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Getting a Break and Not Even Knowing It
11.27.10
Something nice happened to me the other day. I was 1 of 14 actors selected to audition for ABC/Disney casting executives as part of a diversity casting workshop. It was really an incredible experience. I've been on the ABC/Disney lot before but to go there for that type of meeting and then getting to perform for their casting executives was quite memorable. Besides the incredible educational component (they spent much time with us in Q&A answering any and every question), the obvious hope is that maybe this will begin a relationship where they'll keep us in mind for future roles. It's not an audition though, and in recounting this story to my friend, I didn't believe it was one of those vaunted "breaks" which everyone in L.A. hopes for.
 
My friend brought up a really good point though. What if that, or something else I'm working on, will in retrospect be one of those breaks? She pointed out that I didn't get my job at Google right off the bat -- I had a bunch of breaks in order to get it. That's totally true and here are some of the things (in rough chronological order) that needed for me to happen in order to get my job offer from Google.
  • scoring a 1510 on my SATs (Google turns out to be an employer who requests your SAT scores and will hold it against a candidate if they don't have a high enough SAT score)
  • getting into Princeton (especially when I interviewed, Google was particularly heavy on individuals who went to Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford, and similarly ranked institutions)
  • becoming friends with Professor Ed Zschau (one of my professors at Princeton who I seeked out) who then made an introduction for me to Reader's Digest (on whose board he served on) which led to an internship for me working on gifts.com which, I am convinced, directly led to amazon.com becoming interested in me because I was an undergrad who had e-commerce experience.
  • working at amazon.com which no doubt helped me get a job offer at Google because it was the right pedigree (technology and well respected)
  • having dinner with an old amazon.com friend who knew that Google was hiring and had a friend there that he could pass my resume on to

Working at Google when I worked there was quite a break in many ways -- it's enabled me to basically carve out a custom professional path that would otherwise be unthinkable. It also enabled me to have a rich set of experiences and interactions with some of the most talented and intelligent people I've ever worked with.

However, and I know it may sound odd, but I'm not really convinced any of it would've been possible if ANY of those bullet points above did not occur. In fact, I'm probably understating the number of items that had to happen in order for me to get that job. In some ways, I suppose, it was like building a house. You can't build a great house and have a poor foundation, or forget to install the front door, or have shoddy appliances. Every detail matters. It was true in this case as well. So many seemingly disparate bits played what ultimately was a crucial role in something that's had a huge and positive impact on my life.
 
Getting the chance to audition for the ABC/Disney casting execs was a huge coup but not something that fell out of the sky either. I previously acted in, wrote, and produced a web series called "The Consultants" which was named a finalist in a Producers Guild competition. My friend astutely pointed out that if I didn't create that series, I probably would've *never* gotten into that casting workshop. I think she's right. 
 
So I started to ask myself, "What am I doing right now, or what should I be doing right now that might set myself up well later?" I'm a big believer in creating my own work and getting an opportunity to just get out there. One of the biggest problems with being an actor is that it's hard to find a consistent venue to both work on your craft and be visible to others. So that's the question I'm trying to solve right now -- I'm investing heavily (time, money, and coaching) in writing and producing -- figuring out what next I should develop that will allow me to continue to make more and better work, work consistently, and also be a vehicle for others to see me.
 
One last note. I've written on this blog about magic numerous times. One of the things that I find really fascinating about magic is that L.A. offers basically the full spectrum in terms of ability to improve for magicians. How?
  1. World class instruction -- you can study with some of the best magicians in the world, either formally or informally.
  2. Practice -- this is something you have to do on your own, but this is within your control.
  3. **Venue for performing** -- the Magic Castle offers a tailor made venue for performing. Every night, magicians can go to the Castle and perform for interested spectators who otherwise will be seeing some of the best magicians in the world perform. You won't be paid for it, but you can get in critical practice to improve your act and skill. 
  4. **Venue to be seen performing** -- again, the Magic Castle not only hires magicians, but many people who hire magicians visit the Castle -- from private parties to cruises to corporate engagements to film/TV professionals.
With most artistic endeavors -- #1 and #2 are generally available. If you want to find a world class acting, dance, singing, music, etc. coach -- they're generally available if you're in a NY or LA, but also in smaller cities as well. However, #3 and #4 are in very short supply and that's the problem. That's one of the reasons I continue developing as a magician -- because #1 through #4 is available to me and besides being very enjoyable, I feel like it just makes me a better performer. However, solving #3 and #4 is at the heart of what I hope to solve for me in terms of acting. Hopefully, little things I do now on that front will pay off later and maybe, like my job at Google, I'll look back and think, "Oh, if I never did that, I never would've gotten this." One can only hope :)

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