Comscore

Best route for a 40-year-old actor?

Quixote73 Profile Photo
Quixote73
Swing
joined:8/21/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 07:40pm
Hello,

My question for the forum is two-fold:

1) Should I go to a conservatory as a full-time student?
2) Should I start auditioning immediately and take classes as I (try to) work? If so, what are the best cities to start out in?

Background: I will be 40 years old by April. I started theatre when I was 12, performed in plays and musicals throughout high school, but for many long and complicated reasons, I did not get on stage after high school for over 20 years as I pursued a career in education. I have recently gotten back into it again over the last year, and have started taking voice lessons and acting classes, and performing in community theatre. I would like to pursue my dream of being an actor.

Challenges: Aside from the normal challenges of trying to make a living being an actor, I will be 40 with limited experience and training. I am not a triple threat -- I can act and sing, but dancing has always been difficult for me.

Advantages: I am not married and have no kids, and I have saved up a good chunk of money. I can afford to go to a 2-3 year conservatory full-time (although it would blow out a good portion of my savings).

Considerations to date: At this point, I am leaning away from the full-time conservatory option based on the advice of others that I know in the business, and due to the fact that it is expensive (tuition alone runs about $30K/year) -- although I haven't ruled it out. I am leaning against going to NYC -- although I would not be against it if I thought it was a realistic option, which I don't believe it is at this point. I am considering smaller markets like Seattle, Chicago, Boston, or DC, as well as my hometown area, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Orlando area, where I would take classes and lessons part-time and audition during the day. I have heard that Chicago is a good place for non-Equity actors to get work, although it doesn't pay that well. However, I am more interesting in gaining experience than the pay, as I have enough savings to be fortunate enough as to not have to worry about that for the short term. My goal is to train and gain as much experience as I can in both straight acting and musical theatre.

I would very much appreciate any constructive advice you could provide me as to what route would be best for me given where I am in life, and what cities might be good for a relatively inexperienced, not-so-young actor to begin his career.

Thank you in advance,
Steve
Patti LuPone FANatic Profile Photo
Patti LuPone FANatic
Broadway Legend
joined:3/4/06
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 08:11pm
Hello Steven: I can't speak as a theatre professional or student, but as an audience member and theatre aficionado. I applaud you for wanting to improve yourself and gain additional theatre training. However, I'm sure you're aware that the theatre world is cut-throat for employment prospects...and that's for seasoned/trained people. Then, you factor in all of those people moving into NYC every year, searching for their dream. Employment prospects for any theatre person seeking employment if problematic...even more so as one reaches a certain age/decade. If you want to go ahead and train because theatre is your passion, it is something you should. Please temper those goals with realistic expectations. I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide. Roman in Austin, Texas
Susan Haskins (Theatre Talk): "I love children. That's why I work with Michael (Riedel)."
Quixote73 Profile Photo
Quixote73
Swing
joined:8/21/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 08:44pm
Hi Roman, thanks for your message and your comments. Yes, I'm well-aware of the challenges in becoming a professional actor, especially in NYC, which is why I am not planning to move there, as I stated in my original message. However, I am exploring regional theatre options, which is why I posed the questions as I did.

I would appreciate it if further comments would focus on my questions and not remind me how difficult it is to become a professional actor -- I'm already well-aware of this fact.

Thank you,
Steve
GavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 09:05pm
Steve, my own career hasn't gone so well that I feel you need MY advice. But here are a few thoughts:

A conservatory program might provide a safe place to hone your craft for a few years, but (a) it is expensive (as you point out), and (b) most undergrad programs aren't tailored for someone your age. If you have a bachelor's degree, you might find an MFA program more helpful, but even there you will be at the top end of the age group. I would further worry that the connections you make at a conservatory won't really help you later because you'll be out of the expected age range; but I could be ENTIRELY wrong.

I wouldn't worry about not being a great dancer. There are exceptions, but most roles for 40+ actors do not require great technical dance skills.

You're right on the cusp of the age where longtime performers are giving up the theater for a more stable life teaching or doing something else. That may work to your advantage in a few years, but it's hard to say at exactly what age the crowd really thins out. Maybe somebody who's aged as an actor can comment on this.

If you do decide to move and start auditioning, don't ignore LA as a possibility. Out here, where there is less paying theater and a LOT of "waiver" productions (what they call "showcases" in NYC), there isn't the same stigma about being non-Equity. Many of our best actors make their money from film and TV and never feel the need for an Equity card; nonetheless, they appear in plays and musicals all the time.

Of course, LA is just as big as NYC, but more spread out. Living here presents special challenges.

Have you auditioned for SETC?

http://www.setc.org/auditions

I'm a native Floridian myself, but it's been decades since I lived there. It used to be that stock and dinner theaters often hired a couple of "character types" (read "40 and over") to play a part in each show for an entire season. Such a job would give you much of the experience of a conservatory without the outflow of cash.

And it would give you a chance to test the waters before making a huge move across the country...

Again: these are just my thoughts. I'm not an actor and, although I do make a little money as a playwright, my track record is nothing you should emulate.

Updated On: 9/30/12 at 09:05 PM
My Oh My Profile Photo
My Oh My
Broadway Legend
joined:6/29/07
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 09:08pm
I, too, got 'stuck' in education but rush home every day and belt my ass off to cast recordings. I stop short of saying I would make a great performer because I can't act! I've got a decent voice. Most of all, performing in general doesn't interest me, so no real loss but you seem to really want this and if you have a good, solid set of pipes and could act so that you convince others enough to be moved by your performance, then I say go for it.

If you're generally a shoddy singer and your acting is like mine (monotone or like Madonna's: dead eyes), then I'd probably say to go a safer route, unless you have obvious potential brewing inside of you. At the end of the day, talent is what garners roles, not where you went to school or who you trained with. Training can have a great impact on and improve an already robust talent, and can do wonders for a working actor who's never had formal training. I generally feel really sorry for those who obviously lack any significant talent or appeal and spend their lives training to reach a level they've only scratched the surface of late in their career.

Physically, I can see you fitting many roles. I think 40 isn't too late to be successful, provided there's the talent. Obviously, when it comes to young, leading male roles, being 40 will make those unlikely. But most of the best male roles are for actors of your age range anyway. I'm sure actors like Craig Schulman could tell a tale or two about being cast over others much younger for leading male roles in hit musicals.

I will be 40 in approximately 6 years. That scares the crap out of me, lol. Even though I look young for a 34 year old, I'm at that stage where everything just begins to fall apart ever so slightly. Aging sucks. =(

Anyway, I sincerely wish you the absolutely best and I hope to be seeing your name in a program in the near future. =)
Recreation of original John Cameron orchestration to "On My Own" by yours truly. Click player below to hear.
GavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 09:14pm
I agree with My Oh My that training may focus talent, but study won't fix an absence of native ability.

But I don't think we can underestimate the importance of contacts in terms of creating a career. It's not that directors actually think, "So-and-so can't act, but she's my friend." At least not usually. But who you know has a lot to do with whether you get seen in the first place. And we all like to work with people whose company we enjoy: that's true in every field.

So do add ability-to-network to your equation, Steve, along with talent and training and experience.
Quixote73 Profile Photo
Quixote73
Swing
joined:8/21/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 09:55pm
Thank you so much for all of your advice! As far as talent, I do have talent in acting and singing, but what I need is more formal training, and, as you point out, connections.

I should have mentioned before that while the Tampa Bay area is where I was born and raised, I also lived four years in DC (in the education and non-profit fields, not in theatre), and I have lived for the past 9 years in Japan. However, I am leaving Japan in April, and considering where to move to. At first it will be back home to Tampa, but I will need to decide whether to stay there or move elsewhere. I'm more interested in doing good, rewarding work rather than just something lucrative yet uncreative (like dinner theatre). There are some professional theatre companies in the Tampa Bay-Orlando area, but of course it is a much smaller market than Chicago, Seattle, or even DC. I liked DC and still have a social network there, but I don't know enough about the theatre scene there to make a judgement as to whether it would be a good place for me to start.

It is interesting that one person mentioned that there is a stigma with non-Equity work. I have actually been told that it is better to remain non-union until you absolutely have to join. In Chicago, I've been told that most of the theatre work there is non-union.

I have considered LA, but I think the competition is simply too much for me. While I'm definitely not opposed to doing TV or film, my main interest is theatre. Would LA offer me enough to do theatre professionally with the occasional TV or film work? I rather doubt it, but perhaps others with more experience can comment on that further.

I think I share some of your concerns with regard to going to a conservatory full-time, which is why I am leaning against that option. Most likely I will try the Tampa Bay-Orlando area for a while to test the waters there, get situated back in the States again after being away for 9 years, and then consider my next steps.

Is there anyone who has lived in Seattle, Chicago, or DC and has worked as an actor? If so, I'd love to know about your experiences and get your advice.

Thanks again for all of your comments and warm wishes!
Steve
GavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 10:34pm
What were you doing in Japan, Steve? Your experience there may afford you considerable cachet on the West Coast. Speaking of which, San Francisco is expensive, but in terms of size, it might offer a middle ground between LA and Tampa.

But I have to ask, if you think LA and NYC will be too overwhelming, what are your long-term goals? There are exceptions, mostly in education, but most performers who make a living in show business do so in one of four places: LA, Vegas, NY and Chicago (probably in that order and I'm not 100% sure you can survive indefinitely in Chicago).

If you want a career, you're going to have to tackle one of the big markets eventually I suspect.
Quixote73 Profile Photo
Quixote73
Swing
joined:8/21/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 9/30/12 at 11:51pm
I have been teaching English at Japanese universities here for a little over 9 years.

I think NYC or LA would be overwhelming for an actor who has relatively little experience or formal training. I just don't think it would be realistic at this point, especially NYC. The only way I would consider NYC right now is for formal training, and if I were 10 years younger I would most likely go that route. However, at my age, spending two years and tens of thousands of dollars in a conservatory is probably not my best bet. I am certainly not ruling out going to LA or NYC for my future career, but I think now I need to gain more experience and training. NYC would be great for training, but it is mostly Equity work, from what I understand, and I would be competing against actors who have been on stage and/or on screen since they were children. My long-term career goal is simply to make a living at acting/singing without degrading myself or degrading others. My goal is not to be a star on Broadway or Hollywood, but to do meaningful, rewarding work as an actor/singer and continue to take formal training, to continuous improve and refine myself as an actor/singer. So if that means that I eventually must move to LA or NYC, then I will do so, but I am leaning against doing that until I get more experience and training.
perfectlymarvelous Profile Photo
perfectlymarvelous
Broadway Legend
joined:5/21/07
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 12:10am
I know that some schools have classes for people who are past college age and just want to try things out...I know this is vague and it may not be a conservatory style thing, but since you don't have any formal training how about trying that? Maybe taking some acting classes at a public college?

And for what it's worth, I go to a CUNY in NYC and there are people of all ages who go to school with me...one of the people in my theater program is a little bit over 40, and she actually has worked professionally and just never finished college and decided to come back and do a degree.

There are lots of ways to get training besides a conservatory program, and it could be as simple as enrolling in acting classes and finding a voice teacher and taking lessons, at least as a start.
goldenboy Profile Photo
goldenboy
Broadway Legend
joined:7/15/05
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 12:56pm
A Secondary Market is a wonderful idea.

Here are some that have had good working opportunites for actors. Consider Orlando, Wilmington North Carolina, Atlanta, Miami,..all have thriving tv and film and theatre opportunities. Vancouver Canada is a great place as well.

Los Angeles and New York are very very difficult.
I booked a lot of tv and film work in Orlando but New York and Los Angeles prove very difficult and quite a challenge. Think differently and definitely do a secondary market.

As for training, that depends on your ability right now.

Where are you right now in terms of cities?. I would recommend going to an agent , casting director or coach to ascertain what would be your best plan-regarding conservatory or training.

Perhaps I can recommend a teacher or casting director to steer you in the right direction.

For example in Florida .. Jane Kelly a wonderful acting coach can steer you in the right direction as can Lori Wyman (Casting Director) in Miami. Lori does workshops as well as casts. She works closely with Jane.

In Wilmington and Atlanta there are agents and similar people that can steer you in the right direction.

I had much success in Orlando as an actor while currently struggling in New York as a middle age actor.

good luck and welcome to the boat.

newintown Profile Photo
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 01:09pm
If you want to spend through your savings in 2-5 years, and have some fun doing it, you seem to have the right idea.

Turning to acting as a career (rather than a hobby) at 40 during a recession is probably not a decision that makes any sense at all, but if it's what you really want to do, why not?

You should know, though, that regional theatres that pay a living wage are not increasing in number these days; opportunities that will allow you to support yourself solely by performing will be few and far between (if there are any at all).

I would advise that you approach such a decision from the most pessimistic (rather than optimistic) point of view - that is, how would you deal with failure, were it to come?
SonofRobbieJ Profile Photo
SonofRobbieJ
Broadway Legend
joined:12/10/09
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 01:58pm
If that is a picture of you, and it is representative of the type of roles you'll play (meaning your physical type matches your 'acting' type), I'd head straight to LA. You've got a good look that is very marketable. You have access to the small, but thriving local theatre scene in LA, as well as regional houses along the west coast. I have friends who make their livings by booking a few commercials a year and then doing theatre the rest of the time.

I have lots of friends in Orlando, and many do well down there, but usually need to keep another job of some kind. Unless you land a Disney gig. Which are really pretty good gigs, if you don't mind working for the Mouse.

As an approaching 40-ish actor in NYC, I can tell you it's tough. I've been thinking about LA, myself. But, my life has gone through a lot of major changes in the last year+ that I'm not sure I can handle another one right now. So...I plug along here.
GavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 01:58pm
newintown's advice is good for all of us.

perfectlymarvelous is absolutely right that there are options short of paying for a full-time conservatory program. Here is one well-known studio in NYC:

http://www.hbstudio.org/index.htm


There are others in NYC and also in LA. No doubt elsewhere as well, but I haven't lived anywhere else since the 1970s.

I should have mentioned Orlando earlier. No doubt I'm biased against anything Floridian because I'm from there, but I have a couple of friends from high school who have made their careers in Central Florida. They aren't actors, but obviously there's work to be had there.

Yes, NY and LA are tough, but I've spent decades in those cities. Frankly, I find the idea of living in Japan far more daunting. And you aren't 18.
The Distinctive Baritone Profile Photo
The Distinctive Baritone
Broadway Legend
joined:8/28/04
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 04:37pm
Lots of good advice in this thread. Here are my two cents:

I am a non-Equity actor in Chicago and have been for several years. I have an MFA and although I am glad I got it, MFA programs are designed for young, malleable actors in their mid to late twenties. Unless you are willing to be the oldest student there and having teachers treat you like you're half your age, you will likely not be happy being in dn MFA program at this point in your life.

Come to Chicago. Take classes at one of the many studios they have here. Stay non-Equity as long as possible. You can work at both Equity. and non-Equity theaters honing your craft, and building your resume and professional connections. Unlike New York, there is much respect for good work at non-Equity theaters, and if you are talented no one will care what your union status is. There are many ways you can have a fulfilling theatrical life here. Feel free to PM me with questions.
Quixote73 Profile Photo
Quixote73
Swing
joined:8/21/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 06:42pm
Thank you all again for such excellent advice! I very much appreciate all of you taking the taking to offer me your thoughts.

First, let me address newintown's comments, particularly that my decision "doesn't make sense". From a financial standpoint, I would agree, but that is obvious. Some people can do it as a hobby and be satisfied. I am not one of those people. The choice for me was to either continue to suppress my desire for another 20 years and continue to be full of regrets, or give it a go while I am financially able to support myself for a few years without worrying too much about where my next meal is going to come from (something I did not have the luxury of doing when I was 20). Starting at 40 definitely has disadvantages, but also significant advantages, namely that I am debt free and have a substantial chunk of savings that can rely on to get me through. Another advantage is that I am of course more mature now than I was when I was 20 -- I had trouble taking rejection when I was young, which is a big reason why I decided to suppress my desire to become an actor. Now I really don't care, because even the worst possible outcome -- my giving it a go for five years, going through most of my savings, landing no acting work -- is a much better scenario for me than to continue to suppress my desire and be full of regrets.

This TED speaker is worth listening to, as what he said resonated with me: http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

So what makes sense for one individual may not make sense for another. I didn't choose theatre -- theatre chose me. It's not a choice for me anymore. The choice now is where to go, which is why I posted this to begin with.

Theatre is really my first love, and while I am certainly not opposed to doing TV or film, my heart is on stage. I also have a good voice for musical theatre (although I can't dance very well), and would like to be in a town where I can have opportunities to perform in musical theatre as well as straight acting. That being said, I would love to do good TV and film work, as long as it is not degrading to others or myself, but I definitely do not want to give up theatre to do it.

I found what one responder said about LA to be interesting. To answer the question, yes, that is a headshot of me. I have been told that I look like Jason Alexander (George Costanza in Seinfeld), although not quite as heavy or bald (yet) as him. I do know two actors who live in LA, so I'd have a little bit of a network to start with. But of course LA is extremely competitive, as others have pointed out. Orlando would be another option given that it is close to Tampa, although my sense is that there is not a lot of theatre work there (but please tell me if I am wrong in that assumption). Chicago is definitely a serious consideration.

Thank you again so much for these excellent comments. You have given me lots to think about!

GavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 08:08pm
quixote, I was the one who mentioned prejudice ("stigma" is too strong a word) against non-Equity performers. That was true when I lived in New York (but may have changed now that there are actually non-Equity bus-and-truck tours and the general weakening of all unions everywhere).

I was simply surprised when I moved to LA at the general lack of distinction between union and non-union actors on stage. Except for the half-dozen all-Equity theaters, most casts out here mix union and non-union actors. This is simply because there is far less union stage work than in New York--and most actors out here are more concerned with getting their SAG cards.

Yes, I've known more than a few actors over the years who struggled to get their Equity cards, only to find they were then at the bottom of the heap of union actors. Until you're trying to audition for Broadway shows, there are a lot of advantages to staying non-union.
MusicalDreamer
Swing
joined:9/30/12
Best route for a 40-year-old actor?
Posted: 10/1/12 at 08:12pm
Have you ever been to "UPTA" auditions? I am too young to go (you have to be 1 but a lot of the regional theaters I know of, including the one I worked at casts roles and finds actors from there. I believe they are in Memphis? (I'm probably totally wrong), but do some googling. It's worth a shot! Good luck to you.