Erica Cardenas

Risky: a job in show biz

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Guillermo Reyes, interim director of the School of Theatre and Film, says there are numerous benefits to receiving training through a school such as his, especially actors.

“A vast majority of actors learn their trade in school,” says Reyes. “I suppose it’s possible to learn it on your own as you go, but every actor needs training. Every actor identifies an area they want to pursue, whether [it’s a] traditional or theatrical form of acting. We provide both education and perspective to our students.”

Approximately 655 undergraduate majors are enrolled in the school at ASU. Of those, 380 are in film, 275 in theatre, and almost 50 graduate students are pursuing their doctorate or master’s degree in theatre. As for Reyes, he’s been with the school since 1996 and besides heading the dramatic play and screenwriting programs, the Chilean-born playwright has also composed several plays.

Theatrical and film productions need actors, but they also need producers and directors (not to mention a diverse technical crew).

Producers make the business and financial decisions involving a motion picture, television show, or stage production. They select scripts, approve the development of ideas, arrange financing and determine the size and cost of the endeavor. Producers hire or approve directors, principal cast members and key production staff members.

Directors are responsible for the overall creative decisions of a production. They interpret screenplays, audition and select cast members, conduct rehearsals, and direct the work of cast and crew. They also approve the design elements of a production, including the sets, costumes, choreography and music.

One day Ramirez hopes to host a national entertainment show. She’s confident she’s moving in the right direction.

Decide and pursue

Whether you aspire to be an actor, producer, director or on-set caterer, opportunities are plentiful for establishing a stable, successful career in some aspect of the entertainment industry. Reyes says the paths are also plentiful – and varied, such as moving to Hollywood or New York and getting immersed in the work, or getting a formal  arts education at a graduate school.

“Some might want to become teachers, or some might be perfectly fine being actors in smaller towns.… There are also regional theater options, and really, there’s always a need for directors around the country,” Reyes adds. “And you can’t forget about technical theater such as costuming, lighting design, sound and set design. Those who are more technically minded might go this route. Sometimes it’s actually easier to find jobs in these areas.”

Ramirez has her career goals mapped out. One day she hopes to host a national entertainment show. As the host of local Cox7’s weekly TV show Su Vida, she’s confident she’s moving in the right direction.

And does age or beauty matter when it comes to the field of entertainment? Well, it obviously depends on what you’re pursuing (my 70-year-old tío Tino, handsome as he is, could not audition for a role in a Ricky Martin biopic, for example). But Reyes says the bottom line is you have to know what you want.

“Anything creative is about learning a process … and pursuing it,” he says. “We know the world needs an abundance of doctors, lawyers, accountants – there isn’t a need for a million actors or screenwriters, so whoever goes into this field needs to be very sure about what they want.”

As for earnings and pay scales, recent labor statistics show that the national average for an actor working in theater production is around $16.59/hour, and $29/hour for those actors working in the motion picture and video industry; for producers and directors, the median annual wage is around $64,430 in theatrical production, $85,940 in the motion picture and video industry and $55,380 in radio and television broadcasting.

And as you can guess, these wages are all over the map for someone who tastes success one year and hits a dry spell the next. Actual earnings in the field fluctuates drastically, particularly for actors, but also for directors, producers and others whose names are more directly hit by the limelight – or not.

Because of this erratic pay structure, as of June 2009, a joint agreement between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) guarantees all unionized motion picture and television actors with speaking parts a minimum daily rate of $782, or $2,713 for a five-day week.

But whatever the salary, Reyes adds that most performers pursue the field because they love it and most acknowledge and live with the fact that it will never be predictable. Ramirez couldn’t agree more.

“I’ve had the passion to entertain ever since I was little,” says Ramirez. “I entered every talent show and participated in every play. Anyone out there who wants to perform – the key is to never give up. Keep going until it’s no longer fun and you’ll always find a place for it in your life.”

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