• James Stranahan

Hollywood: Is There Ever a Time to Throw In the Towel?

I recently swung by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles to take in a student production, A Piece of My Heart. I’m a theater buff, and I enjoy checking out the next generation of actors and directors. I also like returning to my alma mater every once in a while, as I attended the AADA before heading into the movie industry and building my career as an actor/producer. At the play, I was impressed. Each actor movingly portrayed their characters, who were struggling to understand the Vietnam War and its effects on them. I remember thinking that each person had real talent and made me feel every emotion.

Afterwards, I was headed out to my car when one of the crew members caught up with me. He had a few questions about how to manage his career, so we chatted for a little while. Then he asked me a question that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind: “Does there ever come a time when you just know that Hollywood isn’t going to work out for you?”

He was under pressure from his family, he explained, to pursue a job that would provide more stability. Raise your hand if you have heard that before. I was lucky when I was in school because since I come from an artsy family, I had the support of my parents. It was certainly not unheard of, however, for me to hear stories from other students about families that were not pleased they were pursuing Hollywood careers. I had a lot of empathy for this young man whose dream was right in front of him but who was having to walk the gauntlet of expectations of people who didn’t understand his passion.

I told him the truth, that until he got his first big job, he was going to face that question every day. Every morning, he was going to have to get up and face an empty inbox or a phone devoid of text messages. Every night when he went to bed, he was going to have to make peace with the fact that he had done everything he could that day to make his dream come true, but it hadn’t happened.

Then I gave him the y-word: “yet.”

“It hasn’t happened - yet. It didn’t happen today, but there is still tomorrow. If tomorrow is terrible, too, then there’s always the next day. And, yes, the day after that. You just keep going, gritting it out until those doors start to creak open. Then you shove them open even further, introduce yourself to anyone who will listen, and show them what you can do.”

You’ll have noticed by now that I wasn’t actually answering the guy’s question. I wanted to stress to him the old adage of persistence, which gets rewarded even in Hollywood. I did say this about quitting, though: “You’ll know you’re ready to quit when you’re simply not having fun anymore. Whether you’re acting or working behind the camera or backstage, it should be fun. Even if you’re eating noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, performing or creating a movie should be fun. If you ever get to the point where it isn’t, then you’ll know that you either need one heck of a vacation or it’s time to quit.”

As I drove home that night, I thought a lot about that man’s question. We actors are strange people, I have to say. We’ve chosen what has to be one of the hardest professions to break into, yet we keep going even when the world is telling us we’re crazy for daring to believe that we are, in fact, talented enough to make it.

Quit? I think not.

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