Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hollywood or Bust? A Commentary in Support of the International Arts

How lucky American actors are to be able to pursue their art and craft in this country. I was reminded of this last month during a visit to Australia and New Zealand where I got to meet and chat with local actors. What an education, which I shared with my students in our first class meeting of “The Business of Acting” summer session class at the Emerson College Los Angeles Center.

The pursuit, maintenance and growth of a career as a professional, working actor is tough enough, but, if where the bulk of the work is located is an ocean and government red-tape away, imagine the frustration.

Olivia Mackenzie-Smith, a young and talented actress living and working in Sydney, explained to me just how the business of acting works down under. While the film and television industry is a growing (and respected one) there, there are still limitations actors have to face all the time. There just isn’t, currently, as much work for actors there as there is in America (partly because there is less product produced there and partly because so much entertainment product from America is readily available there). Local theatre thrives where it can, yet, like in our major cities (and elsewhere) high ticket prices frequently stand in the way of many people who might seek it out being able to afford to actually do so.

What’s a non-American actor to do? There aren’t many options, unfortunately, yet. With an eye on Hollywood or New York, many “foreign” actors simply can’t conquer the U.S. immigration system to be able to obtain the credentials necessary to come here and work. While actors can come here to study (on a student visa; I have had many international students in my Emerson College classes over the years), the opportunity to stay on and work after the post-graduation grace period expires is hard, if not impossible, to come by.

There is always sponsorship (but the regulations about working for one employer can cloud the pursuit of a work for an actor whose career is filled with jobs for many employers); Olivia tells me that Australia has an (albeit highly competitive) lottery to provide (some) actors (and others) with the necessary credentials to come here and work; and then there is the U.S. government’s artists’ visa, which requires that one first have achieved some level of notoriety in one’s home country which will be of benefit to the arts in this country. Of course, there is always marriage-to-a-citizen-route – for love, money and/or the arts (but you won’t catch me publicly suggesting or endorsing that one ☺ ).

This is not meant to be a rant about immigration laws, but rather an recognition in support of how tough it is to pursue this career, with an appreciation for how relatively easier it is here, for those who do so. As the business of acting grows and thrives in other countries (with special appreciation for the longstanding work in England, whose actors have been at this long before the first stage was every built in this country) and as American actors seek opportunities for work beyond our shores (in projects that are not cast here for production elsewhere), we might begin to see a loosening of the regulations currently put on immigration for arts’ sake. The journey is always a challenge; always a learning experience. Both artists and audiences stand to benefit enormously from any creative exchange through performance and expression.

In the meantime, I think I’ll get busy on a version of The Business of Acting for my friends down under.

I welcome your comments and sharing of your related experiences.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good words.