Some people have asked me recently what it is that possessed me to literally abandon my relatively quiet and secure life, and pursue the life of a struggling actor. Even considering all that such a journey entails: the early morning casting calls; the five to seven hours a day of driving to and from the city; the long, long days on set (where despite the ungodly start times of 5-7AM, most days shooting doesn’t start until well into the afternoon); the unbelievably low pay sometimes involved, where with some background work doesn’t even match minimum wage; the many auditions, many of which are not successful; and the companies that don’t even tell the actor he or she didn’t get the role, thus leaving the actor hanging and hoping for weeks – in vain. No sane person would ever even consider such a path…would they?
Then there are the other factors, specific to my own situation. For starters, I’ve embarked on the sojourn just past the age of 50, when most actors have been plying their trade for years. And it's the age when many people are looking to be slowing down and retiring. Add to that the 90 mile commute to New York City where most of the jobs are; the countless hours spent on casting sites; the endless self-promotion (which alienates some of my friends); and the never-ending reading, training and practice – it seems that every waking hour since I’ve begun has been consumed by my passion. A passion that I had thought died over 30 years ago.
There is an even bigger issue, or what I originally thought would be a huge issue in getting work, and what kept me from pursuing this career over the last thirty years. I use a wheelchair, and have been paralyzed from the waist down since a work related accident on November 29th, 1982. Over the years, I have experienced first-hand the ‘different’ way people with disabilities are treated, and have worked tirelessly over the years in various capacities to advocate for equality in all aspects of society. I imagined many doors being figuratively slammed in my face as I attempted to navigate the competitive world of acting and show-biz in general.
Oh, so many reasons not to go forward. So many reasons to stay secure in my home, in my beautiful little town, in my quiet life. But for what!?
These last few years have shown me the biggest reasons for "Why Not?". On the personal side, several factors pushed me – pushed hard – to ‘go for it’ as the saying goes. I was afflicted with a serious medical condition which nearly took my life, caused me to lose forty pounds (thirty of which I didn’t need!) and took me completely out of any sort of meaningful life for almost a year and a half. Even after it passed (in fits and starts) I felt like the soldier in Damocles’ Sword, waiting for the string holding the sword to break, and the disease to rear its ugly head any time I took a step forward.
Add to that the untimely deaths of friends and the famous. Personal friends who passed so so early, at ages 30, 40 and 50. The entertainers we lost so suddenly – Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bernie Mack, John Ritter, so many more. The realization that none of us ever know how long we have in this single, solitary life we have been given. Ever. And that if we only have this one chance, this one flicker in time, then if we want something, really want something, one we can go for it. And it has to be now, for tomorrow may not come. Or it may be a very different tomorrow than the one we planned for.
In 1982, a four thousand pound car fell on me while I was standing under it. An accident that for all intents and purposes should have killed me instantly. But, it did not. Though the physical damage would change my life forever, I am here, I am alive. Before I knew whether I would live or die that first week, I vowed that if I were to survive, I would live a meaningful life. And for the most part I have. (Not perfect by any means, though I have always tried.) But for the last few years, I’ve felt confined, restrained. Though I had completed my first book (which will be published one of these days – soon), the writing process is an extremely internal process, especially when writing an autobiographical, personal tome. While it was and still is an extremely passionate process if done correctly, the words and emotions end up on a computer screen or a piece of paper.
However, what the writing did do for me was reignite the creative part of me held quiet for the last twelve years. I always did my best when putting myself ‘out there.’ Whether it was through a motivational speech in a banquet hall, testifying before various government panels, documentary features. Or going much further back to playing piano solo or in a group, and especially performing on stage or local theater dramatic productions prior to my accident, a spark had been ignited and it gnawed at me day and night. But, what to do about it… How…Where…?
Each answer only led to another seemingly insurmountable question: an additional obstacle.