Worthy Wednesday: The Life of an Actor/Writer/Producer

Check out this amazing article by Meganda Films Special Guest April Yvette Thompson

The Captain of My Own Ship: The Life of an Actor/Writer/Producer

By April Yvette Thompson

I’ve always had something to say.  Things I believe in.  Things I’m willing to fight for. Terms that are not negotiable.  These are the things that have sustained me in this business.  My bio refers to my love of independent film, Shakespeare and new plays, particularly ones with clear, political and humanistic leanings.  But mostly, I am a story teller.  From the time I studied Shakespeare at Vassar, did community organizing for the Children’s Defense Fund to my career as a New York actor/writer/producer, the recurring theme has been: I want to have control over the story being told.  What my bio doesn’t mention is that I love great filmmakers, gifted writers and well-crafted storytelling,  like the great language plays by Shakespeare, Marcus Gardley, Lynn Nottage, David Hare and filmmakers like Pedro Almodovar who examines the places where we are fragile, twisted and longing to beloved.  And what I learned was that I had to go someplace to learn how to do the thing I really wanted to do really well.  Because doing it for accolades or money was not going to create a sustaining, satisfying lifetime of making art.  I wanted to be proud of the things that I acted in, wrote and created.  I wanted to be a true craftsperson in every sense of the word. So I had to:

1. Figure out what’s important to me: What moves me to action? What makes me think, dream and grow?

2. Figure out the rules of engagement: What kind of training or degree do I need to open the right doors? Where are the Ivory Towers in my profession?  Because, like it or not, institutions hold power and can open doors that create the kind of cache that gets your work produced. 

3. Find someone who did what I wanted to do exceptionally well and then, ask them for the keys to the kingdom.

Every step of my career has been a part of a well-orchestrated business plan that has moved me closer to my goals.  When I wanted to learn more about film acting, I hired an acting coach and the result was several film projects added to my resume and a new job as Producing Associate for SimonSays Entertainment (all of this company’s films have gone on to Sundance and major distribution deals).  This professional move has put me in the driving seat to learn how to produce, write for and act in independent film. 

When I wanted to learn how to weave history, politics and personal narrative into a well-made play that had elements of documentary theatre, I partnered with one of the finest documentary playwrights working in the American Theatre – Jessica Blank (co-author of The Exonerated).   We agreed to split the writing credit so we were both vested in the success of the play and the result was Liberty City, one of my proudest accomplishments. 

The business of show business is not something that training programs teach you which is odd because every director, actor, singer in the business has their own production company whose sole purpose is to create work for them. With the recession and the reduced amount of work coming out of Hollywood and “movie stars” moving to Pilots, Cable, Off Broadway and Broadway, the idea of a theatre actor being discovered is next to zero.  Networks no longer take those kinds of risks; instead most shows are cast long before the breakdowns appear, even the smaller roles are often out “on offer” to someone who’s already on a TV show. This fact is a bleak reality for anyone waiting to be discovered or for the industry to decide “You’re what we want, I hereby deem you an actor.” You’re not an artist because someone gives you a job.  You’re an artist because you have something to say and you will do this thing and get it done by any means necessary. 

To create stories, plays, screenplays, solo plays, whatever floats your boat and engage in the business of show business from a position of power is the goal.   Luck is important, but brains and brilliance are far more important.   Being mediocre at something is certainly an option, but in such a risky business as ours, being excellent is far more rewarding and sustaining even when the horizon seems a long way off.  If you plug away at it, increase your skill set or find a partner who has a skill that you don’t; that’s half the battle. 

The other half is to always stay sharp.  I coach with someone before each audition, business meeting, pitch session and even if I don’t get the job, I leave with five more contacts who left that meeting thinking, “That chick really knows her shit” and I leave having learned five new things about how to audition, how to tighten a budget, how to snag an agent or manager or entertainment attorney and to get folks to co-sign my agenda.  I read every contract put in front of me and ask questions and I ask other folks what they conceded or did not concede and I never accept “No” or “That’s the way we’ve always done it” – my response is, “Well, you’ve never done it with me, so it’s a new day” (with a smile, of course).

Because I know the years and money I’ve spent learning how to do what I do; I know my worth.  I know when I’ve hit the mark and when there’s more to learn because I’m always growing, always moving forward.  Being less than a rigorous, skilled craftsman is not an option.  I am the captain steering the ship that is April Yvette Thompson’s career and I decide where we land and how we will get there. 

April Yvette Thompson is an actor, writer and producer living in New York City.  For more info: AprilYvetteThompson.com or SimonSaysEntertainment.net 

Be on the watch for what’s next for April Yvette Thompson



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