I had been with a theatre company in the East Village for 2 years when the producer left the company. I was asked to step in as producer. I didn’t want to do it, I was 22 and at the very beginning of my acting career, I said no the first couple of times it came up (I had stage managed a couple shows at the company and as it turned out I was pretty good at taking charge). Finally when asked yet again I inquired “if I produce the play can I still be in it?” The director stated there were so many actors in NY that he could cast but so few people #1- willing to produce and #2 – able to pull it off. “Well, that might be true, but if I’m not in the play I have no incentive to produce because all I want to do is perform.” We came to an agreement that I could still be in the plays I produced. That, in a nutshell, is how I became a producer in the East Village at 22.
My first show was a disaster. I couldn’t handle the stress and all the responsibility on top of being part of the production. I was kind of a mega-bitch to everyone because I didn’t have the maturity or experience to deal with the pressure; but a door opened in front of me, I walked through it, and my life is forever changed because of it.
When I first moved to NY to pursue acting I always wanted to be the lead. It didn’t matter what the project was, I always wanted to be the star, have the most lines and be the most prominent character in the piece. By the time I was 24 I was producing my 3rd play in the East Village, our biggest production yet. I finally had a handle on the producing thing and for the first time I was cast as the lead in a production, only I didn’t want the lead. I wanted a supporting role that was way more interesting and super funny. Playing the lead (ingenue) role was kind of boring, she was pretty flat compared to the over the top cast. Somewhere there was a shift, it was no longer about having the biggest part, it became about the process and the artistry of creating a memorable character and pushing myself beyond what I was comfortable playing. It was no longer about my own ego, it was about becoming an artist.
After I started producing, much of my perspective about acting shifted, I started looking for jobs on productions I got cast in. I had one day of work on a horror film and asked around if they needed help behind the scenes and was hired to work in the props department. Another film I was cast in I ended up the associate producer and that paved the way for me to become a film producer in addition to producing theatre. I was able to put my ego aside and genuinely wanted to learn what it took to run a production.
After moving to Los Angeles I was in an acting class and had the privilege of watching a classmate working on her solo show in class. I was so impressed with her charisma, her humor and the universality of her story I approached her after class asking about the production and ultimately offered to help produce the show. At this point in time I had produced several theatre and indie film productions but I would only produce on two types of projects: projects I was in or projects that paid my rate (producing and production management became a way for me to support myself while I continued to pursue my acting career). This was another shift, there was no role (nor any money) in it for me…and yet I still had to help get this production off the ground because I believed in it.
In my early 20’s it was all about me or my ego. Over the years the more I dove into the creative process, it has become less about me and more about working on good projects with passionate and dedicated people. If you are like me, and nothing in the world turns you on more than ‘making something out of nothing’ then put your ego aside and just keep creating; help others create even if you are not the lead, or if they don’t have a role for you this time around. In the film and theatre world we can’t accomplish much on our own, we need to be part of a creative community where we nurture and support each other’s work.
I continue to help my friends and colleagues when I can; volunteering my time, expertise and feedback helping with everything from script development, production logistics and on set. I am 100% aware I would have never gotten any of my own productions off the ground had it not been for friends supporting me, donating money, providing their time and energy, locations, equipment, contacts and kind words of encouragement. I’ve had actors fly themselves out to work for deferred payment, network TV directors work for free and bring on a team of volunteers, studio space donated. For every time I’ve put my ego aside and helped another creative, I’ve had ten times the support come back around to find me in a similar way.
Help your friends if you believe in them/their projects, even if there’s nothing in it for you. Volunteer as a production assistant, in the wardrobe team, or as a background actor (not every day and not for everyone, but for the ones you believe in). Work behind the scenes, it might do wonders for your work in front of the camera or on stage. I guarantee you will always get something out of contributing to a production: a new set of skills, new connections with other creatives, or even simply learning ‘what not to do on your next one.’
Sign up for Jennifer’s newsletter here.
For more information about workshops and one-on-one consulting opportunities please email email@example.com.