I can’t talk to you about being a star, or a series regular, or perhaps something else that may sound wildly impressive. But I can talk to you about being what I like to call a “blue-collar actor.” I don’t use the term for its actual meaning but for what it actually means to me.
I was raised in a blue-collar family in a blue-collar neighborhood in New York. To me, it meant “work hard every day, do what you need to do to take care of your life, and always give a hundred percent.” With all due respect, you work harder then the guy next to you. This was the American dream when I was growing up. This was what my neighborhood thrived on; this is how you moved forward. So at seventeen I left my little hamlet of Massapequa headed to Hollywood with a suitcase full of intention and then suddenly thought “can I apply this to a life in the arts?”
I hadn’t developed my skills as an actor but I did have instilled in me this mind-set, and with that, I began. Everything I did, every decision I made, every class I took, every piece of clothing I bought all tied into my dream and my desire simply to be an actor. I say “simply” in jest, because it is the hardest profession to break into and even harder to maintain. I have seen many of my peers be successful in commercials, star in TV shows, work on Broadway, movies and everything in between…but then something stops. Before you know it, health insurance is disappearing, apartments are lost, cars are repossessed. I thought, “Is there a reason or is it just the way it goes? Is there a way to maintain, maybe not your star status, but a career that keeps moving on some level?” I have experienced lesser career highs than some people and less dramatic lows than others, but I have always felt movement, and that’s what’s always kept me getting up the next morning, coming up with another idea. It may not have been the most glorious climb to some, but to me it was blue-collar, and there was a method to my personal madness. My style has always been, “Wherever you are in your journey in show business, do whatever you need to do to keep the ball rolling” I am a big believer in coming from a place of yes. I came from that place long before Bethenny Frankel wrote a book about it.
At first it was all about classes, from Stellar Adler to David Craig to Will Geer Theatricum Botanicam and every dance, voice, and dialect class in between, I would work and spend all of my money on what I considered to be my preparation phase. Learn and study: for me, this was an investment stage of my journey and money well spent. It took fourteen years of this kind of self-motivated training, plus a three-year theatre conservatory program to finally feel like I could call myself an actor. Another important step that ran along side these years was at a very young age of eighteen, I had the good fortune of getting into the actors unions. I had my SAG card, my Aftra card and the now extinct Screen Extra Guild card. I wanted set experience: I wanted to know how the factory works, what it means to be a working pro. I was an extra on everything from a girl from Peekskill on “The Facts of Life” to one of the gang on “Happy Days”. I observed and absorbed. While I was learning my craft in class, I was also on set, learning the ropes.
Then I felt ready for phase three which was to do whatever I needed to do to act. I believe an actor needs to perform and it can’t just be in class. I submitted and did everything I could-student films, low budget films, TV shows, commercials, infomercials, musical reviews, comedy, drama, Shakespeare, anything. My sister-in-law at the time declared, “April would perform in a laundromat!” She meant it as an insult, but I took it as a compliment!
So now I was on a path, but I felt I was missing a formal education. No one can really learn form an uninformed actor. I felt knowledge was power, and power was parts. This took me head-on into the theatre world. Granted, I had always performed in plays, but now I was constantly doing theatre and began to get regional theatre jobs in Equity houses. Again, this was a moment I felt I had been building up to: classes, on-set life, an education and now theatre. In between all of this I was always keeping my pictures, resume and acting reel current. Then one day, I had felt a change-a natural movement of my own perspective of the work I had done and where I’d arrived. I had accumulated my classes, my set experience, my formal education, my conservatory education, my pictures, my resume and a reel of roles, as well as a two-year stint in film school, and a box full of theatre reviews. What now? I was fourteen years into my journey, and it was the first time I had felt I had earned the right to say, “Let the games begin!”
The years have passed, and I still approach things in the same blue-collar manner. Now I’m creating my own web series, writing indie films. I’m changing with the times-the game has changed; the opportunities have changed. But what remain are my attitude and my work ethic. In the last year and a half, I’ve booked five principle roles on TV shows, two voiceovers, two commercials, and a couple of days of extra work, I’ve worked on films at USC, UCLA, CSLA, (part of my belief to stay connected always to the next generation). I starred in a film short and a web series, and started production on another web series that I’m also co-producing. I did four plays, a musical, a drama and two childrens’ shows. I have worked as a stand-in on several different TV shows and spend a lot of my time doing network and producer run-throughs, where I run the show with the cast because one of the actors couldn’t be there, but the rehearsals must go on. Production only hires actors for these jobs, as they are union gigs.
So…this is my life, this is my career. I am a blue-collar actor: it’s a mentality of doing what needs to be done, going from project to project. One day, about six months ago, I went to get the mail. There were six envelopes all addressed to me, and I could tell they were all checks. One was a check for a job I did working as an extra, one was for work as a stand-in, one was for a job I did rehearsing for a network and producer run-through, another was for a contract role as an actor for a TV show, yet another was a “clip check” for playing a clip in a promo for a TV show in which I appeared, and the last was a residual check for a voiceover. I honestly sat there, dazed. I thought, “I’m a working actor. I’m not famous, but I’m doing something right.” So maybe everyone doesn’t know my name, but some people do… because my blue-collar attitude and I am doing something right!