Amanda Charney, TMU contributor and sophomore at USC
Hello again, and welcome to Week 4! I will be rather more concise this week seeing as I am fighting some sort of mutant illness of doom thing that threatens to overcome me melodramatically at any moment.
This was the week of the pros: I spoke to two wonderful people who have been acting for years and were willing to give me a little insight into what an actor's life might be like down the line. Stefanie Bari, originally from New York City, has been acting since the age of 12 and is an alumni of the School for Film and Television in New York, which is now called the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. "I decided I was going to pursue acting as a career when I learned how to speak!" she says. "I remember making a time capsule in 4th grade, and in it, we had to write what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had written 'actress.'"
Stefanie also worked as a stand-in onThe Sopranos for several seasons. "I read lines with Edie Falco quite often. Over time, she began telling me about her struggle for a 'break' as an actress that loomed over decades. But also that she had refused to give up. Even when she was told that she'd never make it. Her passion for her craft and incredible talent remains influential to me to this day."
Dan Sanders of Santa Monica is a graduate of the University of Oregon and holds an MFA from UC Irvine. He too was performing by the time he was in middle school and was very involved in his high school's theatrical productions. However, he originally didn't think he would be able to act professionally and planned to become a high school drama teacher.
"Two things happened during my junior year in college that changed everything. One, I saw The Deer Hunter [1978 film starring Robert De Niro]. After it ended I walked out of the theater into this freezing Portland rainstorm and just wandered around the streets of downtown for hours, oblivious to how wet and crazy I must've looked. Finally I just said to myself, 'I have to be part of this.'
"A few weeks later I talked my way into these closed tryouts for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. They kept me, gave me a couple of little parts and a little bit of money. The first thing I learned there was that I was going to need better training. I hadn't gone to a very strong drama school for college. So I moved to New York for a year, froze, and starved, then I went through the whole national audition thing and UC Irvine took me."
Some final bits of advice from our experienced actors: "Do. Not. Give. Up Ever." says Stefanie. "Take classes. Intern at casting offices or volunteer to be a reader. Take on crazy roles in community theater that you swear you'd never admit you were in. And most of all, never let competition get in the way."
And from Dan: "Unless you are one of those freaks of nature the media calls 'stars,' you're not in for an easy life. You're going to go without a lot of things other people come to take for granted. The rejection can be pretty corrosive to your spirit, so make sure you can 'play with pain' as ballplayers say. If you can't, get out. Simple as that.
"Don't wait for graduation day to start thinking of something you can do on the side that pays the rent while leaving you with the time and energy to pursue a career. While you're in school, learn to work on the things you don't do well as a performer. But never lose sight of what you're truly good at. Be decent to everyone, stay in touch with everyone, and constantly work your contacts from school because school ties matter."
Hope you all have a fantastic week! Once I've defeated my mutant-virus-flu-cold-death-plague, I'll be back to writing more about the wonderful anecdotes and tips my interviewees provide. Many thanks to Dan and Stefanie for taking time away from their busy schedules and families to give the college theater world a little taste of the future!