BreathTaking: The Soul-Skill Balancing Act of a NYC Actor
Curated by Bethany Kay
So you’ve got the location (NYC!), the talent, the connections, the agent, the toolbox of technique, and a viable life as a performer seems to be within your grasp. So why do you still feel down about this Life Upon the Wicked Stage (or screen) as often as you do?
Life in NYC is in and of itself a special sort of …interesting, but a performer’s life in NYC is a whole other kind of special. And this isn’t a complaint. As a performer here I’ve worked upwards of SEVEN freelance jobs at any given time and as a result have met some of the most passionate and unique people I could ever hope to breathe with. But that Tetris-like lifestyle of scheduling and frequent financial mayhem does take its emotional toll.
As performers, we tend to equate our career viability with all the technique and networking goodness we’ve worked so hard to develop. But I’ve found that it’s just as important to install a proverbial “reset” button on our work-and-performing mindset, and press it from time to time. Actors, I promise you: your career is not all about the audition and the performance…it’s just as vital—if not more—to have ways to take care of your inner Soul as it is to cultivate that outer Skill.
In this ongoing series of entries I’ve asked some of my most trusted colleagues—all performers, instructors, casting directors, recruiters, and folks I trust implicitly with MY emotional well-being—to each write about his/her own journey as an artist in NYC. I asked them all to respond to a rather simple prompt: What have you learned about navigating the emotional life of an artist in NYC that you'd most like to share with the community at large?
Here are their stories/ musings. With my thanks…
Part Two: Just a Check-in on the Journey
I met Vanina in my second year of grad school when we happened upon each other as roommates in what was then a very unfashionable area of Brooklyn. Her tenacity is only matched by her skill and she’s just coming off of creating and directing her first web series as well as creating a Film Festival to highlight the work of extraordinary immigrant artists in NYC. Here’s a brief look into her story through her typically humble lens:
It’s Okay to Take a Break: One Immigrant’s Story
by Vanina Kondova
Going to acting school is tough. I know - I’ve been to two. First of all, it takes too much work and seemingly forever to get in. You have to find the right material which is hard for everyone but especially depressing to women - it shows how much less work is available to them before they’ve even started their careers. It’s great if you are auditioning where you are from but if you are coming from another state, or from another country as I was, you need to find a place to sleep. You need to get there on time. Look well. And act well. If you are invited by more than one school, you need to make a decision. Then, you need to figure out how to pay for it. Then, where to live, what to eat and all that. And then, you need to actually go to the school you chose and consistently be really on top of your shit. And if you manage to do all that, you then graduate and are supposed to be a pro.
But you are not a “Pro”. You are someone who has been “embracing vulnerability” in front of people who is now all alone and has nothing to rehearse. If you happen to be an immigrant, you also need a visa and you probably still have an accent which are two obstacles right there preventing you from getting work. And if you’re in a city like New York where there is more talent than there is pizza, you can easily start feeling mindblowingly uncertain about your future. This feeling will stay. Sometimes you will win, sometimes it will score. By the way, become a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts member, like, right away: it’s an invaluable group to work with.
If we could only apply the objectivity we use analyzing a text to our own life. Without the interpretation crap. What am I doing? Here’s what I didn’t do after I graduated: I didn’t take a vacation. I didn’t take my vitamins. I didn’t ask my favorite teacher to be my mentor. I didn’t recognize that I was capable of being my own boss. Speaking of which, “create your own work” has become a cliché but it is true that your own take has never been shot before. I spent way too much time ignoring my foreignness until I realized it was obviously my most interesting feature. So I created a web series about an immigrant actor and I’m working on a festival celebrating the collaboration between local and immigrant artists. Discovering how hard it is to create and tell an original story well will bring your levels of appreciation for others way up. You might even start empathizing with casting directors.
I am about a $1,000 and a 20-hour trip away from my mom, my friends and my language being spoken on the street. Homesickness is a withdrawal. It’s a bit of a relief that your friend from Kansas is not having an easy time either, but it’s not a fix. I never thought I would say this because living in New York really was my big dream but I might have to get away, at least for a bit. And you know what? It’s okay.
Vanina is an Eastern-European actress, based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Atlantic Acting School in New York and the National Academy for Theater and Film Art of Bulgaria (Best Actress Award). She has last been seen in The Allegory of the Cave produced by Crashbox Theater Company at TheaterLab, as well as the Lost & Found, NY web series she created with a cast and crew from Bulgaria, USA, Poland, New Zealand, Italy, South Korea, Serbia, Dominican Republic and France. She is launching a film festival, celebrating the collaboration between American and immigrant artists.
Bethany Kay is an Actor/ Singer/Clown and Career and Auditioning Coach from NJ who has performed onstage since the age of 5. Along with coaching clients to success On Broadway and Off, and in episodics and film, she herself has appeared on BOARDWALK EMPIRE, DIFFICULT PEOPLE, and GOTHAM, and has upcoming roles on Netflix and in an unannounced Lionsgate film. She earned her M.F.A. from the New School for Drama and can be reached for coaching and career advice at BethanyKayActor.com