Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ethnicity and acting as a career.

I have often been asked if a person's ethnicity would make a difference in their being a success as an actor or actress. The answer is that ethnicity does not matter. Talent matters. If someone fails to become an actor, it is not because of ethnicity, it is because of not being good enough; and that means perhaps by talent, perhaps by look, perhaps by personality, perhaps by lack of knowledge of the industry, perhaps by other obligations the aspiring actor does not have what it takes to succeed.

I was very fortunate to have had as a guest professor in graduate school, Fredrick O'Neal, an actor, theater producer and television director. He founded the American Negro Theater and was the first African-American president of the Actors' Equity Association, the union of stage actors in the USA. Fred was a great teacher and became a good friend for many years after he left the university and returned to New York. He was a charming man who told us this story about his seeking an acting career: he went to his father and told him that he wanted to be an actor, and Fred's father said, "All right. But remember if you do not make it, it will not be because you are black. It will be because you are not good enough." Anyone in these times that uses his or her ethnicity as a reason they cannot succeed at something is just playing the race card as a cop-out. I left graduate school in 1964 and Fred started his professional career in 1936! Long before Civil Rights laws and an African-American was elected President of the United States. So, you see. If he could do it then, there is no reason why a person of color or other minority ethnicity cannot do it now--unless, of course, they are "not good enough."

Talent is only part of not being good enough. Tens of thousands of very talented actors and actresses never have a career as actors. There are several reasons why this happens. They may not have a distinctive enough look. That does not mean they are not handsome or beautiful enough. It means that they just are not interesting looking enough. They may lack the personality to be an actor. Among the most prominent personality traits needed for success are charm, lack of ego, and determination. Many people believe the most common reason why people fail to be a success, despite their talent, is lack of knowledge of how the industry works. This is crucial. It has only been the past few years that colleges and even professional academies have begun teaching their students how to have a career. Still many of those classes are inadequate. The acting profession is a limited world that beginners have difficulty becoming members of. That is why I began mentoring aspiring actors--so they might have a chance of breaking into the world of acting. Yet another reason they might fail to succeed is having other obligations, such as a family or debts. Having a spouse and children is probably one of the greatest handicaps a beginning actor or actress can have. It is right that this is so. Marriage and family are solemn obligations, not to be taken lightly. Financial obligations, such as student loans, also are a great hindrance to success as an actor. If you have debts to pay, you need to make money to pay them. Beginning actors usually make very little money.

Well, I have strayed from ethnicity to other matters. Acting professionally is one of the most complex of pursuits. So many things are involved that it is much easier to fail than to succeed. It, indeed, takes a very special person to be an actor.

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