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The Actor's Other Career Book: Using Your Chops to Survive and Thrive

The Actor's Other Career Book: Using Your Chops to Survive and Thrive

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The Actor's Other Career Book: Using Your Chops to Survive and Thrive

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21. Sept. 2010


Actors don't have to become Broadway stars to make a living with their acting talents. The Actor’s Other Career Book pulls back the curtain to reveal more than 50 permanent and temporary positions available in cruise ships, trade shows, retail stores, advertising agencies, corporate settings, education, social outreach, tourist attractions, physical fitness, and much more. Whether actors are looking to continue performing in new venues or apply their skills to a new field, this is the resource to help make the transition. Interviews with successful actors reveal how others looked beyond the stage for lucrative and satisfying work, how they applied their training and background to their current positions, and how they achieved success on their own terms. A comprehensive listing of organizations, Web sites, companies, and publications provide a wealth of tools. All actors looking to take control of their futures will need this book.
21. Sept. 2010

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The Actor's Other Career Book - Lisa Mulcahy

The Actor’s


Career Book

Using Your Chops

to Survive and Thrive

Lisa Mulcahy

for my father,

William Mulcahy

© 2006 Lisa Mulcahy

All rights reserved. Copyright under Berne Copyright Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, and Pan-American Copyright Convention. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher.

09 08 07 06 05        5 4 3 2 1

Published by Allworth Press

An imprint of Allworth Communications, Inc.

10 East 23 rd Street, New York, NY 10010

Cover design by Derek Bacchus

Interior design by Joan O’Connor

Page composition/typography by Integra Software Services, Pvt. Ltd.,

Pondicherry, India

Cover photo:

ISBN: 1-58115-453-4

ISBN: 9781581158410

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Mulcahy, Lisa.

The actor’s other career book: using your chops to survive &

thrive/Lisa Mulcahy.

      p. cm.

   Includes bibliographical references and index.

   ISBN 1-58115-453-4 (pbk.)

1. Acting—Vocational guidance. 2. Career changes. I. Title.

PN2055.M85 2006



Printed in the United States of America


I enthusiastically thank and praise the following fine folks for the invaluable help they provided during the evolution of this book:

As ever, I express my utmost admiration and appreciation to Tad Crawford and Nicole Potter-Talling at Allworth Press, for their incredible support, infallible guidance, and wonderful trust. I salute Michael Madole for the great work he does on all of my books, and give special thanks for his special contributions on this project. I give my great appreciation to Jessica Rozler, for her always-terrific expertise. I also pay my respects to the entire Allworth staff, whose professionalism is simply peerless.

To the superb artists/professionals interviewed in this book who so generously allowed me into their work lives, I’m profoundly grateful. Your insight, candor, amazing emotional intelligence, and generosity are invaluable gifts to readers everywhere. All my best to Buzz Alexander, Sherri Allen, Bob Alter, Cooper Bates, Bob Bergen, Nicole Bigham, Brian Carpenter, Sean Cercone, Gil Christner, David Christopher, Megan Cole, Randy Farias, Amy Dolan Fletcher, Leanna Foglia, Laura Giannelli, Daena Giardella, Constantine Gregory, Patrick Grimes, Ayo Haynes, Lora Heller, Annie Hughes, Ellen Kaplan, Sheila Kelley, Douglas Kondziolka, Kenny Kramer, Shannon Kringen, Lara Kulpa, Brian Keith Lewis, Rita Litton, Amanda Malby, Carol Mannes, Michael McGarty, The Naked Cowboy, Steve Nevil, James O’Regan, Darryl Palmer, Gail Parker, Deb Pickman, Jill Perry, Dennis Rees, Victor Rivers, Paul Salos, Sebastian Saraceno, David Shookhoff, Jim Sterling, Tammy Tanner, Samantha von Sperling, Elaina Vrattos, JT Wagner, Debbie Williams, Kelly Wohlford, and Craig Wroe.

For their kind assistance in helping me arrange and facilitate interviews, and supplying me with great supplementary information, many thanks go to Melissa Garland, Jennifer from The Naked, Daphne Ortiz at Much & House Public Relations, Bryanne Jones of Compassion and Choices, Jane Salos, Bill Ware of the William Ware Agency, and the Turtle Lane Playhouse.

I would like to thank Tim Harley and Arlene Palmer for their terrific contributions.

I would also like to express my appreciation to Tom Dangilli.

To Kathy Schrier and Patch Schwadron of the Actors’ Work Program, you are the guardian angels of this project. I’m so grateful for the time and energy you gave me, the amazing good wishes and wonderful observations you’ve provided, the fabulous folks you’ve introduced me to, and most of all, the vital work you do every day on behalf of your clients.

I owe a huge debt to two of the theater’s late, great artists, Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett, for their respective influences on this project. I was fortunate to watch documentary footage of both masters working with actors during the formative stages of the film All That Jazz (Fosse) and the play A Chorus Line (Bennett). The respect they showed for their actors’ histories and input was a great inspiration to me indeed.

For outstanding technical know-how, I would like to thank Geoff Grammel and Johanne Cimon of The Most Office in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, whose skills are truly tremendous.

To the Brandeis University theater community, you provided both the spark and the foundation. A very special thanks as always to Ted Kazanoff and to Edward Albee for teaching me the true essentials of theater.

All my gratitude to the wonderful theater pros I’ve worked with on the New York City scene. To my posse of friends, I love your loyalty.

To my lovely family, the extended Mulcahy and Kelly clans, you are simply the greatest!

I would like to give a very special thank you to my gorgeous and brilliant cousins Lori Card, Tina Cooley, and Shannon Flematti for the awesome New York City inspiration they provided for this book!

Most of all, I thank my beautiful mom Joan Mulcahy, and send her all the love in the world.



Introduction   the successful actor’s mindset

Chapter 1   living history

The Time Traveler: Patrick Grimes

I Dream of Africa: Lara Kulpa

Reliving a Wonderful Life: Steve Nevil

Renaissance Man: Douglas Kondziolka

Chapter 2:   no business like big business

A Tale of Two Trainers: Jim Sterling and Gail Parker

Role Model: Nicole Bigham

The Quick Study: Amanda Melby

Chapter 3   the body electric

Feminism, Freedom & Fitness: Sheila Kelley

Comfort and Joy: Dennis Rees

Breathe and Be Free: Brian Carpenter

Soul Survival: Megan Cole

Brave Heart: Leanna Foglia

Chapter 4   doing a world of good

The Spirited Survivor: Victor Rivers

Teach Your Children Well: Michael McGarty

To the Rescue: Annie Hughes

From the Inside Out: Buzz Alexander

Chapter 5   helping others seek other careers

The Trailblazer: Carol Mannes

The Enlightened One: Daena Giardella

The Team Player: Elaina Vrattos

The Trouper: Amy Dolan Fletcher

Chapter 6   share what you know

A Life Less Ordinary: Ellen Kaplan

Oh, Very Young: Sherri Allen

Diamonds in the Rough: Rita Litton

Commited to Creativity: David Shookhoff

Through a Child’s Eyes: Cherene Snow

Knowledge Is Power: Craig Wroe

Chapter 7   destinations & diversions

The Star Attraction: Kenny Kramer

My Way: Paul Salos

An Unorthodox Career: Bob Alper

To Be the Best: Sean Cercone

The Good Guy: Gil Christner

Chapter 8   the communications connection

The Voice Master: Bob Bergen

Inspired Interpretation: Laura Giannelli

Sophisticated Lady: Samantha von Sperling

Chapter 9   closing the deal

Top of the Food Chain: Cooper Bates

Razzle Dazzle ’Em: Brian Keith Lewis

The Girl with Something Extra: Ayo Haynes

Chapter 10   twenty-four-hour party people

Feel Good, Inc.: Darryl Palmer

Back Home Again: Tammy Tanner

Legend in Her Own Time: Kelly Ford Wohlford

Service with a Smile: Debbie Williams

Life of the Party: Sebastian Saraceno

Chapter 11   hitting the right notes

Signs of Success: Lora Heller

The Dialogue Guru: Constantine Gregory

Smooth Operator: Jill Perry

Chapter 12   express yourself

Street Life: The Naked Cowboy

The Color and the Shape: Shannon Kringen

The Professional Extra’s Survival Guide: Randy Farias

Chapter 13   industry insiders

The Provocative Publicist: Deb Pickman

The Self-Made Man: James O’Regan

The Nature of Nurture: JT Wagner

The Wizard of Improv: David Christopher


A: Support Organizations

B: National Service Organizations

C: Unions

D: Membership Associations

E: Web Career Resources

F: Publications



the successful actor’s mindset

What’s the one thing that every living, breathing actor everywhere wants more than anything? It’s work, plain and simple. If the ink on your diploma’s still wet, you’re racking your brain and pounding the pavement, hunting down that first gig. Even If you’re the current toast of Broadway, you’re no doubt thinking, What am I gonna do next? Which is only natural. Making a consistent living at the craft of acting is extremely tough to do, no matter who you are.

The reality is, traditional performance work is a scarce commodity, and always will be. An actor seeking work in any major city, be it in stage, film, or TV, is bound to be discouraged by the huge number of competitors they face per potential job. Complicating matters further, if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, you’re pretty much invisible as far as most high-caliber casting agents are concerned—plus, in terms of parts, the pickins’ are probably mighty slim wherever you do happen to live. Then there’s the money angle. Unless your name is Jim Carrey or Cameron Diaz, you’re not raking in the big bucks—even if you are a regularly working actor, a good deal of your earnings probably goes toward paying your union insurance, and you no doubt live on a very tight budget.

And don’t forget the happiness factor. If you do get lucky and get a role, is it really satisfying your artistic impulse? Playing a talking carrot in a frozen veggie commercial probably isn’t making that happen. Are you doing anything to make the world a better place? Many actors really feel a calling toward social contribution, but can’t really figure out how to achieve it through work as an extra in Dude, Where’s My Car?

So you really have two choices, it would seem. Your first option: continue to suffer nobly, hoping that one day, lightning will strike and you’ll finally catch that big break—not very proactive OR practical. So let’s talk about your second option: expand your mind! Great permanent or temporary jobs for actors exist all around you. You can apply for them, network toward them, or create them on your own—you’ve got the power to shape your career, and improve your quality of life, right this very second.

Where is the work plentiful? In corporate America. In education. In social outreach. At tourist attractions, in the living history field, in physical fitness, in media, and more. Consistently employed actors who take control of their professional circumstances make it their business to think outside of the box, figure out how the skills they’ve developed as performers can be translated to diverse fields, and go for a better life.

Uh, oh—sounds like I’m talking about a career change. I am, and I’m not. It’s VERY freaky for most actors to contemplate other work because acting is so entwined with their self-esteem, and probably has been since they could talk. Here’s a major truth, though—most actors who do other work, whether it’s a solid sideline occupation or any entirely fresh job apart from conventional acting, continue to call themselves actors. Many continue to act. You’ll meet over fifty performers who’ve successfully sought other work in this book alone, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM STILL CONSIDERS HIM OR HERSELF A FULL-FLEDGED ACTOR.

This fact is an extremely crucial point; in fact, it’s the most important thing I learned in researching and writing this book. Working in another field only widens your scope and experience as a person, and that makes you a better actor, whether you perform again tomorrow or twenty years from now.

So how do these successful actors get the steady work, good money, and sense of personal pride and accomplishment that YOU are longing for? There are a variety of traits I’ve noted that actors pursuing satisfying work have in common. Let’s go through them one by one.


The Actors’ Work Program (AWP) is a highly lauded resource that many actors in this book tell me truly changed their lives. AWP is part of the Actors’ Fund of America, and its purpose is to provide comprehensive counseling, training, tuition assistance, and job search and placement support. Over 9,000 entertainment industry pros have used the program over the past decade, and gotten fantastic results.

Kathy Schrier, AWP’s managing director, is an extremely supportive, informed, and experienced professional. Let’s get her take on how she applies her skills to AWP, how her own accomplished background informs her work today, and the realities of career change.

Kathy Schrier: "My academic background is in labor relations; I spent most of my career in the labor movement, in the field of labor education, working education, adult education, in doing two things. One was as a direct trainer of union members. Through all that, I ran an employment and training program for the municipal workers in New York City, and at the time, it was the largest union-based training program in the United States. The bulk of the work was developing programs to help the membership in terms of career development and upgrading.

"My passion and love has always been theater and the arts. I spent a lot of time even in the academic world learning about labor relations and the performing arts. I’d always wanted to work for the arts; my first job was with American Ballet Theatre.

"When the Actors’ Work Program started in 1986, it was not part of the Actors’ Fund of America, it started as a committee of Actors Equity. Around 1990 or so, the person who ran the program contacted me, because of my work at the union, for help and guidance. I got onto the advisory board; AWP was by this time an independent program. The program merged with the Actors’ Fund in 1997; I left my old job in 1998, did some consulting, and my first job was needs assessment for AWP. I was offered a year appointment, and have been here ever since.

"Our mission is not about transition. Most people in the entertainment industry need to find a parallel second career that complements what they do in the entertainment industry. What we’re really about is helping people find balance between their entertainment industry career, no matter how they define that, and their parallel secondary career.

"There is no other group of workers in this country that has the type of work that we do in the entertainment industry. The closest is construction, where people go from job to job, but those jobs tend to be longer in length, and at least in this point in history, there seems to be a lot of work. Even in times of high employment, and we are at a time of extremely high employment in the entertainment industry, there are still many, many, especially actors, who are not working. So what we’re about is working with individuals to figure out what other work they can do that is meaningful, that gets the endorphins going, just like being on a stage and in front of a camera.

"The support and the networking (at AWP) are on many, many levels. In [our] orientation, everyone will say the same thing: I’m tired of cater-waiting, I’m tired of going on the road. We sometimes hear from people we’ve always thought of as successful. They’ll say something like ‘I’ve been doing this Broadway musical for the past ten years and I can’t stand it anymore.’ Or ‘I’ve worked a lot of Off- Broadway contracts, and it doesn’t pay the rent.’ And those people who have not had what we normally think of as commercial success really start to wonder ‘Ohh, what is this business about?’ So what happens in that initial orientation usually is that everyone begins to get a sense of community and validation, not only from us, but from their peers, a sense that what I’m going through is not that different than what everybody else is going through.

"The reality of work is what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. When [actors new to the program] look at work, they look at solely whether it is going to complement or fit in to my ability to go to auditions, which they absolutely must do. But that’s not how you get a job. You get a job by not only selling yourself, but really realizing that there’s a fit. It’s OK to be desperate, but it’s not OK to take any job.

I think the most important message is to let [actors] know that this is healthy and OK if you’re beginning to think about other [work].

Patricia Patch Schwadron, AWP’s career counseling supervisor, grew up in the theater herself, as her mother was assistant to Adrian Hall at Trinity Rep. A classical dancer who had to stop performing for health reasons, Schwadron has a background in journalism and public relations. She took a job with Susan W. Miller MA, a career counselor in LA, and found herself fascinated by person-to-person counseling. She got her degree in educational career counseling, and worked in career counseling at St. John’s University before coming to AWP. Schwadron’s past achievements make her perfectly suited to help her clients develop their full potential; this is how she does it.

Patch Schwadron: "First, there’s the self-assessment piece: what are my skills? What has been my experience? What are my values? Where do my interests lie? What do I care about? Then, how do I take that assessment process and move forward with it?

"Each person is at a different stage of development, a different stage of life, with different needs. For a small portion of the people who come here, transitioning solidly 100 percent to a new career is their agenda, and we’re certainly here to support someone who is interested in and ready to do that. We’re really all about making whatever work you do consistent with who you are. That’s the nature of our respect for the artist; we understand that what is to be a self-interested artist in this country is to say, ‘My work is who I am.’ We also feel that everybody in the United States of America should be saying ‘My work reflects who I am,’ but we have this population, which starts out by saying that. If you start out at the age of two or four or ten by saying, ‘I must express myself or I’ll die,’ to recognize that you need to CHANGE how you do that is very loaded. It’s a very emotional, scary process to say, ‘I have to change who I am and what I do, and I risk losing who I really feel I am at the core.’ There’s a tremendous amount of holding of that that goes on here. We have seventeen to thirty new members every Monday; after orientation, people say, ‘Thank God, there’s a place that understands what I’m feeling!’

"There’s an enormous skill set that people develop by being actors and in the theater business that transfers to a wide range of other occupational settings. I get people on Monday who say to me, ‘All I do is act.’ And I say to them, ‘You have 75 to 80 percent of the skill sets that are needed in the world of work. Now, we need to help you figure out where you want to go with that wonderful tool kit you’ve got, and how do you adapt and enhance what you’ve already developed in order to be effective and creative and engaged in something that’s going to take better care of you.’

"What changes do you feel you have to make in order to be resilient and be creative? How do you define that? What the organization does is create programs that support people who are ready to take one step or another. We talk about readiness here a lot. Readiness is a big piece. I’ve been here six years now, and have clients I’ve known for six years, who were clients of the AWP prior to my [arrival]. We’ve been able to really see longitudinally what it takes for people to change. It takes time. There’s no magic. They come in and say, ‘Give me a job and fix my life,’ and we say, ‘No. You need to do some work, you need to do some thinking, you need to do some self-exploration, and do it in small steps.’ This is experiential learning. The endorphin goal sometimes doesn’t come for a while. There’s a career theorist in San Francisco who talks about work like falling in love. He’ll say, ‘Did you marry the first person you fell in love with?’ They’ll say, ‘Thank God, no.’ ‘Did it feel the same the second time you fell in love?’ ‘No.’ You’re not going to have that same experience of, this is it, this is who I am, I identify, I bond with it, like teenage romantic love. As an adult, your choices are more complex, there are pluses and minuses, there’s a resistance to change that’s completely normal. We’re really here to say to people, ‘Hang in there, let’s keep looking at it. How did that feel? What worked, what didn’t work. This is a process, this takes time, and we’re here to support you through that time.’

We’re so high energy. We’re so excited as an organization about helping people. It’s like, we have the key!

Smart actors use such an excellent resource to help identify their strengths and help them go far indeed.


Successful, gainfully employed actors don’t have pie-in-the-sky ideas about their true value. The mega-achievers in this book rarely care about being famous (although several of them ARE famous) with the notable exception of The Naked Cowboy ( see chapter 13)—who very shrewdly works on his fame as a way to build his brand and message. They care about enjoying the work they do, day by day, minute by minute, and how they can use that work to help themselves and other people.


The actors who truly do well for themselves career-wise become very skilled at research. They also don’t put all their eggs in one basket, pursuing a variety of potential jobs before choosing one specifically. When it comes to negotiation, too, they’re not shy about asking for—and getting—the exact terms they want.


This could be a huge, sudden revelation that their life has got to change for the better. Could be a feeling of discontent that creeps in over time, then totally overwhelms them. Actors who make constructive shifts see a financial crisis, a lost job, or a life tragedy as a positive in the long run, in that it’s the one incident they can point to that made them get their acts together.


Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your career won’t be, either. Winners understand that they must lay the bricks under a new profession, in order to have a firm and lasting foundation to their lives. Many of the actors in this book have worked years to achieve their successes, and they’re OK with that fact of life.


Actors who have found true harmony in their work have paid lots of attention to those who’ve gone before them in a field, and generally have asked those folks lots of savvy questions. They also want to share the hard-earned information they’ve gathered on the way up with those looking to make a career change as they did. The actors you’re about to meet are living proof of this—they’re here to help you!

So why not make their effort truly count? A great way to get the most out of the profiles, experience, and advice you’re about to absorb is to make this book an interactive experience. Grab a pen and pad if you want, and let’s do some brainstorming.

Write down your answers to the following questions first.

What would I like to change about my current work situation as

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