Presence in the Pursuit (Or the Art of Letting Go): One Pre-Enlightened Actress’s Guide to Living The Dream

# 10: Cultivate a Gift Culture

I’m not entirely sure why, but this past year, more than ever, I’ve been the blessed recipient of many unexpected gifts from strangers.  Free or discounted haircuts and colors, websites, headshots, and classes have all been offered to me by people that I hardly knew at times when I was least expecting such generosity.  This makes me think, contrary to my former belief system, that perhaps luck can be developed over time.

Such random acts of good will (not to mention this year’s dangerously close election) amidst a culture struggling to survive in an ever shrinking economy, has gotten me thinking more then ever about the state of the world and where it’s headed.

This all comes at a time when it’s become harder then ever to make a living for everyone.  Making a living as an actor is no different.  There are fewer auditions for fewer roles for fewer unknowns.  In the midst of that, it has become the industry norm to pay to meet casting.

Casting director workshops have become the go to way to possibly stand out amidst a sea of thousands (I kid you not) of thumbnail size submitted headshots for any given role.  Of those thousands, maybe 8 will land an audition for the role.  For the first year of being in LA, I have stubbornly boycotted this practice for all the obvious reasons one could argue not to attend them.  But that way of thinking wasn’t getting me anywhere.  And I recognize that I’m never gonna change a system that I’m not even a part of yet.  So, in the last few weeks, I’ve taken the plunge and started to pay for the chance to cold read in front of casting directors.   It’s going better then I expected.  I’m a particular fan of ReelPros because the quality of their actors is always consistent, the casting directors genuinely seem to care, and the paired scenes by casting with only 15 minutes to prepare offers up an even playing field that doesn’t waste my time.

Being an actor in today’s economy means putting more money forward then ever before seeing any sort of return on your investment.  Casting director workshops.  Classes.  Union dues.  Online submission sites.  Demo Reels.  Headshots.   Haircuts.  Makeup.  Clothes.  There’s a lot of things we need to pay for to stay competitive.  It’s easy to see it all as a rat race and to lose faith in why you were inspired to become an actor in the first place.  DON’T.

Open yourself up, instead, and look for ways to give back in the midst of this.

Find inspiration.  One way that I’m doing this is by starting to look at and question our current system.  I’m two-thirds of the way through a very idealistic but awe inspiring book called “Sacred Economics” that dives deep into the inherent problems of our current money system.  The book offers concrete, albeit revolutionary, alternatives for a world economy that demands the manufacturing and use of our depleting resources for the creation of jobs and thus the earning of money for those jobs.

Truth be told, it’s my first foray into economic theory, so I’ll admit I’m a bit over my head (and certainly far from any sort of authority on the matter), and yet, I read on.  It’s also just radical enough and ideologically inspiring enough that I question whether or not the implementation of it’s ideas are even possible within my lifetime or even my friend’s children’s lifetimes, for that matter.  Then again, I sadly didn’t think it possible that my lifetime would ever see the election of a black (well half black) president in America and yet, it happened within my youth!  Say what you want about Obama and his presidency, but the fact that a man who wouldn’t even have been allowed to use the same restroom as my father because of the color of his skin, is now the leader of the United States, IS inspiring.

That said, I believe that part of an artist’s job is to cultivate and nurture what’s seemingly impossible but good within this world.

We are the dreamers, the reach-ers, the fairy tale makers.  We have a responsibility to inspire and thus elicit change.  The best movies ignite the minds and stir the hearts of individuals alone in the dark on a community level.  We emerge from that theater changed, stronger, better.  And we then rub up against people in the world who have also seen those movies and have become better for them.

Oh, art will not fill your empty belly or provide shelter in the rain, it’s true.  But art connects.  And when we connect with others we start to see that we are not alone.  That this world does not have to just be survival of the fittest, but that it can be about the truth that everything is connected instead.

So, Artists, Humanitarians, and Patrons of the Arts alike, I challenge you to cultivate a gift culture within your sphere.  Volunteer for a cause  that stirs your soul.  Have a pot luck.  Offer up your gifts in a class that’s donation only.  Throw a clothing swap.  Become a Big Brother or Sister.  Compliment that stranger’s gorgeous dress who’s passing you by and will be gone within seconds.  Offer to babysit your young neighbors’ kid so they can have that much needed date that they might not be able to afford otherwise.  In other words: give without expectation of return.  It will come back to you — because we are all connected.

Here is a list of affordable or free sites for goods / offerings that actors (and regular people) need here in LA (and throughout the country in some instances), as well as a list of retailers that I know of that charge but also foster a gift culture in their work.  I welcome your input on what you have found as well.  Spread the word, give, go green, and be rich.  : )



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As a SAG-AFTRA and Equity member, Michal has appeared in dozens of plays and over fifty principal / starring roles for radio, television, and film. She is the voice, likeness, & performance capture artist for Tracey De Santa, one of 7 main characters out of a cast of a 1000, in the billion dollar phenomena Grand Theft Auto V. Her starring role in the LA Premiere of ‘White Hot’ at Hollywood Fringe earned her a Best Actress Award & her Ovation nominated theatre company, The Vagrancy, a Best Ensemble Award with knock-out reviews in ‘LA Weekly’ & ‘The Examiner.’ Film highlights: roles in Spike Lee’s Inside Man & Quid Pro Quo with Vera Farmiga. Born That Way, which she co-wrote with Mary M. Parr and Rob Travalino, was a Sundance Screenwriting Lab second rounder and one of 5 Finalists for Big Vision Empty Wallet’s Screenwriting Career Lab. She is the official Host of The Women’s Independent Film Festival and heads The Field Trips Department of Film Fatales where she’s a member in NYC and Los Angeles.
  • Raeze

    I like the pay it forward attitude! As far as the “new” actor’s journey to a working career goes it does seem that there is more work and resources required than there were not to long ago…The first thing that comes to mind after reading that part is, it seems like it would be more interesting to champion (produce) your own film. But that is not practical for everyone but hey, if you are successful at landing roles through said process then that is what you will end up doing eventually anyway.

    That being said we are all connected and by joining in with other like minded individuals (like the holders of the companies we admire) we as a species can persevere.

    • Michal

      True that. Let me know how you like “Born That Way.”

      • Raeze

        Your summary got my attention. I’m looking forward to enjoying it

  • Andie Bottrell

    Great post, Michal! I couldn’t agree more.

    • Michal Sinnott

      Thanks for your feedback Andie! I always enjoy reading
      what you have to say too. You are amazing!