Friday, February 17, 2012

On the Actor's Hustle

"I feel like on a scale of one to ten, I kinda hit ten when I stopped having to serve people food. So, I've been riding ten ever since. This is great." 
-Chris Pratt of "Parks and Recreation" to Ellen DeGeneres on the recent successes of his career.
I really have to stop worrying about losing my job.
The poor economy is hard on everyone, but according to a recent study, my age group (18-34) is hit the hardest by it. I used to joke that those of us graduating with degrees in art were actually better off than graduates in other fields in a recession because we always expected to be unemployed. Everyone else had the rug pulled out from under them. “But I have a degree in human resources?! I should have a job!” is somehow a stronger argument than “I have a BFA in Acting and I got an A’s in yoga and circus skills, dammit!” Still, the awareness that acting jobs are hard to come by doesn’t make this first year out of school any easier.
It is nearly impossible to launch an acting career while working a 9-to-5 job. Over the last few months, I’ve found a number of part-time gigs in Chicago. I’m a nanny, a knitting instructor, a waitress, and a standardized patient (that's where I act like a sick person in order to prepare doctors for their USMLE Clinical Skills). These gigs (usually about 30 hours a week) pay the bills. But my job, first and foremost, is being the CEO, CFO, marketing director and product of the Maura Clement Corporation. My duties include, but are not limited to, rehearsing my upcoming play, seeking out and doing auditions, sending out headshots, staying physically fit (God bless all those Groupons for yoga), keeping abreast of what’s going on in the Theater (mostly through Jacob Perkins' facebook page), seeing shows around town and avoiding accidentally responding to adult film audition postings on Craigslist (*please note, dear reader, that “adult actress” does not refer to your age.) I continue to remind myself that I am an actress for a living, a waitress to pay the bills.
Scheduling my life is a nightmare. I always seem to be bartering for my time. Here’s a recent example, I needed to travel to Minneapolis for my Montana Shakespeare audition on a Tuesday, when I usually nanny. The family gave me Tuesday off in exchange for my Saturday night, when I often waitress. So I tell my manager at the restaurant that I can’t work Saturday and cross my fingers that it all works out without anyone firing me. And up till this point, it always seems to. This seems to be the case nearly every week. The juggle is how do I keep my art always my first priority without totally pissing off the people who I currently depend on financially?
The obvious conclusion I’ve recently come to is that if I get the acting job, which is after all the whole point, I’m going to have to quit all other jobs anyway and move to effin’ Montana. SO WHO CARES?!  Now I’m not saying I plan on being inconsiderate or a bad employee. On the contrary, I try to be a great nanny and waitress so that these people continue to think I’m worth all the hassle. But I need to give myself a break and not worry about losing these jobs because I see no end to the hustle. Am I going to always have a pit in my stomach for fear of losing my humble income? Hopefully one day the hustle will just be made up of acting gigs (How will I ever balance all these movie offers?! Life is so stressful!), but the reality is that in this field, we artists are continually interviewing for the next job. 
I'd like to transition the hustle to being made up of commercial gigs, teaching gigs, Standardized Patient gigs, knitting gigs, and acting gigs. That would be perfect. That would be a ten.
But regardless of the career hustle, life happens. There are things that are more important than my acting career and those things are people. Life happening is the best way to get perspective on the relative insignificance of whatever triviality I am worried about. Today my brother Jeff returns from his second 7-month tour in Afghanistan. So I dropped everything, got out of work, hopped a flight (very generously donated by the Dave and Jenifer Clement Foundation for Getting their Daughter Places) and am eagerly waiting to celebrate his safe return. That’s real life. My best friend Tina came to visit and we adventured around finding Chicago’s photobooths. That’s real life. My godmother is bravely battling a tumor. That’s real life. A boy brought me flowers on a third date. That’s real life.
Never forget that the best way to enrich your artistic life is by living your real one.


  1. Holy moly, Maura. You're my hero. Thanks for making me stop feeling stressed out/guilty about the exact same stuff. You're an excellent writer!

  2. Maura, I second what Ms. Does said. You are an excellent writer and I would know from excellent writers. Here's my deal. Life isn't as austere as it was a few months ago. Send me your address by regular Email and I will drop you a check. Seriously. I would truly like to contribute to the "Let's help Maura Clement walk down the Red Carpet in Hollywood before I am too old to see it happen" Fund. I would like to make an donation to keep you in your acting workshops without your having to spend undue time in kitchens, on operating tables, or in the outstretched arms of screaming kids who not only try your patience, but damage your hearing, as well.

    Please let me know how I can help. But above all...keep writing! It is good to know that someone else in our family loves the smell of ink and the feel of heavy stock paper (if only virtually). UB.