I have always thought that being ambitious is a wonderful trait. I would consider myself a very ambitious person and always prided myself on that. It wasn't until I was almost finished with college that I began to understand that while it's healthy to be ambitious, it's also healthy to take a moment and pat yourself on the back for the things you have accomplished, even if there's still a lot left to achieve.
I've noticed in the past couple of months, that none of the actors who are really close to me are very proud of anything they've done, including myself. I can lay out a line of friends (including myself) in a "7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon"-esque way, and all of us want what the other person has in some way. I'll illustrate (with changed names to protect the never-satisfied).
I have a friend, Joanna, who is fun-loving, sweet, and super talented. She went to a conservatory and has been out of school for three years. She signed with an agency on the west coast when she graduated but ended up breaking her contract with them because she was sent out twice in a year. Now she's on the east coast and working her little booty off to find representation here.
Joanna looks at me and wants what I have. I was so very blessed to sign with a great agency that puts more opportunities in my lap in a week than some actors get in six months. She can't understand why I would ever complain about being rushed for a last minute commercial audition that makes it impossible to plan a day or have a routine. When she puts it like that, I can't believe that I ever would either.
On the other side of me is my friend Kyle. Kyle also graduated from a top notch school about five years ago, and Kyle has worked pretty much constantly since he graduated. In fact, he had his Equity card by Thanksgiving the year he graduated. Kyle, in the past year, has worked twice at the Denver Center and at also at the Studio Theatre in D.C. He has a resume that someone like me looks at and only dreams of having. But Kyle feels like he hasn't accomplished enough because he's still bartending and doesn't have enough money saved. He hasn't worked on Broadway yet.
Kyle looks at another friend, James. James graduated from school in 2010 and booked his first audition ever in NYC, for a Broadway show. James is now making $1,500 per week. That means he makes than enough to cover two months of his rent in one week. Kyle wishes that in the five years he's been working very hard to "succeed" as an actor, that he could've achieved what James did in three months.
James, on the other hand, is already worried about what is going to happen to him when his show closes (even though it's not even open yet). He hasn't been auditioning for a few months because he's booked for at least six months with the show. He's concerned that his audition technique skills will be rusty when he has to get back into the game of auditioning.
I've had conversations with Joanna, Kyle, and James about this phenomena of dissatisfaction. Sure, we we all proud of ourselves initially when we accomplished the things we have. But the sense of pride fades.
It reminds me of being a student at UNCSA. When I was accepted into that school, for the moment all of my dreams had come true. I was the happiest, proudest person alive. By the time third year rolled around, I remember thinking how tired I was, how much I hated it there, how I couldn't wait to leave. I remember finally reminding myself how badly I had wanted to study there. How badly thousands of kids wanted to study there who didn't get the opportunity. Are we so fickle? Or is it a good thing to constantly be striving for more? And in this business, can you ever really find success?
The last person in my "7Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game is Mandy Patinkin. Mr. Patinkin came down to UNCSA my senior year to talk to us about the business, as our dean Gerald Freedman is a mentor to him. At the time, the story he told about winning his Tony didn't resonant with me as anything besides a funny anecdote. But now his words, honestly, haunt me. He said:
"The night I won my Tony, I felt extremely honored. For a fleeting moment, I felt a sense of pride. And then I came home, and thought - I don't have a job. How am I going to feed my kids?"
In our business, winning an award like a Tony is considered the pinnacle of success. It's the ultimate reward for your work. But even winning a Tony doesn't guarantee stability. So is stability the thing that we actors measure our success on? Or is stability simply a thing that we forgo when we sign up to pursue this career, and we measure our success on reviews and accolades and awards?
Did Shakespeare give us a huge hint when he wrote in Macbeth, "I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on the other" (Act I, Sc VII)?
--Jasmine Anne Osborne