In the years I have struggled in New York for a successful career as an actress and musical theater performer, I discovered a long the way something I was passionate about: The art of the strip tease. I started doing strip-tease telegrams in the 1980s when I first came to New York and looking for a job to make ends meet. I was looking through Backstage one day and saw to the left of the non union audition listings an advertisement that read in part: “Actresses and Dancers wanted for topless strip-tease telegrams.” In smaller print it read “Non-topless OK.” I thought being a former showgirl from Nevada that if the female form can be seen as elegant artful entertainment, why couldn’t I bring that same beauty and creativity to a non-topless strip-tease telegram? While my musical theatre career had it’s up and downs,( mostly downs) my work as a strip-tease telegram performer was pretty consistent.
The job served a purpose for me because I could turn down a gig if I had an audition or dance class or singing lesson to get to during the day. During that time in addition to taking classes and going on auditions, I also invested my money and time in casting seminars and classes. I thought that by attending these casting seminars there was the strong possibility of a casting director or agent seeing my work, and as a result keeping me in mind for whatever projects they were casting and filming. But this opportunity only happened for me a handful of times during the 15 or 20 years I participated in those classes. Instead of work or the possibility of work, what I got from most of those classes was a lot of misinformation about my work and indeed my worth as an actress. Let me stress something very important here that is not always admitted in the industry. MOST CASTING DIRECTORS AND SMALLER AGENTS ARE THEMSELVES FORMER ACTORS. They left the performing end of the business for a vareity of reasons. Many times it has to do with not being able to deal with the instability of the career. Living paycheck to paycheck or worse not knowing when you will find work to land the next paycheck. Finding ways to live on very little may be OK for some but for most it eventually becomes inmpossible. What ever the reason, they were more than likely envious and resentful of the actors who were still managing to hold on and keep chasing the dream. What many people don’t realize is that for every A list actor, there are several thousands of less successful actors with as much talent and dedication but with out the inner drive or the audacity or the breaks to succeed as well. I was impressionable and eager to please especially my first few years living in New York. I spent most of those first years persuing the acting profession with the very strong belief that if I could just keep adjusting my work to meet the demands of everyone in a power position (agents, casting directors and critics) I could succeed. I believed in those formative years that if people in positions of power knew what they were talking about and their critques were valid. That is where I was most wrong. Most of the time they were just imposing their own personal oppinions. Oppinions do not ever represent a universal truth. Even more, their ideas had a narrow minded and limited view of what talent and good work was. David Mamet said in his book “True and False”: “Just as it (the acting profession) attracts the dedicated, it attracts the rapacious and exploitative and these parasites can never be pleased.” I realize many agents and casting directors runnig these casting seminars were exactly who Mamet described. Oh how his words ring true now. I just wish I had come to this realizaton sooner. Most (and I stress not all)of those casting semimars were essentially masturbation exercises for casting directors to talk about themselves, prostilitize about the business and then empower themselves by using acting theory and academia to judge, critizize and condem the work of the actors and actress who presented their work to them. In short they were in the fault finding business and they certainly succeeded with me. They were not there to really look or consider talent for future projects, just look for percieved errors.
I spent so many years not only trying to meet the expectations of those people I was also allowing myself to dismiss my own work as trash. This was a huge mistake I made to myself over and over again. I also got into the nasty habit of condeming my own work because that is what I was led to believe in these classes. As much as I now regret this tragic error at least now I know better. I stress again that this was not every casting seminar or class out there. There were a few people who really did enhance my work and I will be forever grateful to them.
The successful do well in this business because they dismiss others harsh or negative judgements and do their own work. They also know how to promote themselves. The successful own an incredable ability to charm and persuade the right people into getting consideration for the kind of work they want. There is no teaching this kind of personality trait. You eather have it or you don’t. If an artist doesn’t have this kind of trait they can try to channel this kind of energy of the truly successful. I have made a vow to let the truly successful be my Muse. I will channel their charisma and charm and see if I can make it work for myself. Most importantly attending casting seminars and classes from former actors in the business are now a thing of the past. I will spend my time more productively. I will work on “Reveal”. This is a play about my experiences doing stripper-grams. Most importantly, I will continue to remind myself of the remark by Herbert Bayard Swope: “I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure which is-try to please everybody.”