Wait, so Joel’s an actor?
And other philosphically type life stuff
Disclaimer: This is meant less for “public” consumption or entertainment, and more to address, deeply and personally and quite at length, in one time and place, the myriad questions so many of you have been asking about my awesome new path in life. Ready? Ok. Wait, so Joel’s an actor?
But I thought he was a politicia… entrepreneu… soldie… butche… um.
It has been a year of transition. 2017. As Agent Dale Cooper would note, the digits add up to 10, the number of completion. Fittingly, then, have I come to fully embrace my true self. This year I have come out as Queer, evolved from vegetarian to Vegan, and most recently, changed my last name to Reyer. Good things come in threes.
These changes have struck some of my friends and associates by surprise, but have generally raised few eyebrows. Indeed, each in turn has been met with a showing of support and enthusiasm which has humbled and emboldened me.
But the Queer Vegan Reyer shit can be discussed later. This post means to address a recent change that has caught some of my colleagues most off guard, yet is in many ways the most obvious of all, the turn to acting. For I have finally committed to the artistic life and dedicated myself an Actor.
The confusion, or apprehension even, some of you feel is understandable. Indeed, after a 13-year professional life covering military intelligence, two deployments, national security consulting, business school, entrepreneurship, and politics, I have done everything except follow my true calling. Because for as long as I have understood the concept of “being” something, I have only ever truly wanted to be an actor. For a long goddamn time. Decades.
I’m not going to delve into the reasons it took me to the age of 32, suffice it to say that what I possessed in spirit, desire, and aptitude I had yet to match in psychological and emotional preparation. This doesn’t bother me one bit, my life has been a joyous unruly adventure and equipped me with vast stores of experience, pain, and jubilation upon which to draw for my art. And now is the time to blossom.
Ok, ok, Joel’s an actor, fine, I can accept that. But isn’t it a risky business?
Its no secret that the acting business can be a tough one. Many’s the tale of the actor moonlighting as waiter, bartender, uber driver, sign spinner, etc. And long is the list of hopefuls whose dreams failed to materialize. To the general observer these popular stereotypes serve as cautionary tales, predictors of the pitfalls sure to beset anyone they know audacious enough to hazard the voyage. And indeed they may.
But these same generally well-meaning friends fail to distinguish the path and process behind success or failure. Similar to misconceptions of “overnight success” in the technology industry, they see acting as a stardom-or-starvation proposition, rather than what it truly is, a massive industry supporting many thousands of working professional artists that sometimes surfaces stars and sometimes washes out wannabes.
For those actors who endeavor to understand the business, who train and upskill obsessively, who push their personal and professional boundaries and stay true to their art while approaching the business deliberately, the life is more often one of immense personal fulfillment and modest financial success. Yes, even for such pragmatic actors, failure may strike, just as it may anyone in any field. But to me, as hopefully for them, the prospect of failure is far less threatening than the devastation of betraying one’s true nature and ignoring one’s artistic calling. Said another way, fuck failure, I don’t fear it.
**QUICK NOTE ON PRIVILEGE AND SUPPORT**
I’m able to be so cavalier about risk in part because I’m blessed with parents who have both the means and the steadfast enthusiastic desire to support me. When I went broke last year they bailed me out. When I went broke this year they bailed me out. They’ve earned everything they have, but much of that is due opportunities not afforded people outside our demographic. I acknowledge that it’s FAR easier for a white man to saunter through life without a care. I recognize the many privileges I have, and they motivate me not to waste them, and to use my eventual success, if I should have any, to help those who don’t have what I have.
Well then, where does that leave you, Mister Bigshot Actor Know-it-all?
Alright, now that you’ve given over your misgivings, you must be dying to learn how things are going for me, Joel Calvin Reyer, neophyte professional actor extraordinaire!
I’ve been at this in a fully-dedicated, full-time fashion since August. I actually got started about a year ago, somewhat sheepishly and surreptitiously, studying with an incredible coach in LA, sending out a few audition tapes, and picking up one tiny credit in a supernatural indie feature. Then I was offered the fellowship in Congress and, lacking any real sense of what I was doing and not yet ready or confident to commit to acting, moved to DC.
Before I moved, however, a sojourn through Thailand found me living in a royal temple in the remote northwest, along with a fortuitously met friend, who, as bizarre fortune willed it, was a filmmaker and actor himself and has been ever since a steadfastly encouraging presence in my creative life.
The weeks of meditation spent in the temple served as a primer, giving me the space to examine my deepest nature under the sagacious eye of the same monks who instruct the King of Thailand and serve as the foundation of Theravada Buddhist meditation (brag much pal?). It was here that I finally and fully acknowledged that my life must be dedicated to the creative arts.
But I had committed to, and was wildly excited about, the fellowship opportunity ahead, and I was also flat broke and needed reliable income after the personally bankrupting adventures of grad school in Oxford and cofounding a tech startup. So I moved to DC with the yet-inchoate intention to transition into my artistic life once the fellowship concluded.
Fellowship kicked ass, got to advance a ton of social justice issues and work with truly brilliant passionate politicos. FAST FORWARD TO AUGUST. Time to turn intention into reality!
Woohoo, how did you get started?
The first and most important step I took was to begin reading. The masters familiar to those in the business — Stanislavski, Hagen, Meisner. I funneled their words into relentless hours of practice and reflection. I began self-taping auditions, putting their lessons to work and very quickly improving from atrocious to awful.
Then I sought out more knowledge, listening to podcasts, reading articles, reading more books, interrogating actor friends, completing an online masterclass. Within just a couple more weeks my efforts began to pay off — I started getting invitations to audition in person, got a few callbacks, and then landed a slightly less minuscule role as a psycho murder clown in another indie feature thriller. Progress!
Encouraged, I continued my training with in-person acting and improvisation classes, voiceover training, and of course more and more and more self-taped auditions. Putting myself in front of the camera for dozens of hours a week, often with the assistance and insightful feedback of my generous and encouraging roommate, and each time after following a very careful and evolving personal artistic process, with vastly different types of roles and characters, yielded rich results. I started getting cast in real parts!
Remember when I said acting is a process-driven business like any other? So it is. When casting their projects, filmmakers need to see more than just “talent,” they want to see that an actor has some experience and can be trusted on set to translate their talent into a reliable and repeatable performance. So new actors like me seek out student films and other low-to-no-budget projects to build their resume and “reel” of creative work.
That makes sense, so what have you done so far?
My first big part was in a Howard thesis film, the details of which are still being kept close as the film is in post-production ahead of release and, hopefully, submission to the festival circuit. So while I can’t talk about the content, I’ll say the experience was profoundly gratifying and affirming.
Getting cast in this production was truly a blessing, the director had such clear vision and well-developed leadership skills that even being ten years his elder, and a war veteran and leader of soldiers yadda yadda, I felt both compelled to follow his direction and safe to trust his instincts. As an extension of this, his production team thrived, everyone sharp and professional and fun to work with. And I got to perform closely with a couple far more seasoned and delightfully talented actors who really pushed me and brought out a performance I could never have summoned without them. A great start to my new beginning.
Everything then snowballed. I picked up a lead role in a very short dark comedy, which reunited me with the murder clown director and one of the actors from the Howard film. And I started getting so many callbacks I had to start turning down opportunities.
The next big project was a leading role on a Maryland Institute College of Art thesis film which wraps on Monday, and which thankfully has matched the Howard project in terms of quality production team, cast, crew, and of course script! And as one of the two leads, this production put a lot more pressure on me, and I think, and hope!, that I’ve proven up to it. My character is a rather gritty criminal, the unwilling caretaker of a young girl, both of whom are struggling to come to grips with a recent shared tragedy.
Another film, Marvin, began pre-production photography on Saturday, and begins principal in a couple weeks. This is a vastly different role in a comedic adventure, in which I play a naive and stranded alien trying to find the meaning of “home.” I love the script, and this is the biggest production so far in terms of length and scope of cast and crew. It’s going to be a real adventure for all of us!
I now have a few non-student projects in pre-production that will start in the coming weeks and months, but I’ll quit enumerating and talk about the next deliberate step in my career.
Yeah, seriously, move on, and make it brief you loquacious bastard!
Ok, I’m moving to New York in January to study acting full-time in conservatory. I’ve done a lot on my own and made some material progress, but to be real, this is a highly competitive business filled with equally passionate people who have been doing this since they were kids, and I’m some lanky joker who basically just showed up last week. I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, and dedicating roughly sixteen months to full-time study is an absolute necessity if I want to evolve my artistic abilities and succeed in the business.
So wish me well, friends, I hope this clarifies my new life direction for you, and thank you all for the outpouring of excitement and support I’ve received!
Ugh, this has been a very long post. Why are you still here? Go away now.