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Behind the Scenes

Behind the ScenesLast week I wrote about Drelle, my friend whose career as an actor didn’t begin until she had divorced and felt free to be herself. This week I’d like to examine a few more of my friends and how big life events affected their career paths.

Tommy: marriage

Tommy had a major in theater and a minor in psychology. He was one of those performers we call triple threats: he could act, sing and dance. We use the term triple threat because if you have these three skills, you are three times as likely to be considered for a live stage role, and there are many more musicals cast than straight plays, no matter what town you’re in.

Tommy was also lucky enough to be gorgeously handsome with a health-club body. In Minneapolis, Tommy was always busy. From week to week all year round, he was either rehearsing or performing in an Equity show. (Equity is the stage actors’ union, comparable to SAG for screen actors, and Equity shows are those which play in the major theaters in a city.)

Equity shows pay well, and they also pay into your union medical and retirement funds, so these are the desired roles. Even if the rare non-union stage play might pay more than Equity scale (and they don’t…), racking up credits for retirement is crucial. When I say Tommy worked in Equity all year long, that is the same as saying he was an in-demand actor who made a decent living. He was one of about 3 percent of the actors in the Twin Cities who could say that.

All was perfect in Tommy’s world until he got married. Oops, that’s a funny thing to say, isn’t it?  He was in his late 30s when he met John, and over a few months, his goals in life changed completely. Tommy and John wanted to get a house together, not to live in either of their small apartments. Tommy started worrying about getting older and no longer being cast as the romantic lead; as a father type he would probably not be working all year round as he had been able to do in leading man roles. Artistically, Tommy was still having fun, but getting married made him stop and think about the future.

Within a year of meeting John, Tommy had gone back to school for his master’s in psychology and then found work in a straight job (tee hee) as the clinical manager of a center for grief counseling. He’s totally happy and never acts any more.

Sue: money

Sue was a flamenco dancer based in Toronto, but on the road with an internationally renowned company most of the year.

Like many of the actors about whom I write, Sue had many creative outlets and many creative skills. Some of my friends have serial careers in different arts and some conduct all their careers simultaneously. Sue is one of the serial types. Before learning flamenco, she was a sculptor with scads of solo shows and representation in several galleries, with high-brow critical reviews written about her work in tony magazines.

After sculpture, after flamenco, Sue discovered acting. She originally took a class simply to help with her dance interpretation, but gradually became more interested in acting than in dancing (although when I rehearsed with her for plays, she would stomp around the theater doing her flamenco moves when she was frustrated with rehearsal.)

So … what to do? She was a beginner actor and knew her competition for paying jobs in Toronto was steep. Yet her artistic soul had already left the castanets, picos, low-back dresses and red lipstick behind. Her new fever was for Tennessee Williams and Garcia-Lorca. How could she support herself and pursue her new dream? She didn’t have a home in Toronto; when in town she bunked with friends because she was on the road living in hotels with the dance tour most of the time.

Sue’s compromise was to take a straight job as a secretary and continue her acting training.

But, wow! Love struck. Sue married her boss, a fabulously wealthy tech executive, and he was happy to support her theater career. Sue quit the job, started her own theater company (with hubby’s money) and never looked back. Talented as she is, she soon began to get the same rave reviews for her playwriting  and acting that she had received for her dance.

Cloe: death

Cloe worked as a substitute teacher during the day and acted in independent film in the evenings and on weekends in San Francisco. Cloe’s husband worked as a business manager. Hubby Bill had a nice income and enjoyed his job. He also enjoyed spending time with Cloe going to dinner, museums, parties, the Giants games, charity events, theater, what have you.

Bill resented the times when Cloe was working in film and couldn’t be his escort to these activities. Somehow, he even was grumpy about films that shot during the work day, even though Cloe would otherwise have been at her job and not spending her days with him. Bill’s resentment and attempts to control Cloe’s activity made her uncomfortable and blocked her as a performer. She limited her auditions and spent more time at dinner parties and receptions with him.

Bill died very young. He was in his 30s, as was  Cloe.

Cloe disappeared from my life for a while because of her choice to spend time with her husband instead of at her craft. But after he’d been dead for about a year, I heard from her again. She was vibrant, enthusiastic, filled with light and life. She was auditioning like mad, teaching a film course, writing film criticism, traveling to LA to audition and, most importantly, working in film again. I view films of Cloe’s performances before and after, and I can tell that she is freer artistically and more full of the character’s life — she is a different actor than she was before.

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