Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Okay, but seriously now: To Stay, or To Go?

Okay, let us speak plainly. I've come to a crossroads, and I'm not sure what road to take.

In one direction: Democracy, friends, Central Park, 24-hr. mass transit, Comedy Central programing on a timely basis, and *REAL* bagels. Also in this direction are the personal demons, the baggage, the shitty winters, and fucking hipsters (FUCK. YOU. HIPSTERS.<--My hatred has only grown since my time away.). Not to mention the fare hikes that will cost the monthly Metrocard user $103 every thirty days to re-up. It makes you wish there really were MTA Service Specialists. My friend Jenna said it best, I think: "But seriously, for $103 a month I want someone to give me pretzels."

Now, in the other direction lies buildings low enough to see stars at night, culturecultureculture, easy access to Europe, fried fish (I am a sucker for fried food), the best coffee I've ever had (Jason: I love you), and a government that funds its art scene. But this direction has its downfalls, too: A subway system that closes down at midnight, sidewalks that are too narrow with ne'er a trash bin to be found, KFCs that don't have mashed potatoes or biscuits, OR extra-crispy chicken (What is the *point* then?), and fewer friends--still lovely, but small in numbers.

And then there's the whole visa thing.

As I've noted before, I can't work in this country as an actress under my student visa.

Wait. Back up. Let's re-phrase that:

I can't work for MONEY in this country as an actress under my student visa. I know what you'll say:

Well, then get another visa!

To which I will respond:

It's not that easy.

You see, to claim another visa as a "post-study worker," I would need a total of 75 points on my application to be eligible for consideration, not to mention that teensy processing fee of 800GBP. Oh but yes. If you consider that sum at the highest and lowest I've seen the exchange rate since starting out on this little venture, that's anywhere between $1,680 and $1,096 (currently, it would come to $1,146.11). Here's what the UK Border Agency has to say about eligibility:

To apply under our points-based system and be accepted into the post-study worker category, you must pass a points-based assessment.

You must score:

  • 75 points for your attributes, which are a United Kingdom qualification, study at a United Kingdom institution, your immigration status during United Kingdom study and/or research, and the date of award of the qualification; and
  • 10 points for English language; and
  • 10 points for available maintenance (funds)
The whole thing is daunting, and reeks of impossibility. But more than that: it smells like adulthood. What? Actually working for something over long term suffering and sacrifice? Seriously? Don't you know I'm an only child? I'm not into that.

But aside this being a hard process, and therefore unappealing, even after spending the money, getting a job that will help me gather the funds to prove that I can support myself to the border officials, there is still a chance that I will be rejected. And it looks like I can't actually apply until I have my MA documentation--which will not exist until December. So post Germany, I'll have at least four months of doing other things besides trying to pursue acting as my sole career, and if anything does come up I won't be able to take it if there's pay involved, because legally I can't receive any. And quite frankly, I've already done this.

The big reason to get the MA--the HUGE one--was to feel like a legitimate actor. Much of this has to do with what I always saw being the difference between myself and the actors I caught in major regional theatre productions: they had MAs or MFAs, and I did not. I once asked a former colleague of mine to see if she could get me an audition for such a gig, and she told me flat out that I had no chance of getting seen because they were only going to call in people with masters degrees. So from the time I was young (about the 11th grade), I always knew that getting an MA or an MFA was a must, because those were the kind of houses I wanted to play in, and that was the kind of money I wanted to make. Let us forget for a moment that much more of a theatre practitioner's life, particularly an actor's, is left to chance, more so than most any other occupation. So let us not waste time debating the finer points of this argument by citing (as we all can) our *one* friend who made it big on nothing more than a BA or a couple classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Let us simply acknowledge this as an established convention of casting, and move on. So you see, to me a huge part of what I wanted for my career involved working in specific houses across the country, with specific reputations. And these places also meant a specific perk: a paycheck.

Now, don't get me wrong: unpaid acting is still acting if you're putting the work in. I've done a lot of it, seen a lot of unpaid performances, and have a lot of friends who do it, and I know this to be true. But it's not what I want, not for my career, and not for my life, and gaining an MA was a step to leaving that part of the industry, only to return when between paying gigs or to fulfill an artistic desire. The wisest man I ever knew once told me:

Lea, don't be a drama slut, be a drama whore. Whores get paid.

Basically his advice was, if it pays nothing but it gives you something for your soul, than it's worth it; if it pays you a lot, and gives you nothing for your soul, except a chance to fulfil it at another time because you'll be able to support yourself for a little while, then it's worth it. But if you're not getting either of these two compensations, turn around and Run in the other direction.

I've been through the ringer. I've done a lot of theatre that gave me nothing in return except a few embittered jokes and another credit on my resume. I've had my soul ripped out and built up again and again. I won't dwell on this too long, because every actor has known pain, and everyone who has had to sit and listen to them ramble on about their pain is almost instantly bored. But I got into a rut in New York that I couldn't shake, and a large reason for the change in scenery was to get out of it--and also to try to take steps to live a little more like a whore, in the monetary sense.

So here I am, sitting next to big change, on the brink of something I have no understanding of, and because of legal reasons I'm at the exact same place I was in New York. Now, there are a couple budding artistic relationships that might be good to see through here--partly because of the work that could be generated within those relationships, and partly because of my sheer enjoyment of working with those people. And so the soul has the potential to be paid. But sitting around, generating work that would possibly have to transfer to New York to ever see the light of day with me making any bank on it--it just doesn't quite work for me. Maybe I'm too impatient. But at twenty-four and a half, I already feel too old to pussy-foot about. I'll be the first to identify that statement as concerning myself and not anybody else. But as it is my life, and as it is how I feel about it, I can't shake the feeling that that many months without having some prospect of paid work, not even an opportunity, is exactly what I don't want. And I don't think pushing a piece of chalk around the drawing board of new work is going to cut it for me.

This sudden state of crisis that I've come to with all of this was brought on by Spotlight. Months in advance of publication, Spotlight gathers its clients information, headshots, and money, in order to print a large book listing all the registered actors in the UK. And there are a lot of us. I received a notice in the mail the other day informing me that to make it into the Actresses book that would be published in October, I would have to confirm by the last week in April. The books last for a year. If I spent the money--to me it's an investment--then that is like saying I am going to try to get a new visa and stay here through October 2010, the cost and potential agony be damned! But the unknown is frightening, and not *completely* appealing, I might add. And in truth: I don't know if I want to stay.

London is fine. It's great. But I miss my friends, I miss the grid system, and I miss REAL pizza (and again, *bagels*). Maybe it's just homesickness, but this not knowing when I'll return makes it hard to decide if I should stay, too. Though in truth--New York is just as much an unknown as London is in some ways. I have nothing to go back to: not a serious job prospect, not an apartment, not even a boyfriend or some kind of distant lover I could finally culminate things with and settle down with accordingly. I don't have those things here, either, but at least in America there's already a chance I could get paid acting work, and my accent wouldn't be working against me: one of the other Americans at the ADR work I booked the other day told me that many American actors were over here hiding their accents because they wouldn't be seen for British roles if the director knew they were American. That is a stressful prospect. But it's not worth stressing about, if you can't even get an audition because of your "alien" status.

I have a bet running with a certain someone regarding the date of my return, and if I headed back before March 2010, I'd lose it. The consequences aren't entirely unpleasant, but I'm not looking forward to what awaits me if I fail. Also: I hate losing. HATE IT. But to stay in a place simply out of stubbornness over a bet seems ridiculous, and further highlights the most important part of this decision: that whatever I end up choosing, must be my choice, and not something I submitted to or felt I should do, or whatever. And once I've made that choice, I have to commit to getting it done. If it means trying to stay here, then that's what I do: I work to stay here. If it means going back to the states, then it is with the understanding that I am going to make some large changes in my life, and that I will not return to the way I was running shop before (which was fine and all, but not nearly pro-active enough).

Either direction is hard to walk in. Now it's just a matter of knowing where to aim the first step.


Zuzu Petals said...

But more than that: it smells like adulthood. What? Actually working for something over long term suffering and sacrifice?

Lea McK-G, if you bail on getting your MA in a fit of whining, homesickness and self-doubt, so help me in the name of all that is holy, I am going to fly over there and flog you. And then I will sleep at your dorm and make you sleep on the floor. Finish what you started. I understand you're not real happy right now, but finish what you started. You will be glad you did. That's not advice. That's the voice of reason from across the pond, the one that will flog you, make you sleep on the floor and then will make you ice fish in knee socks.

Logan said...

I think that as hard as it might be and as unsure as you might seem on the surface that staying is probably the way to go. Obviously I'd love to have you home to visit and re-watch BSG with but I think by the end of this post, you had convinced me that staying is probably the best thing for your career right now.

I'm behind you no matter which decision you make, but if you're staying I'm going to seriously have to get that passport to come out and visit!

Lea Maria said...

Amy Lee--

It's not a matter of quitting before I get my MA. It's just a matter of leaving after I've handed in my dissertation, and maybe not staying for graduation. Not finishing is NOT an option in any way, shape, or form.

And Logan--

Thanks for the input, and if I do stay, I'm going to hold you to that passport thing! You better visit! We can crash the set of "Law & Order: UK" and stalk Jamie Bamber! Hooray!

Caitlin said...

Lea, the fee is £400, not £800. You need to have at least £800 in your bank account over a period of three months prior to applying for the visa extension. It is just so they know you can support yourself (somewhat). So it's not quite as expensive as you had thought.

Lea Maria said...

Caitlin! What wonderful news! Thank you for the correction!

Zuzu Petals said...

Well, in that case...

I think you should do what makes you happy. =)

I will not make you wear knee socks.

Dani said...

I don't like hipsters either.