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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Starstruck or Not Starstruck?

When I mention to anyone that I am in the entertainment business (part-time these days but still in there pitching) the first question is usually about the people I meet. Well, the famous people I meet. If I seem nonplussed about some of the names I offer, I will get a second question such as "How can you be blah about a glamorous profession?"

First, the entertainment business is more about making a buck and putting on a show or at least breaking even in the process so you don't have a big success but have to eat cheese and peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. It's not a profession unto itself. But most people pitching away in the business will have conversations much like this one:

A: "Yeah, they did a nice workshop of my play and invited a lot of industry people to see it."
B: "Any feedback on that?"
A: "Not yet - too early, I think, but Elizabeth Taylor was there too which surprised me.
B: "Oh, that's cool. (sometimes you only make a mental note of that and merely move on in the conversation) I didn't know she was into supporting new plays"
A: "I thought I heard she was friends with the guy who is the Managing Director of the theater."
B: "Okay. Potential backer anyway, right?
A: "You just never know."

The playwright in this made-up scene could be someone who teaches English or drama during the day at a school but has connections in the theater and works on many projects, meeting new people all the time. Most of the people who make up the industry as a whole are people you will never hear of but they are people without whom the industry can function. Some are famous as performers, directors, business people and managers. Most are not. The "most are nots" can have as much money as those who are famous and do big projects and be famous within the industry.

If you move in these circles for awhile, where the really famous and unknowns interact on a daily basis you become drawn more into what projects are out there you can get into or what can you pitch and to whom.

I'll draw even a finer line: what you pitch may not be much of a commercial project either but someone - famous or not - may want to do it. I cannot even begin to count how many workshop productions I saw at the Ensemble Studio Theater and other off and off-Broadway theaters in New York working with new scripts, working out the kinks, getting audience feedback and there were well-known and unknown actors working on the material. You won't find this happening just in New York - it happens all over the country especially in big cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia where there is TV and film production work and a lot of theaters.

Before anyone ever sees working in show biz as glamorous, I would advise that person to work as part of a production crew on an all-day shoot of the most famous TV show around. Believe me, after a few hours you will be mentally exhausted and your feet will hurt. That's just fine for those who really love the work; if you are looking for glamour and a chance to interact with big, big stars, you need to look elsewhere. Even when I have been an extra or under-5 on a big TV show or doing a play in New York and big names were in the cast, I had no opportunity to say anything than my lines or do whatever it was the director wanted me to do. I think the longest time I had speaking to another actor on a set was on an episode of "Law and Order." Roscoe Browne was a guest star on this particular episode. I was in a lot of scenes, muted, but visible. I was getting really bored with all the time it took to set up the lights and a shot, then take all that down and set up the next shot. I asked Mr. Browne who was standing next to me, "Is it always this boring between shots? It seems to take forever. I've not been on that many TV shows but this is really getting tedious. Is it always like that?"

He turned to me and nodded. "Yes. Some don't mind it, some don't like it at all."

I mentally checked myself into the "don't like it at all" category. I then understand why many actors friends I had avoided TV and film as much as they could and stuck to the theater. When they needed an infusion of cash or steady, well paying work, they went to TV and film. It wasn't by choice but by necessity.

The things I learned during my time in New York about the business. But I do love the business; I love the pitching and the experimentation. Whether or not the Elizabeth Taylors of the world are involved with that end of it doesn't matter at all to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"I figure it's the sitting around they pay me for. The acting I do for free." - Edward G Robinson