A Warning to the Artist

photo by Marc Royce

photo by Marc Royce

This is a warning. This is not a test.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and try your best to stay out of jail.

I’m writing this as someone who has taken a zillion courses on branding and marketing and who founded this very site that you are reading this post on, a site that only 7 months since its launch is now read in over 150 countries with over 10,000 unique readers per month. Success right?

Yes. And no.

Yes, because this site is one of my dreams made real.  I have an intense passion for connecting people and for sharing knowledge, and this site is the perfect melding of the two.

No, because I lost part of myself along the way. Not just on the way of creating this site, but on the way of my journey as an actor in Los Angeles pounding the pavement and working myself to the bone making sure opportunities were available to me. And they have been. I’ve connected with amazing people, worked on amazing projects as well as many of my own, and am living my dream. Well, part of my dream.

Until recently my heart was hurting. There was something missing but I didn’t know exactly what.  I could feel myself going through the motions we actors go through to “get ourselves out there.”  Headshots, demo reels, workshops, mailings, all of the branding and marketing tips and tricks and necessities…. And yes, these things are incredibly important but nothing, NOTHING is more important than the craft.

You know…the craft Helenna? …the reason you’re doing all of this in the first place?

In the quest for “success” I had lost the passion for the craft.  Where the hell did it go?

Acting is magical. Just choosing to be an actor brings with it a powerful journey, and a part of that journey for me was lost. In all of the business of the business I had gone so far away from the core of my being and who I am that I didn’t even realize that part of myself was missing.

I knew I needed something to knock me out of the boredom and malaise I was feeling…something to ignite the passion for the art of being an actor again.

I had taken so many technique classes since I got to LA…camera technique, audition technique, cold reading technique… and I hadn’t done a scene study class since college so I thought, “ok, let’s change it up” and I dove in.  That’s when I got the slap in the face, or more accurately the punch to the gut that woke me back up.

In immersing myself so deeply into the business side of acting, the how tos and what ifs, brand building, self producing, marketing… I had somehow severed part of the joy inside me, which for me comes wholly from the art.  I think that maybe this severing happened in part because I was focusing so much on marketing myself as a comedic actor taking comedy technique classes and playing to the strengths of the types of audition rooms I was being called into most.  But in doing that I had neglected the dark side of myself, and the dark side is just as strong as the light.   And ironically, comedy can be stronger when pathos is tangible.

Now that I’m back in a class that is challenging me to really step it up and work my craft in a visceral and deep way, I feel realigned and reignited.  That part of me that had seemed to go on vacation has returned and has made me more alive than ever.

I’m writing poetry again at a fevered pace which makes my soul feel alive and fulfills a part of the artist in me in a way that nothing else does.

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 11.59.37 AM

screencap of my poetry site “thereisacrackineverything.com”

The ironic part is that I often have to share a disclaimer with those who read my poetry…it’s meant to be left open to interpretation. It’s poetry after all.  My poems are not necessarily based on past or present events in my life.  In fact, many of them are poems I write to get into a character’s psyche that I’m playing.   They seem to throw some people off though because these poems are not light and bubbly and fluffy like a lot of the “social media branding” of myself that people see online or even in person.

In high school I used to have to tell my creative writing teacher in senior year when he’d get worried about the dark things I write about that “yes, I’m very happy. Yes, my family life is wonderful.”  I have a great love for 20th century poets and a lot of my poems are influenced by Sylvia Plath, e.e. cummings, t.s. eliot, and more recently Leonard Cohen. These poems are where my dark Russian side gets to come out and play.

I’m also producing an experimental short film (now in development) that I’ve been wanting to dive into for quite some time now, but have never had the right team to join me.   Suddenly the universe has opened its door wide open and I’ve put together a great team of collaborators to dive into what I see as my love letter to humanity and our existence on this earth.

photo 1promo photo for “Strangers”  starring Helenna Santos-Levy and Jerry Nessis

And with all of this going on, I’m opening up parts of me as an actor in my craft that were asleep for a long time and doing what I feel is the best work I’ve ever done.

I’m not writing this to tell you not focus on the business side of the business, in fact it’s just the opposite. Please focus on the business side because it is vitally important and is even the backbone of what this site is all about.   Without the business side we won’t be able to rise to higher levels in our careers.  But my warning to you is not to lose yourself in the process.  Because for me, I felt the “branding and marketing of Helenna” created a box that I didn’t know how to get out of and now I’m free, stronger, and more creatively alive than ever.  And that is what I wish for all of you.

So with that I say continue to challenge yourself everyday. Go to the places that scare you. Take leaps.  Jump off that metaphorical cliff. You might just meet yourself there again on the other side. I know I did.  And I’ve gotta say, putting the pieces of myself back together feels really really good.

Helenna Santos

About Helenna Santos

Helenna Santos is the Founder of “Ms. In The Biz” and a producer, writer, and actor with Mighty Pharaoh Films. She can often be found on panels and appearances at conventions such as San Diego “Comic-Con”, and has been interviewed by major press outlets including CNN and FOX News. ​Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, and IndieWire, and she co-authored the book "Thriving in Hollywood! Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz". She is currently in post-production on 2 feature films that she produced and stars in, the adventure/thriller "At Your Own Risk" and the sci-fi/thriller "RESOUND".

  • Love it.

    I experienced the same thing recently. Taking a UCB class reminded me how FUN this job could be after feeling so bored for so long. I’ve just signed up for a scene study class and I cannot wait. I think women in particular tend to put a lot of energy into the business side and get a little caught up.

    You know what I heard the other day? “No one walks out of a movie because it’s too emotional.”

    And I thought, wow. I better learn how to command emotion. That’s an actor’s job (from audition to screen) if I’ve ever heard of one!

    We have work to do!! 😉


    • Thank you Amber!! I LOVE that… “No one walks out of a movie because it’s too emotional.” Amen to that. xooxoxox Looking forward to hearing about your scene study class!

      • Sallyanne

        Good on you for getting back to the heart of it Helenna. I did the same thing last week and took a Masterclass with Howard Fine in Melbourne, Aus. I can’t sing his praises enough for reintroducing me to the sheer joy of it. Great post! xx

        • Ms. In The Biz

          Thank you for the comment Sallyanne! It’s all about the joy really. Nothing else matters 😉 xo

  • I love this post! Dark and light are both part of our experience as human beings. Neglect either one and you lose access to what you need as an artist. I’m glad you’re joyfully embracing your WHOLE self – from what I’ve seen of you, we need ALL of you available!

    • Ms. In The Biz

      Thank you Susan. We are definitely most powerful when ALL of who we are is in the work. xooxox h

  • I’ve felt the exact same thing as a writer. For a while there, I was more concerned with “getting my name out there” and “building a platform” or whatever…but that stuff can and will come later. And you know what it will follow? The work. 🙂 I feel like, a lot of the time, people focus on the business stuff more than the craft stuff, because it’s more easily controlled, and it’s something we can be more secure in. It’s one thing if we don’t feel like we’re making the right business moves…there are books to read, concrete steps to take. But if we’re just bad at the craft? That’s a lot harder to deal with…and it’s something that makes us a lot more insecure. It’s hard.

    But it’s the part that deserves the most focus for exactly that reason. Because it’s hard, and yet it’s the most important. If your craft is good, the attention and the followers and the whatever will come – once you have amazing work to show, the rest can and will be there for you. But too often people in our industry focus on the branding and marketing without actually having a strong body of work to brand and market. It’s why I’ve pulled back a little from online writing and whatnot. I’m hiding in my little hole silently working on a body of scripts of which I can be proud. Honing my craft, making them better. And yes, I’m still on social media a lot, just because I like talking to people. 🙂 But I’m not doing it the way I would be doing it if I were treating myself as a “business.” Because only when my scripts are done, only when I’m actively producing things or pursuing representation with a body of work that matters, only then will I unleash them into the world, and I’ll have good reason to be shouting from the rooftops.

    • Ms. In The Biz

      Teresa AMEN. I agree to all of this.

  • Ms. In The Biz


    • Ms. In The Biz


  • Ms. In The Biz

    testing new system no fb