If you have not already done so this post is part of a series on Dreams and you can read the two previous posts below.
- Dream 3: Hell in the EastThe seeds of yet another dream can be traced back to family summer vacations spent in the Canadian Rockies from age ten. Unconventional, we spent…
- Dream 2b or not 2bIf you have not already done so this post is part of a series on Dreams and you can read the two previous posts below….
With each local commercial, role in an indie film or completed theater run for the performance studio the more confident I became in the dream that would take me to New York City to become a working actor–That is to make a living out of being an actor. I had the equation all set in my mind.
For the next few years while I pursued acting in Minneapolis, my day job was in print sales. Being in sales afforded me the freedom to go on auditions, take days off here and there for a commercial shoot or film, just as long as I hit my monthly quota. It was a cushy job that also afforded me a fiery red, 5-speed VW Jetta, bachelor pad condo overlooking one of the Minneapolis lakes in a trendy part of town and a leather couch. On paper I was on my way! Next on the list; white picket fenced home, wife and kids. The same path most of my high school cohorts followed. While I had started down this path did I really want to continue? Seems not as this story unfolds.
My first time in New York City during a previous sales job was a life changing experience and one in which you will have to read about once my book is published (Fall 2021). All I will say is I knew someday I would be living in New York but at the time did not know how. Fast forward and I knew after a few successful years as an actor in Minneapolis it was time to roll that dice.
I sold everything including the Jetta, condo and leather couch, quitting my cushy job and pocketing the money. What I had left was packed into ten boxes to be shipped once getting an apartment. I had enough money to live without having to work for at least a year so that I could get my acting feet on the ground by taking classes, joining an off-off Broadway theater company and start shopping around for an agent–All part of that equation.
A big risk for someone in their 30s, conventional wisdom and societal norms require that you be married with a mortgage, debt, and slave to a full-time job. At least that is how I envisioned it (Still do). I chose a less worn path with only the dream as my compass. But I would be moving to a city full of dreamers and risk takers. Risk plus effort equals pay off right? Wrong!
While I won’t go into the sordid details of the first year in New York, I will say that it was hellish. Shedding my Minneapolis skin for a thicker New York one was painful. As for acting I was able to take classes and do a few plays and short films during the first year without having to work. The next year I needed to at least work part-time in the evenings if the dream was to continue to hold out promise. I had met like-minded dreamers and we all supported one another in our pursuits. Some as actors, others as writers and artists. What we all had in common besides a dream was the struggle.
I never figured in my equation that there would be 100 times more actors with a dream than there were in Minneapolis. And to top it off most were working actors, but not that kind of “working.” Come to find out, as the cliché goes if you are a waiter or waitress 99% chance you’re an actor. Once realizing these facts I made a pact that I would never work as a waiter as long as I was pursuing the dream. I held out not working as long as I could but conceded by taking an evening part time job in an industry I knew–printing. I continued for the next few years with classes doing occasional off-off Broadway plays and short indie films for students in university film departments.
There were two events that woke me up to realizing the futility of the dream–taxes and a fellow Minnesotan. Doing my taxes I realized that I spent more money on classes and other things related to acting than what I made acting. That is not the definition of a working actor. It was my part-time job that kept me afloat and able to spend money on those classes and life in New York.
The fellow Minnesotan, Steve, was a neighbor of mine who ended up landing me an apartment in Greenwich Village where I lived for most of my time in the city. A long time “working actor” Steve introduced me to a lot of famous and not so famous people. Having been in the business for many decades I was able to get an inside scoop to the reality of the world of acting. In his 50s he was one of those working actors with a long resume including films, television and Broadway–The quintessential working actor and one I thought I wanted to emulate.
Over time it became clear that while he was working it seemed regularly there were periods of time when he wasn’t sure if he’d have enough to pay his rent. He’d even asked me on occasion to lend him some money. I didn’t have any to lend and in hindsight glad this was the case. Turned out he shook everyone down over time. It was then that I realized that I did not love acting enough to put myself in a situation in which I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. I did not have the willingness to give up everything for the pursuit of a soon-to-be futile dream, but failure did not figure into my equation. This realization came with a cost. So devastated I was that one night while walking the ten block walk home from the part-time job, I was feeling especially distraught.
As my per my usual routine I stopped at the local bodega (convenience store) to get a milk and cinnamon cake. I was sober for seven years at the time and milk and cake were a good substitute. On this particular night stuck in a sorrowful spin in my head was leading toward anger for giving up on the dream. Placing the cake and the milk on the counter, the clerk, a middle age Pakistani whom I got to know very well from my three weekly visits during my walk home rang up my total.
I had been buying the same cake and milk for months and noticed this time he overcharged me five cents, which was all it took for me to lose my shit. And like a good New Yorker I started projecting the weight of my internal failure in the form of obscenities the likes he’d never experienced. The pent up fury of this failed dream came rushing out and onto this innocent bystander. Throwing my change at him, I stormed out without the milk and cake and continued to scream as I walked towards my apartment. Thankfully this being New York, a foul mouthed crazy person is more the norm. As I walked two more blocks I began to calm down and stopped at a traffic light on the corner of 7th Avenue and 17th Street–My fork in the road.
Waiting for the light to turn green I noticed behind me a neon sign lit up with the words “Irish Bar.” I’m not Irish, but the appeal lie in the next word. If you recall I had not had a drink in over seven years. My internals were so messed up because of this delusional view that dreams consisted of equations, put in the effort, take risks equals an inevitable payoff. Conditioned by culture, simply delusional or both it didn’t matter I wanted to escape this reality.
While waiting for the light to turn green time stopped and for an eternity as I agonized over the two clear choices in front of me. Continue home and confront this glitch in my psyche or drink it away knowing full well where that path would lead. The sound of a blaring taxi horn drove me out of my head and into the present moment. I knew the answer did not lie in the bottle. It was time to confront this glitch and walk home. And so I did. In fact, I continued walking around the city late into the night letting thoughts come and go as I began the process of coming to terms with my failed dream at becoming a working actor. Reeling for a few months I made a rash decision to move out of the city only to return knowing New York was not quite done with me yet. But that story is for another time.
Come on back for the next dream installment in a few days.