When I was a young actor I was pretty damned determined to "make it." To me this meant I had no choice but to nag the hell out of any and all potential employers. Every time I booked a job, I made sure every living person in show business knew about it. I mailed zillions of flyers, photocopied reviews and used a yellow highlighter to make sure that any favorable mentions I got were easy to spot!
Between acting gigs, I had an ongoing gig managing a hectic Manhattan real estate office. This was the 80's when the property market in New York was exploding, so the atmosphere in that place was utterly insane. This made it quite easy for me to steal prodigious amounts of office supplies. I'll no doubt rot in Hell someday for all the envelopes, paper and postage I crammed into my backpack every week. Somehow, I managed to rationalize my thievery by telling myself I was "allowing" these money-crazed brokers to make an inadvertent "donation to the arts."
In the privacy of my studio apartment, I was a one-man P.R. factory, constantly reminding every agent, casting person and artistic director on the east coast that I was the new voice of the American Theatre and that they should hire me now - while they had the chance! Amazingly, it sort of worked. I can still remember booking a job at a regional theatre in Philadelphia where I'd wanted to work for some time. On the first day of rehearsal, I spotted the artistic director in the lobby; a man who had been on my mailing list for well over a year. Brown-noser that I was, I strode over, shook his hand and said how pleased I was to be working for him. He smiled patiently at me and said "You were very good in your audition, but basically I hired you, so you'd stop sending me things."
Over time, I learned to relax the manic self-promotion. First off, it became pretty clear that I was not the new voice of the American Theatre. I was just another energetic player on the field. Also, I became a writer and endless glad-handing tends to make people wonder when the hell you have time to do any writing.
Memories of my self-promoting days have been flooding back lately, due to my recent return to performing live again after a very long hiatus. Live performance is not (and never has been) a big cash cow. But it's fun and it's important for artists and audiences to get together in the same room once in a while and say hello. It also allows creative types to stretch and redefine themselves. One of the major reasons I've been doing these shows is to hopefully convince a few people in the industry that I might be able to play something other than a drooling psychopath.
Much has changed since my days of stealing office supplies. Now, we have email, Facebook and Twitter. For a borderline OCD sufferer like myself, this is something of a nightmare. Now the number of people I can harass has shot into the thousands! Of course, I fully understand that most of these messages and postings get deleted the millisecond the recipient spots them in their inbox. So why do it? Because it works.
I once got a powerful producer to read (and option) a script of mine because of a random email I sent her. I once got an acting job on a TV show because I sent a postcard to a casting director I'd never met - a postcard! Another time, I got my short film into a big deal festival because I happened to have a business card in my pocket at a party. For the thousand "messages in a bottle" that we cast out into the ocean, occasionally one of them actually washes up on the right shore -- at the right moment in time.
When I mentor young actors and writers, I talk about the importance of keeping busy, but I also talk about the importance of letting people know that you are busy. For a lot of us, the whole idea of self-promotion is mortifying. I understand, because at our core, most artists are shy. And there is, of course, a fine line between promoting yourself and coming off like a self-aggrandizing asshole -- a line I may well have passed over once or twice in my career. These days, I have a few hard and fast rules about promotion; the first one being that I don't promote myself; I promote what I'm doing - and there is a big difference between the two. Second, I never promote anything that's boring or a piece of shit - and yes, I've done some shit in my day. I also try to be light-hearted about it and make my promotions entertaining and not repetive. And the final (and most important) rule is that I never expect my promotions to have any effect whatsoever. That way if someone does respond, it's quite a pleasant surprise.
Entertainment is one of the few businesses where talk is not cheap. In fact, it's a highly valuable currency. The business lives on chatter. If you don't have an agent or manager (or if you're not happy with the number of appointments you're getting) then you need to find a way to join the conversation. It's not that hard. Just find something to do - hopefully something that, even if it's not immediately profitable, is at least fun for you. When you run into a potential employer at a party and they ask what you've been up to, you don't want to say "Absolutely nothing. How about you?"
It somehow seems fitting that I should end this particular entry by ever-so-casually mentioning that I just happened to be appearing in a very funny show called "Streep Tease" at the Bang Comedy Theater here in Los Angeles through April 24th. I guess it might be pushing it to say that the Daily Beast called it "Side-Splitting" and BroadwayWorld.com deemed it "A Gem of a Show." Too much? Okay, well maybe I'll just close by providing you with this handy link where you can order tickets! http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease/
Sorry. Old habits die hard!
Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor ("Boston Legal") and screenwriter ("Kingdom Come") who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/