When I graduated from college, I decided to pursue an acting career. (I know, my parents were thrilled.)
My first year at it, I spent most of my time working as a temp receptionist to scrape together money to pay my New York City rent.
Every week, I bought Backstage, the theatrical weekly, and read through the call notices. Most were for unpaid and non-union work.
If something sounded good, I’d mail in a picture, or attend a cattle call, where hundreds of hungry and desperate actors lined up for hours for a chance to be seen for a minute, maybe less.
It was hard to feel like I was making any progress.
But the summer after I graduated, someone told me about the Actor’s Information Project.
And everything changed.
The Actor’s Information Project was a membership organization for actors. The idea was to train actors to think like business owners. To take them out of feeling powerless and at the mercy of the industry. To help them set clear goals, and take consistent action to meet those goals.
When you joined AIP, you got a full-day workshop. When I joined, I was thrilled to sit in the little dark auditorium alongside Broadway actors, and film actors, and soap opera actors. I think now I must have been the least experienced, and least well-trained person in the room.
You could take additional workshops. I did. Like the 16-week Career Intensive, or the 12-week RISK class.
But mostly AIP was a place to belong. As a member, you had a physical space to go to. A place to rest between auditions. To talk with other actors. You had ongoing access to career coaches you could meet with one-on-one to discuss your obstacles, your road blocks.
Some of us formed informal support groups. Small groups of maybe six people who met weekly to share our goals, to report our actions, and to get encouragement from our fellow actors.
Periodically, someone at AIP would break through. We cheered when Jessica Tuck and Bill Christian were cast in All My Children and One Life to Live. When someone nearly got a role in a feature film or was called back for a theatre production, or went out on a tour. These successes were reported in our monthly newsletter, encouraging fodder for the rest of us, signs that we too could have our own breakthrough moment.
We shared resources and suggestions. Passing on which agents might open the door and talk to you when you knocked. Spreading the word about Metamorphosis, the image consulting salon were many of us got made over. Who to go to for headshots, or resume design.
At AIP, you belonged to a community of like-minded actors. Unlike the bigger pool of actors out there, at AIP, we were positive and proactive. We knew whether we were working towards a theatre, film, TV, or commercial goal. We knew the names of the agents and casting directors we needed to know. We talked strategically about our support jobs.
As a member, I started to feel hope. I started to see real progress. My first year, I worked with other actors to produce a show case for industry folks. (I got more praise for my original writing than my acting, but that’s not the point.)
I met agents and casting directors. I got a resume that showcased the limited experience I had, and I got better headshots. I started researching regional theatre seasons, and pinpointing where I might fit. I got more disciplined about working on my monologues.
I took the RISK class and set an “impossible” goal of securing the rights to a favorite book to produce as an acting vehicle for myself. I met the actress Christine Lavin, who I envisioned in a key role, and delivered a packet to her about the project. I got my own makeover, and really good headshots that dramatically increased the number of auditions I was called in for.
I realized I needed better training, and got it.
I was cast in a feature film that you can still buy on Amazon today. And through AIP, I found a coach to help me prepare for the shoot.
Why am I telling you all this?
When we want to do something difficult, it helps to have a place to belong.
When we want to do something ambitious, it helps to be surrounded by people who see your value and cheer you on.
It helps to share stories of success and failure.
It helps to share resources.
When you want to do something difficult, you need nourishment to show up every day. You need nourishment to take the scarier steps. You need nourishment to keep going through the dry patches.
Training is great. Information is useful. Knowing new tactics is helpful.
But ultimately, none of that matters much if you don’t have the juice, the will, the motivation to put it to use day after day.
When I quit acting after eight years, it wasn’t because I felt I had failed. I simply believed I could do better and be more fulfilled doing something else. I quit with a sense of pride for all I had accomplished, against all odds.
Without AIP, I wouldn’t have lasted as long in such a tough industry, or gone as far. I worked as a paid actress. I had brief periods making my living from acting. That’s saying something.
And everything I had learned along the way served me well when I became a coach.
It only just occurred to me that AIP was the invisible inspiration for the Action Circle that I’ve been leading in some form for the last six years.
That I wanted to create for business owners some of what I found so nourishing as a young and green actress.
A place to belong. A place to be supported. A place to be encouraged to make the most of whatever talent and looks and ability you had. A place to be inspired to take the next brave step or do the same tedious but necessary task over and over again.
Being a business owner is not so different from being an actor. It’s an act of courage to say that you will create your own opportunities to do the work you love most. To show up day after day to create those opportunities. To leverage your training and abilities to a level where you can actually earn your living.
It takes vision and ambition. It takes creativity. But mostly it takes showing up over and over and over and over.
And anything that helps us do that is golden.