Corruption at the heart of Hollywood? What's new? Robert Altman plumbed this minefield brilliantly in The Player back in the '90s. But my perspective is slightly different than his because I'm not an insider by any stretch of the imagination and most likely never will be. I'm one of those folks who moved to California over 30 years ago for employment when the East Coast was in a recession and only recently decided to head from the northern part of the state to the southern, hoping I could discover a genuine community in the performing arts.
I'm not as needy or desirous of fame or fortune as most folks in L.A. since I'm older than the majority of wannabees you see everywhere. For me it's supposed to be about fun. But corruption in this environment of fierce competition and big rewards is inevitable. When ego and power are at stake, you can rest assured corruption leeches its way into even the purest of hearts. My ticker has been around the block a few times. It's not immune to compromise and compromise can become a slippery slope towards corruption.
There are a lot of examples of that slippery slope but let me start with some background. Back in the East Bay of San Francisco, I rose to absolutely no fame or fortune after resurrecting a defunct theatre department at a community college. I did it off the sweat of my brow and backbreaking work day after day, month after month, year after year. I didn't get a helluva lot of recognition or support. Passion in academic communities is often looked at with suspicion and sometimes derision. Admittedly I was outspoken, did not suffer fools gladly and pulled no punches. I made some enemies. Today that department is thriving in no small part due to the person to whom it was handed after 14 years. He has tact, maturity, wisdom. Things I'm still working on and will be til the day I die. But I'm a proud birth mama of that tiny corner of the world because truth is without my dogged persistence, it never would have happened.
I came to Los Angeles hoping I could do something equally as productive here, wanting to create a niche for myself in LaLa Land. I began by getting the lay of the land by doing what any academic does: taking some acting classes. Now realize I've devoted my life to education so my standards are very high. I always made it a point to focus on the needs and interests of my students and tweaked the curriculum accordingly.
I'm now in Hollywoodland hoping to find teachers who are equally as passionate and interested in my development as an artist as I was towards my own students. But what I discover again and again (except in some rare instances usually with teachers who are either very well educated, very successful as actors or not American) is that it's more often about becoming a celebrity, not an artist, with the concomitant wealth and power that comes from being famous.
I hear again and again in classes how to nail an audition, get a featured role on some crappy procedural TV show and, finally, how to look, act and sound like a star. And almost all of this is directed at the young and beautiful in the class. In most of the classes I feel invisible and unimportant. Ageism simply reeks from these folks, themselves fading wannabees who never will be.
The level of excitement many of these teachers have for you is in direct proportion to how you can advance his or her career by 1) doing as your told 2) getting with the program 3) feeding his or her ego. Really? Is that what learning a craft and art is all about? In nearly every instance of studying in Los Angeles (with very few exceptions), I found a mind numbing need for attention and approval from us the students who are simply a stand in for an audience. And why is that? Maybe because the stakes are far too high, the work is all about marketing and commerce and Hollywood is essentially a big business churning out TV shows and films about blowing people and things up and then figuring out who and how they got blown up. See? Corruption at its very heart. I suspect it was always about this to some extent but was it always this sad and desperate? I mean how many Terminator movies can we really stomach?
To be fair there have been some amazing exceptions in my experience so far. Often teachers who are not American show a difference. For them it's more about the craft and art form and less about their own egos. Often more exacting, less given to hyperbole when you show potential and more about cutting out the bullshit and getting you to do the work, my experience with these folks was significantly superior. I suppose this declaration is not going to win me any friends. Cest la vie.
Given that no one is perfect, I still have my limits of tolerance in these classes and truthfully what I find the most repulsive are teachers who take up enormous amounts of class time telling old war stories about their experiences in this movie or that play. I know these teachers think they are "illustrating" their points but in fact their egos are so fragile that the truth is it's all about them and their frustrated desire to become stars which is simply a metaphor for power. The truly powerless acting teacher really covets power.
I suspect that beyond all the endless babbling are dispirited and enormously disappointed souls who wish they were on the cover of People magazine or being talked about on ET. When you really know your worth, you don't have to continuously remind yourself about it. After teaching for 25 years and getting pretty good at it, I know one is obligated to keep the focus on the students' needs, not your own. You have to be significantly more selfless than self-centered. And if you can't be? You really shouldn't be teaching. You should be auditioning your ass off.
To be fair, I'm still out there sampling the fare. I read constantly the suggestions of who to study with and what each of these folks brings to the table. And my mind and heart keep returning to certain questions: who can help me find my place in this pit of power, wealth, celebrity and ego? Who's not only after my money? Who has integrity in both their teaching and work? And finally who will stop telling us old war stories wasting our time and money because they really just desperately want to be famous and we are simply tools to get them there? See? Corruption at the very heart of it all.