couldn’t fathom doing something for free, for the love of it. So he couldn’t understand the insatiable need to pursue every route, every possibility, and to take every chance because it might mean…it might mean getting there.

 

It might be worth answering his phones.

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