Dear Working Actor, What’s the path to acting success?

Jackie Apodaca, a professor of theater at Southern Oregon University, has co-written the book “Answers from ‘The Working Actor’” with actor Michael Kostroff (best known for his five seasons on HBO’s ”The Wire”). Taken from the actor’s trade paper “Backstage,” the book gives a fascinating picture of the complex and confusing world of the acting profession.

Written in the style of advice to the lovelorn, “Answers” consists of years of words of wisdom given to struggling actors who have written to them, signing off with such names as Frustrated, Beyond Confused, Confused Yet Determined, and Lost in La La Land. They offer solid research and techniques to navigate the ins and outs of such a daunting environment. I chatted with Apodaca over lunch at Greenleaf Restaurant in Ashland.

EH: What is your best advice?

JA: There’s no one answer to any question. The only people you can trust are the people that say they “don’t know.” If they say: “This is what you have to do,” they’re lying. In the book I’m constantly saying, “I think this, but some people say this,” or “Here are the 15 different paths you could take.” I try to frame everything in that mind set. Hopefully if people can take away, “Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. It’s going to be different for you.” That’s probably my best piece of advice.

A common saying that acting teachers use is: “If there’s anything else you can do, go and do it.” I think it’s actually evil to say that to young artists. Actors are artists who act. If you’re enjoying it: Act. It doesn’t have to be this soul-crushing success or failure. This industry is a confusing tangled mess. Even if you make your living off of acting one year, you probably won’t the next. That’s something you have to cozy up to and get comfortable with, if you want to do it at all. The realities of acting as a career or a business are very bleak. They’re not simple. There’s no “making it.”

Pursuing your life as an artist is going to cause you to have moral, social and emotional dilemmas all of the time: What is important to you? Are you still on the path of what was important to you? When do you know you’ve gone off that path? How are you going to create your own personal ethos to be able to live your life in a satisfying way? When have you betrayed yourself even as you gain success?

Actors are emotionally forward, we’re trained to have access to our feelings. That’s a lovely gift. The industry isn’t about helping you with your feelings, or seeking you out, and finding your beautiful shining talent. You have to look at it in a cold way or you’ll be heartbroken all of the time.

I think that acting is a fantastic way of expression and artistry that is healing and important. But I think that our obsession with success blocks that, because we constantly say, “Do you make a living at it?” Success is based on these weird ideas that don’t have much to do with our actual lives. If you want to be an actor, be an actor. But remember that “being an actor” doesn’t mean anything. It’s more about what you do. Acting is all about action, playing action. If we can remove some of the fetishism of the idea of “success,” maybe we can just enjoy it and find unusual and fun ways to do it.

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