In life, there are choices. Some of them you get to make, others are made for you.
In my book Acting In Chicago, I write about the 7 ways (besides theater) actors in the Midwest make money actually acting. One of those ways is working as a presenter at trade shows. I count it as one of the 7 ways because it’s such an efficient use of an actor’s time. Where else can you regularly earn $5,000 to $10,000 in a week? That’s money that can finance the things you really want to do, like take classes, make a film or shoot footage for a theatrical reel.
If you’re curious about what it’s like to work a trade show, I made a video about it. I’m glad I did, too, because it turns out that video was shot at the last trade show I’ll ever do.
It was a good run. I started in 1999 with a show for Motorola, then a powerhouse in the communications industry. I narrated a presentation which had to be re-written several times, finishing the last version ten minutes before the show opened. I used my EAR (if you don’t know what that is, you can find out here) so making changes was no problem. It went so well that I asked the booth manager to write me a recommendation letter, which I still have.
Motorola continued to hire me until the dot com bubble burst and the next big client came in 2005, when I participated in what has to be one of the largest, most ambitious and technically challenging trade show presentations ever.
It involved over a dozen actors (all of them on EAR) presenting in multiple theaters, and the presentation was timed to multimedia, sound and lighting cues. The audience would start in one theater, then walk through the others as the presentation continued. Because of it’s sheer complexity, the budget had to place it among the most expensive trade show presentations undertaken at the time. I think it’s safe to say nothing like it will ever happen again.
Then I did some really interesting things at CES with Panasonic for a few years, but during that time I deliberately stopped auditioning for trade show work because my VO and on camera career were humming along. My goal was to do more TV, and being a presenter often pulled me away from home. If I wasn’t home, I couldn’t audition for the work I was striving for. I was comfortable with cutting back, a choice I’m happy I made.
After my time with Panasonic ended, I had one last client who brought me in for one show per year. I narrated the heck out of their presentations and had a lot of fun doing it. This job was the best ever. It was only one week a year, the subject matter was really cool, and the people were fun to work with. I joined them for seven years and was looking forward to doing my eighth.
Except that won’t be happening.
This was one of those choices someone else made for me. Budget cuts are real, and they effect real people like me. I’ve been let go.
But don’t feel sorry for me. The truth is, if I wanted to get back into doing trade shows, I could start auditioning again. But in the end, this part of my career served its purpose: to financially free me up to focus on other goals. Though I hate to see any work disappear, I’m ok with it coming to an end.
I write a lot about how to get a job as an actor. But I’m writing about being fired because I want you to know that this is also part of the job. Being an actor isn’t always about getting the next thing. Sometimes you already have a good thing, and it goes away. That’s just reality.
The trick is in how you deal with it.
No matter how long you’ve been working (I’ve been at this over 20 years) you are always going to have ups and downs. Even A-list starts get the boot. Recently, award winning actor Julianne Moore revealed that she was fired from her role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Granted she wasn’t a victim of budget cuts, but she still lost a job.
There’s so much in this business that is out of your control, the only healthy option is to control what you can control and let that other stuff go. You can’t dwell. You’ve got to compartmentalize. When a job goes away, I have to believe something else will take it’s place. With as much work that passes me by on it’s way to someone else, I’d never get out of bed if I believed otherwise.
But I do believe, and the work always returns.
In a sense, I’m lucky because at least I know I’ve been let go. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been hired, told there would be more work, then…crickets. So the honesty was refreshing.
It’s probably for the best that this company cut me. The show happens in the middle of pilot season, and there’s always tension between staying available during that important time of year, and taking the guaranteed work. The silver lining is that now I don’t have to make that choice.
The Universe gave me a little push, which is sometimes all we need to move forward.
5 responses to “Welp. There Goes My Trade Show Career.”
Thank you for sharing, Chris. Sometimes the sun burns and the thorns hurt, but those temporary pains are part of the sunshine and roses. I’m so glad that your hard work is allowing you to follow the career you sought.
Thanks for sharing, Chris!
A terrific post from a guy who knows! This clear-eyed view of the real details of an actor’s life is why I recommend your book Acting In Chicago again and again.
Hey Chris, thanks for sharing.
Onward to the next adventure!.
Hope to see you soon.
All the best.
Great info, will definitely get the book! Thank you!