Monday, November 2, 2009

Running on Empty

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a sensation that I’d sort of forgotten about -- Complete and utter exhaustion. Dropping into bed each night, I have, instead of counting sheep, been counting the number of daunting things I have to do starting at 7:00 AM. More and more, I’ve been rolling out of bed, wondering if I actually possess the stamina (or talent) to pull off this ambitious “to-do” list. Where did my once leisurely existence go? How had this happened?

Well, it all started about six months ago when I was mired in a deep swamp of discontent. Like everybody else I knew, I was unemployed and sort of mystified as to why my phone wasn’t ringing. Yes, the economy had tanked. Yes, there was the ominous threat of a SAG strike. Yes, the whole town seemed to be paralyzed by a wave of indecision, but damn it, it shouldn’t be affecting me!! After all, I had, over the years, scored a few decent successes as both an actor and a writer. Why wasn’t that studio calling me? Hadn’t I written a profitable film for them? Why wasn’t that network calling me? Hadn’t I been a scream in that reoccurring role just a couple of seasons ago? Self pity (which I’ve always had a natural talent for) swept over me like a giant Snuggie. I felt – dare I say it? -- entitled to some work! What the hell was wrong with everybody? Didn’t they know I had bills to pay?

Then one day, I was gathering up some tax stuff for my accountant when I remembered why I had named my company, “Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment.” Nine years ago, when I first filed my articles of incorporation, I wanted to christen my new company with a name that reflected my understanding of the entertainment industry’s one unwavering truth: Nobody owes anybody anything. For the vast majority of us, making a living means reinventing ourselves over and over and over again. Sure, I had a track record, but that was then, and this was now.

I decided that it was time to start getting busy; to start saying “yes.” The good news about L.A. is that if you want to be seen or heard – it ain’t that hard to do. Venues abound. As long as you know up front that there are no guarantees, it can actually do wonders for your sense of self. It’s nice to be reminded that you still have guts; that you can still stick your neck out. I started making a list.

Since I was feeling sort of rusty as an actor, I started teaching a scene study class on the weekends. It was challenging, but working with young, talented, but less experienced actors than myself gave me a chance to focus on a few bad habits I’d fallen into myself. As a screenwriter, it’s easy to become isolated and disconnected from any sense of your audience. To remedy that, I jumped into “spoken word” evenings where I started reading my first-person essays in front of live audiences; audiences who actually laughed out loud when I spun disastrous tales from my professional or personal life.

Sucking up my guts, I agreed to appear in a one-night only show at the Bang Comedy Theatre called “Streep Tease,” where eight male actors performed monologues from Meryl Streep movies. It proved to be a huge success and resulted in two more sold-out shows (with a month-long run now planned for February, 2010). In addition to this blog, I started churning out pieces for the Huffington Post and Metrosource magazine that brought me a new audience. Then along came a chance to appear in an honest-to-God legitimate stage play (“Better Angels” - now at the Colony Theatre). In the midst of all this, I was forced to change literary management. At first, I was traumatized, but soon, my new manager started delivering new opportunities; including pitching in uncharted film genres and even a few TV appointments.

In short, my calendar, once empty, has lately been jammed to capacity and beyond. This week, when I realized how many projects I had going at once, I began to feel a bit panicked. How was I going to pull all of this off and still find time to read the novel that I was just given by that big deal producer? What the hell was I doing? Then, right in the middle of this freak-out, I had a revelation. Yeah, I was exhausted, but I was also weirdly happy. I was engaged and most importantly, I was excited.

I’d love it if I only had one job right now. And wouldn’t it be great if said job was of the big, fat, high-paying variety? But in lieu of that, I have to say that it’s nice to feel like I’m in the game again. I’m not getting rich, but I’m also not waiting on someone to make me rich either. All of these oddball adventures have been gambles, but so far in my new career as a juggler, I’ve yet to drop any balls. My social life has all but evaporated, but I suspect it will bounce back once the holidays hit. In the meantime, I’ve been relearning the importance of creating something; anything! The biggest benefit of all this nuttiness has been a wonderful sense of feeling ready; tuned-up, confident and prepared for the next challenge. Funny thing, but doubt is a luxury busy people don’t have much time for. It’s been great to feel that whatever happens next, I’ll come at it honestly and with a new eye.

I’d love to go into more detail about all this, but quite honestly, I need to get some sleep! I’ve got a ton of stuff to do tomorrow!

So, if things have slowed to a crawl in your career, consider taking a few chances. Make a few calls. Write a few letters. Stick your neck out. Double-book yourself. You never know who you’ll meet or how the experience will impact your identity as an artist. We all like to dream big, but it’s nice (and quite fun) to realize that there is no such thing as the future. Somebody made that concept up a long time ago and dwelling on it too much is not such a great idea. All there is…is now. So, what’s stopping you?

Copyright 2009 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


T said...

spot on as usual. As I said at the 'Sit n Spin' show we did together - I've been unemployed for nearly a year, which IS scary, but I have used the time ot work on bunches of creative projects and to take risks and to take better care of myself etc. I like to think I've (we've) been given this time to regroup and to prepare for coming better things.

Tom OC

Anonymous said...

Big smile.

iJim said...

Nice piece, David. I like the positive attitude (and the bitchin').