You see, December was the anniversary of “The Day I Stopped Acting”. It was two years ago since I last called myself a working actor. As a former-actor, I didn’t realize that THAT was the day I would stop. It just kinda snuck up on me as a job opportunity that offered full-time work with a growing company and lots of travel across the nation.
At that time 2 years ago, I had run out of money as an actor. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck in LA and had gotten into a terrible running accident and I, as an actor, had let my Screen Actor’s Guild health insurance lapse. (I had no money!) Suffice it to say, because I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t work my day job as a waitress (cliche but true), and so I tore thru what little savings I had left. Virtually penniless, I moved back in with my parents in the SF Bay Area, ashamed of being so old, so overeducated (I have an MFA I’m still paying for!), and so broke.
The job offered a steady paycheck, something I’d never experienced before. (I used to calculate by the 16th of the month if I had enough $ for rent, and if I didn’t, I bought everything on credit card for the next two weeks until I had saved enough cash for rent $.) It offered my own desk, my own line, and a business card! I felt, for the very first time, like an adult. Like my parents wanted me to be: a self-reliant cog in the machine.
The job also had direct hours that clashed with any kind of acting, even acting I did for free (otherwise known as 99-seat theatre in LA). No nights, no weekends. I flew every 2 weekends to some far-away location (Orlando, FL or San Antonio, TX) to do presentations and conduct workshops. My air miles added up. I got bonuses. The work added up. We opened more locations. I got more overwhelmed. I got assistants. I became a regional manager. I got more responsibilities. I hired and I fired. I planned and I executed. I was good at my job and life was smooth.
In other words, I became one of those corporate people, all dressed up at work and spiritually no place to go.
I could ask for more money, but that’s only so I can spend it more on things that numb the pain of not having a passion: clothes, booze, a good dinner at a fancy restaurant.
I could take more yoga and/or exercise more, but that’s only to deaden the aching of not having a real direction or a goal.
I distanced myself from my actor friends and anything acting related because it was hard to see them struggle with money, but be okay with that, and embrace the uncomfortable not-knowing of where they would be tomorrow.
It was hard to see my actor friends so happy, because I realized I wasn’t.
To explain, the two year anniversary was a reckoning that my comfortable life had encapsulated me and now held me hostage in its pleasant grasp.
So what did I do? I sequestered myself for the past month, weighing the pros and cons of life. The only thing that could break into my fort was my all-loving cat and my hopeful fiance who would push me a plate of hot food under the imaginary door of the jail cell of my mind.
Did I miss the acting business? Oh NO! Not at all, I could care less who is doing a pilot or who is rich now or who is casting for the next big asian-american pop star. The long waiting by the phone or the numerous phone calls to keep my name afloat. The trying to impress people. The auditioning and the tap-dancing for my money, no. THAT, I could live without.
But the one thing I did miss, with all my heart, was the joy of creating. Something from nothing! An idea! Let’s put a show on! Let’s entertain people and make them laugh just for a moment. Make them reflective for a moment. Make the world spin or sit still at the magic touch of the right gesture or the right word at the right time. The hush of expectation when the theatre lights dim and the audience falls silent pregnant with ‘the willingness to disbelieve’. The beginning of a world of imagination. The whimsy. A world akin to George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon. I missed the people who lived on that edge of sanity, the ones who sacrificed normalacy for that one moment of utter realistic MAGIC.
I cried for a month, ate Christmas food at my soon-to-be-in-laws with a forced smile, heavily-hearted walked into the new year…. and finally, with what was left of my soul, signed up for my first acting class in two years. Just to feel alive again.
Let the third act begin.