On the Virtues of Selling Out

shutterstock_691628098One of my early, vivid memories of encountering a “real actor” was in elementary school, when a local actor came to speak about his job. Already knowing what I wanted my future career to be, I was ecstatic. When Jeff (not his real name, because in no way do I remember it) was asked about doing commercials, he launched into his personal feelings on “selling out.”

Jeff was of the opinion that it is not ever worth it. He was not about to hawk toothpaste for a dirty buck when he could be speaking the words of Shakespeare. Jeff made a lot of good points about integrity. As a young, budding activist, I was 100% on board. I will be an actor who never sells out, I promised myself.

Here’s what I would like to say to Jeff, and preteen me:

Get over it, dum dums.

Here’s the thing: of course it would be nice to live in a world where we could all afford to do only work that stimulates and fulfills us. But the reality for many young actors is that acting is an incredibly difficult and expensive career. We do not live in a country that makes it easy to survive as an artist. So sometimes, most times even, you have to take the work that comes your way in order to keep acting. Or, you know, keep eating.

I’m not advocating for anyone to take work that makes them feel unsafe, taken advantage of, or shatters the glass on their moral compasses. There is room in this industry to have personal boundaries that cannot be crossed, and they will be different for everyone. What I am urging young actors to do is forgive themselves when they need to take less than desirable work they feel should be beneath them.

There are constructive and healthy ways to judge the worth of your work. Ways that take into account what you needed from each project, where you are in your career, how each project helps you grow as an artist or professional. Ways that include acknowledging that sometimes that means just taking a paycheck to stay afloat. The mental trap actors are prone to fall into is the never-achievable measure of “enough.” What is good enough, profound enough, what is enough to qualify you as a “real actor.” You are a real actor. Seeking that knowledge from external validation is an exhausting and quixotic endeavor.

Of course you should pursue the work that is most meaningful to you. Of course you will, from time to time, reject work that you find distasteful. But if you allow your definition of selling out to become a considered and flexible guide to your choices, as opposed to a looming, rigid threat to your worth, your career and your mental health will become more sustainable. Which, in turn, will set you up to be able seize the truly exciting opportunities.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com