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1) What do you do now and what did you do before?
Now, I am a professional working actor and a member of SAG-AFTRA the national union for professional working actors. Before, I was the Vice President of Branch Network Expansion and Retail Store Planning for HSBC Bank USA, N.A.
2) So, why the change?
Ever since my childhood, I had been interested in acting and performing. In high school and college, I took classes and was involved in community and semi-professional productions. After I graduated college, I took a full-time job in the finance industry mainly so that I could afford to move from Buffalo, NY to New York City, which was a lifelong dream of mine. The years kind of flew by … While working in finance, I didn’t have a lot of time to act or perform on the side. I took some classes during this time and dipped a toe in, but I definitely was not pursuing it full-time. In New York, it’s very difficult to maintain acting and performing as a hobby due to the amount of competition vying for available (paid and unpaid) positions. After working in finance for nearly ten years and achieving success in a field I didn’t even plan/want to enter, I realized I never wanted to be one of those “what if” people. I was in a position to be able to make a selfish decision – I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, the only dependents I have are my credit card bills … now is the time to try something else and go for it. So, I quit my job in finance (in the middle of a recession), got new headshots, and started to going to auditions and trying to find an agent.
3) How did you pitch yourself to the desired industry/role? What worked well? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
At first I tried to play it off like I had been doing it all the while since college, but then I realized there was value in me sharing the real story. People enjoyed hearing the “banker turned actor” story, and I think it helped to make me memorable. The key to success in the entertainment industry is networking. It really is true that it’s all about who you know. I spent money to take classes and seminars, to meet people and to get my name out there. I auditioned for EVERYTHING that came my way. As I learned more and more about how the industry operates, I refined my strategy to get more return on my time invested. Being honest and true to myself worked well. The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have made the change sooner.
4) What was the most valuable thing you did in preparation for the new industry/role?
I read everything that I could get my hands on. I read advice columns and books about being an actor, but more importantly about being a working actor. I started reading the trade magazines and online outlets like Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Playbill.com and others – it’s crucial to know what is going on in your industry and be able to talk with confidence about it. I learned new material – new audition songs, monologues and scenes that I could use when I went to audition for casting directors, directors and agents. I talked to my friends who were already in the industry – it was helpful to hear things to do and things to avoid from people who were already doing it every day.
5) What other advice or insight do you have for readers seeking the same career transition?
Expect an uphill battle. Being an actor – whether you are on stage, TV, film, commercials or voiceover – is the most competitive industry in the world where you can be judged on your age, your looks, your height – everything except your talent. It runs on a unique structure and it’s not as simple as being able to apply for a job that you’re qualified for and get it. It’s so much more than that. It’s a very challenging numbers game and you have to be ready for disappointment, rejection and standing on uneven ground – maybe for long periods of time. But, if you must act – if it is in your bones to be a performer and you must do it to be happy, then it is worth the struggle. Take advantage of all of the free resources that are available to you online or in print to help educate you about the industry. Beware of “get famous quick” scams – there are no shortcuts in this industry and if someone promises you something that will help you “skip steps” on the road to being a working actor – buyer beware! You should never pay for an audition and you should never pay money up front to an agent or manager – they only earn a commission off of money you earn from jobs that you have booked through their office.
See Maria’s complete Careerosity profile and thank her for sharing!