I was speaking with my mom recently on what I felt like was "selective support" from my family; as in, they are only proud of my career choices when I booked a role or was on set. "I feel like you don't tell your friends and coworkers I'm an actor," I accused. My mom replied, "No, I totally tell them you want to be an actor."
That answer stopped me in my tracks.
"I don't want to be an actor, I am an actor," I rebutted. To my mom, I was still aspiring. I asked her if she could tell me a person she thought was an actor and not an aspiring actor. "Julia Roberts," she immediately answered. I laughed. "Mom, Julia Roberts is a celebrity, not an actor."
Could I really blame her though? In the United States, being an actor isn't stable, subsidized, or culturally ingrained as an acceptable career path. It isn't like other (less creative) professions. For example, the only time someone is an "aspiring accountant" is probably when they are studying to be an accountant. When they get their first accounting job, they are immediately an accountant. If they are between jobs, they are still considered an accountant.
Perhaps one of the issues that keep people outside of the entertainment industry calling actors "aspiring" is that they aren't fully aware of the unwritten (and unpaid) job requirements. Auditioning, and putting in the time to prepare for those auditions, is a huge part of the job; often, actors are auditioning more than we are on set or onstage.
"Wanting to be" versus "being" is something I think about often. Where is the line that I will cross from my family's view of "aspiring" to "being?" I get defensive when this topic arises. "Butbutbut...I got a degree in it. I have representation for it," I stammer, trying to fit their definition of success.
The thing is, having a degree in acting is not what makes you an actor. Having representation is not what makes you an actor. Being in a union is not what makes you an actor.
I believe what makes me an actor is that I dedicate myself to the craft that I love every single day. It could be as simple as watching an episode of a procedural drama I'm not familiar with in order to understand the tone if I get called in for it. It could be submitting myself to auditions. It could even be going to my day job (or jobs) in order to financially take care of the basics so I have more time and money to focus on my artistry. What makes me an actor is my tenacity, my unwillingness to give up, and my ability to play.
So, if you're ever talking to anyone about Monica Furman, don't forget to mention: she's an actor.
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