Is the journeyman actor becoming obsolete?

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The middleclass is shrinking, and so are we.

The friendly definition of “Journeyman” is: an experienced and competent, routine worker or performer.

A less friendly definition: a trained worker who is employed by someone else that is reliable but not outstanding.

For our purposes today, I’m moving forward with the second definition because that is how I believe we are perceived, classified and dismissed.

FUCK THE STARVING ARTIST MODEL. Can we all agree to resist the temptation of accepting poverty and struggle because we are actors? Phrases like ‘Aspiring actor’ ‘Struggling performer’ ‘The starving artist lifestyle’ has been put on us by our families, friends, high school buddies and the suburban Midwest communities. That messaging has caused us to put that burden of identification on ourselves. It is time to stop. My work as an actor varies from artistry to journeyman. When I’m doing Shakespeare my work is more artistry, when I’m doing a commercial, more journeyman. That has been a vital lesson in distinction for me. I didn’t know anyone who made his or her living as an actor before moving here. What I knew was I wanted to act and there are famous people I saw doing it. No one told me there was a middle ground.

THE JOURNEYMAN PERFORMER: There are tens of thousands of performers who have made decent wages consistently for decades who aren’t famous. They are the journeyman actor, they are the middle class. They are the commercial actors, the VO performers, the stunt doubles, stand in, extras, singers, dancers and so on. They aren’t famous, they are working class performers who have health insurance, pensions, decent income, a community, kids, home and all the staples of an adult life. I didn’t know that was an option for me until I started making money, earning a pension and qualifying for health insurance. It was at that point, in between appointments with every fill-in-the-blank ‘ologist’ I could go to that I started to think of myself as working professional, a laborer in my field. An artist and a laborer.

THE MIDDLECLASS IS SHRINKING. I want my fellow actors to hear this and understand that we are not immune to this economic issue/crisis. We are part of a workforce that is shrinking. When Oscar winners are taking one day guest star parts on multi-cam shows, the middle class actor suffers. When celebrities star in poop yogurt commercial campaigns, the middle class actor suffers. When your twitter followers and social media reach is more important than your skill set, the middle class actor suffers. We are a part of the shrinking middle class. The reality stars (or sport stars, film stars, etc) who accept commercial deals impact the middle class actor the same way Amazon.com impacts small businesses.

WE ARE A WORKFORCE. A skilled workforce, a creative workforce. It is time that we think of ourselves as that. We are a collective and together we can see our part in the big picture. The business aspect of the performer life is isolating. Mailings, emails, casting submissions, website updates, social media management, picking headshots blah blah blah. It’s hard. The hustle to get the job so we can actually do the work we love is really hard. Historically, this kind of work is has always been challenging but if you are talented, tenacious and persistent, you could have a career. In today’s marketplace, the ratio of performers to traditional acting jobs (commercials, guest star, co-star, VO work) is crazy pants kill yourself awful. Worse than it has ever been…for traditional acting jobs. And that is because the world at large is in transition.

PUBERTY ON A GLOBAL LEVEL. There was a time in history when there were horses drawn carriages and cars on the road at the same time. In that era, there was excitement and risk for the people on the car side of the evolution and massive growing pain for the people on the horse and buggy side. Horse shoe makers had to take their skill set, get creative and try to put it towards a future in car culture – something that was in development with a lot of trial and error. In the middle of all of this were the people who were shifting their transportation needs in varying degrees. Doesn’t this sound familiar when you think about how the internet has changed our viewing habits? Some people still tune in at 6:30pm for NBC nightly news (aka horse and buggy people). Others, watch apple tv cnn, or tvo or watch clips online, or or or…. We are in a huge time of transition. The world at large is still evolving in this new landscape and performers in the same boat as the rest of the industry – lost, scared, desperate, and inspired innovate.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS/TWEETS/STREAMS. There has never been a clear roadmap to performer success. Same goes for entrepreneurial success. Passion, vision, grit, dumb luck, failure – I don’t know. Times of transition are never comfortable. I had headgear in junior high people…junior fucking high. I made it through that transition relatively unharmed and I intend to make it through this one too. There is money to be made and we deserve fair employment opportunities. Everyone deserves to earn a living wage in their field. We are no exception. We are part of the middle class and our skill set is in high market demand. Content content content. Youtube, Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo, Amazon, Buzzfeed, etc. The strength we have together as a likeminded workforce can be very powerful. If we want it to be.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to make a decent living. But you do have to know that you deserve it to expect it from your employers. You are worth it. We all are.

Katie Wallack

About Katie Wallack

Katie Wallack is a professional actress and active union member. She serves on SAG-AFTRA’s Commercial Performers Committee and Commercials Contract Standing Committee, and partnered with the grass roots group Union Working. Katie began graduate school in 2017 at Claremont Lincoln University pursuing a Masters Degree in Ethical Leadership. She received numerous scholarships including the John L. Dales Scholarship from SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Her undergrad degree is in Theater and Dance from Trinity College. Katie’s recent film projects include “Mum” for Shoot ‘Em Up show, “Stillwater”, and “Wight Christmas” shot on location in her hometown – Anchorage Alaska. In addition to her theatrical credits, she has been seen in numerous commercial campaigns over the years, including McDonald’s and Ford Service.