I just finished watching First Position, a documentary on young ballet dancers on the road to the Grand Prix competition, which is apparently the event of all events for young dancers. It is the best place to be seen, and consequently judged, by the leading ballet schools and companies of the world. Most of these kids are there with ambitions of professional ballet and are desperately trying to secure scholarships and job offers. It was a wonderful peek into the lives of young people consumed with the dream of making a successful career in the hugely competitive and ever-shrinking job market of professional ballet. (*Side note: ballet is one of my favorite things to watch. So... sorry, future husband. Tutus and tights will be part of the deal.*)
The docu film highlighted many of the obstacles these young dancers face: intense training, fatigue, injury, huge financial costs, pressure, and the incredible stress of knowing the fate of your career could hang on the next sixty seconds you spend on the stage. And what you do with those sixty seconds.
It's not too unlike what we do as actors. We train incredibly hard, pour barrel-loads of cash into ourselves and our careers. We study and practice, with coaches and on our own, to be ready to walk into that room for three minutes and lay it all on the line. Sometimes we fall flat on our face. Sometimes we float into a beautiful grand jete.
But the dancers in this film made me feel like a slacker. The devotion and sacrifice they poured into their art was incredible and seemed to dwarf my own. I will have to remember these dancers sometime when I don't "feel" like going to another workshop or writing another post card, or studying another scene. Next time I hear another actor complaining about how expensive the annual fee is to join Actors Access or that they don't want to spend another thirty bucks on a workshop, I will direct them to this documentary. A single costume can cost nearly $2,000 and one of the girls uses $80 toe shoes... and she wears them out in a day and a half. We have it good, actors. So quit your complaining and invest in your career like you believe it will succeed.
Get out there and plie like the American Ballet Theatre is watching.
P.S. Also if you somehow managed to miss it while you were living under that rock, go rent Black Swan. Trust me.