The Maggie Flanigan Studio is considered by many actors to be the best acting studio for Meisner training in New York and in the United States. With this blog post and video, Karen Chamberlain discusses the dedication and persistence that is required for actors to sustain their acting careers.
How Actors Can Sustain Their Careers
I was recently asked to speak about how one sustains a career as an artist. It’s an enormous question that has no single answer. I believe it requires dedicated training, passion, fortitude and the courage to say “Yes” to artistic projects that excite you even when you don’t know how you will possibly afford to do them. It demands belief in oneself, personal health and committing to practices that keep your heart open to the world. I believe that it also asks you to not be rigid about how the art in you expresses itself. You may be an actor now but you may also be a writer, a painter or a director. The expression of what you have to offer the world may have more than one venue.
When I look back at my own artistic career, I would say that my commitment to my training sustained me for the first decade in the professional world. Training in the Meisner Technique gave me a respect for and ownership of craft. I knew how to work which gave me self-esteem. I was also willing to leave the city. There was a point in my late twenties when I wasn’t booking work and life in this expensive city had me working crazy hours at my survival job to pay the rent. I was exhausted, unhappy and uninspired. A friend was understudying at The Roundabout Theatre and offered me a free ticket to see Blythe Danner in a British play called The Deep Blue Sea. I still recall everything about being in that theatre that night. She was brilliant. I wept through the entire performance. I was so happy to just be in a theatre. I hadn’t even realized how homesick I was. When the play was over, I literally stayed there weeping until the ushers kicked me out. I walked home to Chelsea in the rain, swearing with every step that if artistic work appeared, I would give up my beloved New York City apartment. That night I couldn’t sleep and stayed up all night writing a ten-page impassioned letter to Blythe Danner which I promptly left at the stage door the next day. That afternoon, out of nowhere, I got a job offer. It was a directing job, not an acting job but it was doing something I loved. I would have to move to a small town in Pennsylvania in two months, just when my lease was up. I would make barely enough money to live on. Remembering my promise to myself, I took the job. Back in a Theatre, I was home again! When my contract was up, I didn’t have enough money to come back to New York so I went to live with my parents in Boston. I started auditioning almost every day and I booked two plays, three commercials and a number of voiceovers in the span of eight months. I came back to work in New York but with my priorities straight. I chose to live with a lower rent in New Jersey so I could pursue my craft.
It’s twenty years later and my artistic career continues to evolve. I may credit that most to staying an eternal student and keeping my curiosity alive. I am also a very hard worker and I make career and life choices that feed my spirit. I love teaching which I consider to be an art form. The classroom is a place where the work is pure, done for the love of the work itself and the standards for good work are never higher. Getting to work in that environment feels like a privilege. The courage my students have is inspiring and the classroom keeps me in love with why I ever wanted to act in the first place. For me, it is still important to continue to work as an actress and director whenever it does not interfere with my commitment to my students. It always gives me something new to bring back to the room. I recently did a play in Provincetown for their Tennessee Williams Festival. It was luxurious to only be able to think about the play and be in such a beautiful place. I had the time to take long walks and sit and listen to classical music and I felt in the optimal place- open, relaxed and inspired- to do my creative work. It is not always easy to create that space for yourself in this city, especially in the early days of your career when you are juggling paying the rent with artistic work, but it is essential for the artist. I came home with renewed commitment to take at least an hour every day to meditate or walk so the creative voices can get through. I remind my students about the value of doing the same, whatever their version of that may be.
Someone joked to me the other day at an audition, “You know, Karen, if you can get to the age of 60 and not go crazy, there is a ton of work for older actors and fewer of us in the race!” I laughed but inside I was thinking, “Oh, perfect! Now I have a retirement plan! I’m open!” And that’s it really. To sustain a career in the arts, you have to stay in love with doing the work for the work itself and free yourself from the expectations of the where, when and how of it. You must stay healthy, inspired and open. As a side note, Blythe Danner did write back. It turned out she knew the small town where I had taken the directing job. It was the same town where her grandparents had owned a farm and she often visited their farm as a child. You never know what’s going to happen. Follow your heart and keep the faith.
Complete Training for Professional Actors
The Meisner training and the complete acting curriculum at the Maggie Flanigan Studio ( http://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/ ) help actors create the foundation they need in order to have long acting careers. The entire faculty at the studio is dedicated to helping actors who are serious and passionate about their acting reach their goals. Learn more about the acting programs at the studio by visiting the acting programs page on the studio website.
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