Celebrate the Little Victories!

lasignSometimes living the cliché is hard. People find out I’m from Louisiana and ask why I decided to come all the way out here. It usually takes a lot for me to admit that I’m out here as an actor. After a while, I feel kind of stupid telling them that because I’m obviously their server and I am the classic actor/waitress.

That is until one of my tables reacts like this gentleman did the other night. I was in the middle of opening a bottle of wine (insert awkward silence where table doesn’t know what to do) and he randomly asked me if I was from around here. I said no and that I had moved out from Louisiana about a year ago and then we launched into the usual back-and-forth.

Guest: Oh, wow! You’re a long way from home! Why did you come all the way out here?

Me: Well, I actually graduated with my degree in theatre from LSU. I tried out the film industry down there, but I was too comfortable so I decided to give it a go in Los Angeles.

Guest: So you’re trying to make it as an actor?

Me: Yeah. I figured why not? I might as well give it a shot.

Guest: Yeah. Well, good luck to you. That’s a really hard industry. There are so many people out here. Blah blah blah. You’re crazy.

…Or something like that.

Except this time instead of saying, “Good luck. You’ll need it.” This guy gets this look on his face like when a kid meets Mickey Mouse for the first time. He was amazed. It went down more like this…

Guest: So you’re trying to make it as an actor?

Me: Yeah. I figured why not? I might as well give it a shot.

Guest: You just packed up and moved out here to follow your dream, huh?

Me: Yes sir. Packed up the car to the roof, loaded in the cats and drove clear across the country.

Guest: Wow! I mean, just wow! I love stories like that. You’re really going for it. That’s amazing. That’s really great.

Me: …Uh, yeah. Yeah, it really is. Thanks!

Guest: I mean, did you know anyone before you came out here?

Me: Well, I had a few friends from college move out here first, but no, not really.

Guest: Wow! Isn’t that something? Good for you!

So, I was pretty shocked. No one out here has been quite so impressed with just the move. Some people seem to admire the attempt, but the actual act of moving out here was a big deal for me. It was so incredibly nice to be recognized and respected for doing that – and by one of my customers no less!

It was a great reminder to always celebrate the small victories. Saying you want to pursue acting in L.A. is one thing. Actually taking a leap of faith and doing it, now that’s another. Hopefully I can hang onto this feeling and start to proudly live the cliché!

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Actor + Server ≠ Stupid

wonkaI love those memes. Like, I really, really find them hilarious. This one though? This one makes me sad.

It’s definitely a common response to telling people I’m an actor or that I’m pursuing a career in the film industry. When I tell them that I’m an actor in L.A., more often than not they say, “So, you’re a waitress?”

Now obviously it doesn’t help that I actually AM a waitress in L.A., but I’m doing what I can to get by. My biggest pet peeve, though, is when people assume that because I’m an actor and a server, I must be stupid.

It happened the other day at a slow lunch shift at a table of three older couples. They were all very sweet and we got along just fine. Over dessert, one of the gentlemen produced these sheets of paper with various questions on them. I overheard them discussing everything from crude oil to how many ounces are in a jigger. A lady at the end of the table jokingly asked me if I wanted to sit down and play and then explained it was a brain teaser game. She asked me a test question to see how I would do and when I got it right she said,

“Wow! What are you doing waiting tables?”

Seriously?? I understand it was supposed to be some kind of compliment…I guess. But it made me realize that a lot of people assume if you’re waiting tables either you’re putting yourself through school or you’re too dumb to get a “real job.” Those people need to spend a few Saturday nights working a dinner shift over holiday season and THEN they can tell me how easy it is. I’m not saying you need to be a rocket scientist to figure this stuff out, but it does take a degree of skill and a certain way of thinking. We multi-task like the dickens and have to work with and rely on dozens of other people at once just to get the job done.

Then there’s the actor side. I was at an acting workshop one evening when the casting director mentioned there would be homework. One of the other actresses in class said something like, “Uh, I thought we were all here because we were never good at homework!”

I say again… Seriously?? So, what you’re saying is I didn’t choose to be an actor because I love my craft or I’m passionate about spreading good work to the masses. No, you’re saying that I chose to be an actor because somehow this is taking the easy road and it’s the best I could do with my limited intelligence.

I could go on and on with plenty of other stories just like those two, but instead I’ll just get along to the point.

People, servers are not stupid. Actors are not stupid. Actors who are keeping afloat in LaLaLand by waiting tables are definitely not stupid. To be honest, it’s one of the best jobs we can get that’s not in the biz because the hours are super flexible and there’s usually someone to take your shift if you need to get out of it.

So, actors – don’t sell yourselves short or make excuses for not knowing something. Don’t be embarrassed to get the answer wrong. Most of our job is about making bold choices even if we don’t make the right ones, remember? Let’s hold ourselves accountable and break the stereotype! And keep in mind, doing script analysis on King Lear would boggle the minds of even the most adept scholars…So, we’ve still got that on them.

Get Yourself Out There

actorserverWhen I packed up my life in Louisiana and moved out to L.A., I didn’t have a job. I got here and immediately started looking for employment on job boards, Craigslist and bugging friends for help. My only rule was that I did not want to work at another restaurant and I refused to apply to any server positions. The problem with this, of course, is that I closed myself off to a lot of opportunities. Eventually, I applied to a restaurant outside of L.A. and managed to snag a job as a server. I was incredibly disappointed to be getting back into that business until an acting coach of mine gave me some advice on working a day job and being an actor.

When I asked him if he had any ideas about what kind of a job I should get, he responded, “Make sure people know you’re here. Don’t hide yourself.” What he meant by this is that if I work in an office or in a cubicle somewhere I won’t have the chance to meet the public. By working at a restaurant, I am exposed to hundreds of people a week that might know someone who knows someone who happens to work for a casting director and is looking for a gal just like me.

Now I know the odds are slim that Heather Locklear (who is just a doll to wait on, by the way) is going to enjoy my service so much that she’ll ask me to play her daughter in her next television venture, but why not try? At the very least, this restaurant has given me the chance to meet and interact with a lot of celebrities and industry big wigs who I otherwise may not have even seen from a distance.

Being a server or working in customer service in general is a thankless job, but I’ve realized I need to make the most of it. I’m a friendly person and have learned that out here, my “Southern hospitality” makes me a bit unique. Los Angeles is a tough place to live and more often than not, people will assume you’re out to get them before you have a chance. My genuine kindness shines through that and helps me stand out. Or so I like to think.

The point is, out here, you have to get noticed. Period. I always say that you never know what the stranger you’re talking to is going through. Well, you also don’t always know who they are or who their sister or father or cousin might be. So be considerate, be present and be aware of who’s around you.

Living the Cliché

poorOne of the hardest things to do as an actor/server in L.A. is budget. Having lived in Louisiana all my life where cost of living is fairly low, I’ve never really worried about making a budget. Over the last few months living out here, however, it has become quite clear that without some type of plan every month is going to be a struggle.

The biggest problem I have is that, as a server, my job has no set income. I’m paid an hourly wage, but most of my income is based on the generosity of the public. Since I have no real clue as to what my tips will be each shift, I’ve come up with a sort of averaging system.

Back in March, I decided to start a spreadsheet to keep track of my tips. After a few months of this, I realized that my monthly income fluctuates so wildly that basing it on any one month would be impossible. I also didn’t want to put in a random number; I wanted to predict an income that I knew I might actually make.

I ended up averaging all the months and subtracting about 10% just in case I had a few bad nights or took some time off. Then, I started filling in spaces on my spreadsheet of what I thought I would spend each month on different things like groceries, acting workshops and clothing. I compared my estimated cost of living with my estimated income and, well, the results were honestly horrifying.

My “budget” of all my bills and personal expenses came out to nearly twice as much as my income. I couldn’t figure out how that was possible if I had managed to get by for so long paying all the same bills and making about the same amount on average. It took me a while of doing this to realize my fatal flaw:

I hadn’t actually made a budget.

What I had really done was type up a bunch of numbers in a bunch of categories for “just in case” things. Like, “Oh, well I don’t know if I’ll need a new shirt this month so I guess I’ll just put a few dollars in that category just in case.”

I did that with tons of things from dining out to cat toys. The problem is, those kinds of things aren’t entirely necessary. It’s great to set money aside to have fun, but at this point I know I just don’t have the income to support a bunch of extras. If it’s not bills or food and it doesn’t help my acting career, it shouldn’t even be a number on my spreadsheet.

It’s only recently that I’ve gone back and looked at my budget and really tried to find the problem spots. When I first made it, I wasn’t being realistic about what I actually needed the money for or what I would actually spend. I also never stuck to it. I would spend whatever I needed to on groceries or laundry and if I went over, oh well.

But that’s not a budget.

So, it’s a work in progress, but each month I learn to be a little more realistic about money.  And after a year of living out here, I know that’s one of the most important lessons to learn.