20something profile: Alyssa
When I say “I’m an actor,” the response I always get is a few seconds of blank-eyed silence followed by, “But what…do you do?”
I sigh. “I work in a hotel,” I finish, and that is the end of the conversation.
I live in Chicago, where chances are that about half of everyone under 35 you meet is a performer of some kind. Improv, theatre, filmmaking, dance, music: Chicago does it all. So much, in fact, that when I had to drop out of Columbia College Chicago in 2011 because I was flat broke and couldn’t afford even the interest on more loans, it wasn’t a death sentence for my career.
I made enough connections in school to have a good head on my shoulders for entering the real world, and the collaborative spirit here means that you and your friends can throw a few keggers as fundraisers, sign some city paperwork, rent a space, and put on a show as your very own theatre company, if you have the work ethic and vision.
That’s how I became a part of The Foundling’s Theatre Company and its inaugural show, A Windblown Wail, by my friend, the playwright Robert Francis Curtis. Almost everyone in the company is in their early to mid-twenties. We are passionate. We work hard. You have to.
If you’re an actor, the rule of thumb is you’ll put in about 10 years of pretty hard work before you have steady bookings. I’ve been very fortunate to already be getting a little bit of film work — I’m shooting the horror noir film Desperate Dolls for Director Darren Callahan this fall, and I couldn’t be more excited to keep going on auditions in the city to augment my burgeoning résumé.
This city is full of twenty-somethings with loads of talent, and unlike other entertainment hubs (New York, LA) there is a ground-up spirit here. Plays go up in church basements and blackbox theatres the size of living rooms. Artists rush from our day jobs slinging coffee or office-surfing to make rehearsal on time and crawl back home on the El. We crash equity auditions and get our movies made on Kickstarter. We don’t have any money. But we love our art, and it makes our lives whole.
Maybe one day when someone asks me what I do, I’ll be able to say, “I’m an actor,” and instead of the blank stare in return, I’ll get a squint, then a smile and, “Oh, yeah! I think I’ve seen you in something!”
Until then I’m spending my twenties doing what I love. I wouldn’t have it any other way.