I grew up in Post Falls and the idea of "professional actor" was about as foreign to me as "rush hour traffic". Of course I knew what it meant to be a movie star, but I didn't realize there was a whole industry of folks whose primary life goals were to entertain - and they were paid for it (albeit frequently less lucratively than Tom Cruise).
I have a distinct memory of being an 11-year-old kid and the Spokesman-Review had a special insert profiling salaries of various professions and the examples for actors they used were Tom Hanks and some non-celebrity stage actor. Of course Hanks' salary was in the gazillions, and I remember thinking the $35,000 the other guy was earning was kind of sad.
I spent about seven years as a full-time actor, and I worked fairly consistenly, and only once did I break $35,000, and that included supplementing my acting income with as many theatrical odd jobs as possible.
Perspective, man. It'll getcha. That unknown actor was WORKIN'. He was probably the poster child of his theatre department at whatever college he went to.
It's an odd conundrum. Why would someone with the intelligence and perseverence needed to pursue an acting career choose to do so when the risks are so high (my worst year was WAY below poverty level, and I'm not an isolated example) and the financial ceiling is so low? And even if you "make it", you can suddenly become way less employable if you, say, go bald or get pregnant. Why would anyone choose that?
Because they have to.
Any actors disagree with me?
It's mysterious, and there a zillion books written about it (with varying degrees of pretentiousness), but I haven't been able to find anything that clarifies it more than that: Actors gotta act.
So what makes someone "professional" vs "amateur"?
As I just stated, it's unfair to assume that a professional actor make his/her income solely through the stage unless 90% percent of artists are literally starving. So how can we even begin to define something that by its very name denotes some degree of income?
Well, it's damn hard.
I tend to think of "professional" as a state of mind. If you show up to rehearsal and you will simply NOT accept that good enough is good enough, then you're probably what I would qualify as a professional. I've seen actors "just give it a shot" and manage to be more believable than someone who's been at it for decades. So much of ability depends on being involved with the right project. I've been amazing in some shows and was paid in gas money...and I've been paid very well and done horrific work. I think that's the easiest mistake to make for those who don't work in the theatre: that resume equates ability. It's certainly a helpful tool to inform casting decisions, but it by no means is a full estimation of an actor's professionalism.
In 2014, several of CST's company made their professional stage debuts and nobody was any wiser that they were rookies. I received MANY comments to the effect of "we have that kind of talent in Spokane?!?".
Yep, we do.
We also have it in NYC, Chicago, Seattle and beyond. Musicals are hard to cast, because there are so many technical requirements, but talent is talent. There tends to be more professional-caliber actors in bigger "theatre towns", but that's simply because there's more work. If there's work here, professional actors will live here. It's nice when economics informs art.
Or not, depending on the situation.
Moral of this story is: if you're a pro, you know it down deep, and so does the audience. Zip codes have no bearing on that.
This reads as a bit of a defense of Spokane/CDA's actors...and I guess it is to a degree...but I made the same defense of Seattle's actors vis-a-vis NYC when I lived there. Bigger cities seem like they must breed bigger talent, but the truth of the matter, at least in my opinion, is that big cities are FABULOUS places to work
...and mid-size cities are FABULOUS places to work.
...and small towns are FABULOUS places to work.
"work" being the operative word.