An excerpt from Exit Stage Right: The Career Change Handbook for Performers
Once you’re solidly in your new chapter, you join the ranks of the Former Performers: the passionate souls who pursued one of the most difficult – and rewarding – career paths that exist. You followed your first dream, and that is something you should always cherish.
For a long time, I struggled with the admission that I used to be an actor. I thought it undermined my current career or suggested that I had failed and cashed out. As time gives me distance, however, I realize that my time as a performer contributed incredible value to both my new career path and the way I approach life. We all have our own journeys, and it is always better to have gone after your dream at the time it was right for you.
Instead of a liability, my years as an actor have come in incredibly useful for my post-performer jobs. I’ve carved out a marketing niche with companies that target artists; I’m quick on my feet in interviews with my improvisational training; I’ve stepped in to emcee client events at a moment’s notice with (almost) no stage fright. Some lucky opportunities are personal – I once spent eight days in Costa Rica because a handsome guy recognized me from my last film role… now that’s what I call residuals.
You should – you must – keep dreaming. Be open to evolving, and to acknowledging how you’ve grown or changed. In the words of Sondheim, “facing facts, not escaping them / still with dreams, just reshaping them.”
Staying Involved in the Arts
If everything goes as planned, I’ll spend my retirement directing campy musical revivals at a tiny community playhouse in some beach town. Until then, there are infinite ways to keep creativity a central part of life.
Heather, now a lawyer in Chicago, started her career as a dancer with a degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her second degree in political science proved useful when she took a break from performing to intern in D.C., eventually going to law school, but she found herself missing dance immensely. While her new career in entertainment law allows her to work with artists on licensing and creative rights, she has made time in her schedule to perform in community dance events and pursue her Pilates teaching certification.
There is value in performing for performing’s sake. You don’t have to practice singing in order to audition for a role, you can sing because you just love it. You’ll find that feeding your creative soul not only makes you better in business but also more balanced in life.
There’s no reason to limit yourself to what you practiced professionally. Now that you have creative development energy to spare, why not try another creative outlet? Visual arts, writing, crafts, cooking: there are a lot of creative endeavors outside of performing, and it’s incredibly freeing to learn and develop art without the measurement of how far you’re coming along professionally. If you don’t love it, drop it and try something else. There is nothing to lose.
As your time and financial stability grows, you may find yourself in the incredibly lucky position to patronize the arts. What a wonderful way to give back to the field that helped you grow into the diverse professional you are today!
You don’t have to be independently wealthy to support the arts. As you well know, time and talent are also valuable. As are connections – the people you meet in your new career may be the perfect contacts for a company that’s near and dear to your heart.
One of the first moments I knew I could be happy as a former performer was in the audience of the first viBe Theater Experience show in 2002. chandra, my friend and theatrical collaborator, had started a program for inner-city teenage girls to create their own work and express themselves on stage. I anticipated a cringe-worthy show (hello, high school) and was totally floored by one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen, period. And I was struck with the thought that I would rather fund this work than be part of it. Ten years later, I got to serve on the host committee for their annual benefit, leveraging my contacts for silent auction donations and my press list for added exposure.
Carving Your Career Path
As an artist at heart, you will thrive by continuing to grow and create, both personally and professionally. Developing your career is a creative endeavor – no two paths are identical, and shaping yours will be a lifelong pursuit. You may take time off to travel or start a family. You may decide it’s time to change careers again. All of this is fine, fantastic even, and I hope you now have a framework you can use again to focus on a new goal.
Never stop exploring. Keep learning – developing professionally and personally. Don’t let a job or your age or your stage in life ever be an excuse to get stagnant.
Your life, your happiness, and your well-being, are utterly and completely worth it.