Monday, July 2, 2012


If you go to medical school and you don’t fail or get caught cozying up to a cadaver, you will come out a doctor.  If you study chartered accountancy and you don’t fall asleep, you’ll have your hands full during tax season.  If you enroll in the Police Academy, and you do not accidentally shoot yourself of a co-worker, you’ll be patrolling the streets, handing out tickets to jaywalkers or, if they’re attractive, a warning.

If you go into show business…




It could happen; it could not happen.  Or it could happen, but not that much.  “A cup of coffee”, as they call it in baseball.  A taste, and you’re gone.  Or you could do well, but, to stay in the game, you have to sell out and write garbage.  Nobody’s dream is to write garbage.  Meaning, even if you make it – and only a fraction of people do – you can still feel like a failure.

To end up doing it, or, even more remotely, doing it the way you imagined you would do it – that’s a really small amount of people.  Maybe sixteen.  That’s in America.  In the world, maybe twenty-seven.

That’s why my mother dreaded my going into show business, and why I likewise warned off my children, who were wise enough to heed my warning.  Or they were never interested in the first place.  Either way, they were spared. 

Yesterday, I talked about people whose show biz aspirations were, not “sure things”, but were considerably better bets, because they were the second or third generation of people who had already participated in show business.  Think of them a “legacies” of parents who went to prestigious universities, and were therefore seriously advantaged when they applied.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that, besides the obvious, a major advantage was that the offspring of show biz parents experienced what outsiders might view as the near-impossible leap into the exotic and glamorous world of entertainment as “no big thang.”

This is probably also the case in other challenging professions as well.  The children of surgeons see what their Dads or Moms do as – at the very least – doable.  I. on the other hand, could never imagine myself cutting someone open and sewing them back up – wait, that’s wrong.  You cut them open, you fix them, and then you sew them back up.  You see?  I can’t even write about it. 

“You didn’t fix them first?”

“It was so yucky in there, I just want to stitch them back together, and go home.”

A surgeon’s children would have taken that in stride.

Anyway, being a surgeon, or an attorney who’s clients’ lives are on the line, or a longshoreman who has to pick up big, heavy bales of things with a hook (at least they did in On The Waterfront) – is as unimaginable to me as walking on the moon.  But you ask Neil Armstrong’s kid, “You think you could walk on the moon?”, they’ll say, “My father did it.  Why not?”

Show business, though equally daunting – except for, maybe, the moonwalking example – is generically different.  More than all others, show business is an imaginer’s profession.  You have to study your craft – you can’t just go out there, unless you’re a Kardashian – but first, you imagine yourself out there.  Maybe all kids imagine that.  But if you’re most people, even if you have talent, at some point, you leave your imagining behind, and get your real estate license.

And you get cultural approval for your decision.

“I want to be a truck driver”?

“Go for it.”

“I want to be a comedian”?

“You’ll grow out of it.”

But what if you don’t?  What if you’re entranced by the “Dreamer’s Dream”, and no matter how unreachable this aspiration appears, no matter how much pressure is put on you to “Get real” and do something “normal” with your life, now matter how unlikely your chances for success, you cannot shake that dream off? 

What about simply “giving it a try”? 

All right.  But that leads to the question…

“How do I get there…from here?”

You have zero show biz connections.  Your family's in the dry goods business.  And you were born in the hinterlands, a distant outpost, where the country’s biggest celebrities wear skates. 

You scored performing in shows as a kid, but when “I played ‘Smee’ in ‘Peter Pan’ at Camp Ogama” is the most glowing item on your resume, is Hollywood really going to care?

Every week, I would buy Variety, scouring theater reviews, studying movie grosses, scanning the television ratings, to see if my programming taste coincided with the public’s.  (Disturbingly, not that often.)

Did I think, “I could do what they’re doing”?  No.  I just liked the idea of reading Variety

“They may never accept me.  But they can’t stop me from reading their paper.”

When I was about to graduate from college, I sought out catalogs from American universities whose Graduate Schools taught “Theatre Arts”, finding that my school had only outdated prospectuses from before World War II.  I may have written a couple for updated copies, but I never applied anywhere.  Though I did attend the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop at UCLA for eight weeks the summer after I graduated.

Which is a telling exception.  I had written, expressing interest in the course, but had never heard back from them.  My friend Alan encouraged me to call them and confirm whether or not I’d been accepted, but I was too nervous to make the call.  So Alan called them for me.  It was only by his efforts that I found out I was in.

Why is that “telling”?  Because it speaks of my being not only a dreamer seeking access to a fiercely competitive line of work…

I was a dreamer immobilized by fear.

There are no reverberating messages here.  Other than,

If I can do it…

I was the exact opposite of Zoe Kazan.  No connections.  No familiarity with the arena.  Barely a glimmer of possibility.

And yet…

So there’s that.

1 comment:

sean said...

great post.However,as someone who is now 40, still in Canada, and still struggling to make it after almost 20 years of 'Cups of Coffee' in this industry in an age where it seems it is now becoming more impossible than ever to make a living, it is hard for me to not lose hope.Any tips?