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Work Begets Work

Posted on: March 31st, 2012 by wmapother 4 Comments

(Another in a series of posts to actors.  For more check out the ‘Info to Actors’ category at left.)

When we’re growing up we’re subjected, for better or worse, to our parents’ musical taste.

(Oh, how I don’t miss the colossal 8-track.)  For me that meant 50s rock-n-roll from my dad, and great songwriters from my mom.  One of my mom’s favorites was the 50s jaunty folk trio The Kingston Trio.  (You can hear strains of their style in early Bob Dylan).

I remember many of their songs, but one in particular has stayed with me. ‘Desert Pete‘ tells about a pump in the desert and a note left there, with instructions for users to leave a jar of water for the next visitor, so he can use it to prime the pump.  It’s vaguely socialistic, if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, but the message is good:  “You’ve got to prime the pump, you must have faith and believe, You’ve got to give of yourself ‘fore you’re worthy to receive.”

I’m going to co-opt that message and make it, as so many actors do, about myself.  (Or you, in this case.) Here it is:  Work begets work.  Jobs almost never come from nowhere.  You must build some momentum to them. You first have got to prime the pump, as it were. Take small, non-paying, non-glamorous jobs.  If you’re attentive and determined to learn, they’ll be a reward unto themselves. But they’re also the path to bigger and better jobs, even if you can’t see how while you’re suffering for free.

I’ve lost track of many times this strategy has paid off for me.  A few years ago I went to NYC for the summer to participate in the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare Lab.  It was a great opportunity, but it was also for no pay and no guarantee to ever appear in one of their prestigious productions. While in NYC, though, I arranged some general meetings with casting directors, and one of those turned into my role in Another Earth.

More recently, I read for a small indie that I wasn’t sure I was right for, but the casting director remembered me the following week and put me in a web series for the new content YouTube is commissioning for itself.

Several years ago I did a tiny indie for almost no money, and that led to voice work on a couple eps of Robot Chicken.  And a weekly writers/actors cooperative (i.e., non-paid) lab that I’m a member of led to a few webisodes of I <3 Vampires. Finally, doing a little computer tutoring for someone back in 2003 led my getting a role in The Grudge.

And I have even touched on how many times I’ve been rehired by the same people, or by people whom I met when I was working, or people who saw work I did for little or no money.  Working = keeping yourself busy, meeting new people, learning lessons about yourself and others, developing skills that might be called upon, perhaps practicing your craft or getting tape for your reel, and a hundred other benefits.

The bottom line:  Whether it’s acting in a short film, working on a webisode in some capacity, making short films on your iPhone just for the hell of it, writing a script to see what’s that like, or even something as apparently unrelated as helping a neighbor rebuild his shed, getting involved and producing work of any sort pays off.  Even if at the time you can’t possibly imagine how.  Just get yourself out there.  Give of yourself before you’re worthy to receive.

Peter O’Brien, a longtime friend and a very good writer, suggested that many of my ‘Info to Actors’ posts apply to younger writers as well.  I wouldn’t presume, but…well, thank you, Peter.

[This is another in a continuing series of potentially helpful, hopefully practical posts to actors on practicing their craft or surviving the trying.  I bear no responsibility for how this or any of my posts might ruin your life, lead you to law school, or make your parents sick with worry.  For more of the same, click the ‘Info to Actors’ category at left.]

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Posted in Acting, Acting Tips & Info, Film, Music, Video (Online & Home)

4 Responses

  1. Rosella Weigand says:

    Very inspiring! I wish other people shared your views. Too many actors miss out on great opportunities due to holding out for the jobs that pay loads of money. I enjoy the freedom that web series permit; however, convincing actors’ agents/managers to let their clients be a part of a web series remains an obstacle for me. I’m still trying, though.

    Right now, my brother Richard & I are getting ready to film the second season of our web series “Curve Your Vampirism.” While it can be a challenge (who doesn’t love one) to film a show with such a low budget, we enjoy the process of creating art. Surprisingly, we’ve gained devoted fans who fell in love with the first season and are really excited to see what happens next on the show.

    I agree. It’s about getting yourself out there anyway you can.

    “Give of yourself before you’re worthy to receive.” — Love this advice! 🙂

  2. Mark Malkoff says:

    Completely true. I hope a lot of actors see your blog post. Great job!

  3. Paula Underhill says:

    Nice thoughts and great advice, my daughter Jenna Underhill is currently “Fay” in Bill Breuers Faerys Kiss currently in rehearsal at the Bardstown Community Theatre. There is no pay if u look at pay as only monetary. Its also a long commute, however, working with Bill Breuer is an opportunity we consider priceless. Hope you are well William.
    Paula Underhill

  4. Paula Underhill says:

    Should have signed it Paula Shacklette Underhill so u would recognize my name…River Road CC.

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