Why I quit acting

Mike Mitch and Dillan Taylor acting on stage
Spring Awakening, 2016.

How I started acting

Since I was a kid, I had always wanted to be an actor.

I remember watching my favorites. Folks like Daniel Day-Lewis, Natalie Portman, and Christian Bale. I’d memorize scenes and perform them when I was alone. It was mesmerizing to me to be taken to a completely different world. What floored me most was knowing it was a set with actors, directors, and producers…yet finding it 100% authentic in the moment.

I wanted to do that for other people.

But when it came to taking opportunities, I wouldn’t. I avoided being a “theatre kid” in high school. I was too busy smoking weed and making fun of the theatre kids. I didn’t audition for anything during my first three years of college. I had a good reason not to.

I was terrified.

The semesters would pass by and I’d see flyers for the new shows being put on. Next semester, I’d tell myself.

Then, at the beginning of my senior year, I was walking through the liberal arts school. I happened to see a girl I knew who was in the theatre program. We chatted for a minute or two.

“What’s the play this semester,” I asked.

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” she replied. “The last day to audition is tonight at 6!”

Shit. I had nothing going on that night. Which meant I had no excuse to bail.

The day went on and I found myself back home watching the first season of True Detective. I wanted Matthew McConaughey’s swagger to inspire me. I sipped some whiskey to calm my nerves.

An hour or two before auditions, I convinced myself not to go. I wouldn’t know anybody. They’ve all been acting for years and I had no experience. The community and culture were probably already set in stone and I wouldn’t belong. I’d make a fool of myself.

Then I had an insight.

I wanted to be an actor. That was true. But how did I want to secure that for myself? I imagined the director knocking on my door.

“Hello,” he’d say. “I know you didn’t audition. But you strike me as someone who’d be really good at acting. Would you like to be in my play?”

I laughed because there was a 0% chance of that ever happening. No one was coming to hand me anything. I had to put myself out there and go for it.

I sighed and started walking to the campus. I tried to step fast enough to get there with plenty of time to settle in, but slow enough to not be covered in sweat.

As I panted through the building’s doors, I could already hear the cacophony of conversation coming from the theater. I followed the noise and to my horror, everyone was talking to everyone. I grabbed a script from the pile by the door and meekly took a seat toward the back of the stands.

I felt like the new kid in school who didn’t belong. I wanted to flee. Ten minutes passed and I thought, it actually makes sense for you to leave.

Then the director walked in. I expected the place to become silent.

It got twice as loud.

Students left their seats and walked up to start talking to him. I was screwed. But it was too late to weasel my way out. He took center stage and everyone sat down with their scripts.

At random, the director would pick scenes from the play and we would go up and cold read as any character. It didn’t matter who it was, guy or gal. The goal was to give him a sense of what we looked and sounded like.

I sat in my seat pretending to look at my script because I was too horrified to go up. Then I noticed too shiny brown dress shoes next to my feet. They were attached to the director. I looked up.

“We haven’t seen you yet,” he smiled. “Why don’t you read for Scout?”

My plan to remain invisible had failed. I crawled up there and did my best Matthew McConaughey I could muster. I was sweating profusely.

But I did it.

After the first round, I stayed up and read for another character. It got easier and easier. No one was laughing at how stupid I was. No one whipped their phone out to start filming me. As it would turn out, everyone else was just as nervous as I was.

I went home and despite doubting I’d get a part, I was proud of myself. After years of thinking about going for it, at least now I could say I actually tried.

My actor friend messaged me a few days later while I was at work. I got a role. My first role in a play.

It was a small part. A side character with ten lines. I was elated. Ten lines? It’ll be impossible to forget them!!

That semester was my first experience being in a theatre company. I became familiar with the rehearsal process, learned my way around the back of house, and made new theatre friends. I also started taking acting classes.

It was a perfect timeline:

  1. Got that first role in the fall of 2015.
  2. Got cast as a protagonist in the following spring production.
  3. Became convinced that I wanted a career in theatre after college.
  4. Got cast in the more intimate play that following fall with a different director. He taught me how to tell a story and helped me drastically sharpen my skills.

But there was a problem.

Here’s the thing…

Clybourne Park, 2016.

As my years at university drudged on, I was doing worse and worse in school. I was skipping classes, not handing in essays, and using that time to sit in on acting classes. I was too deep into my major to switch to a theatre degree, so I had to improvise.

Obviously, this was unsustainable.

My girlfriend at the time was an actor too. That winter, we took a bus up to NYC and auditioned for grad schools. We had spent months preparing our monologues and resumes.

It was a thrilling and anxiety-inducing experience.

Hundreds of actors from around the country would wait to be called into a room. It was a small banquet hall where 50 people with clipboards were facing a small stage with a chair on it. We’d walk in, head to that stage, arrange it how we wanted, then introduce ourselves and perform two monologues.

We had two minutes starting when we spoke our first word. At the two-minute mark, the time-keeper in the back would raise his/her hand and say, “thank you!” Then the gods would decide our fate.

She and I both got several callbacks. It was an exhilarating way to spend a day: running around a giant Broadway hotel to different masters program scouts from around the globe.

Here’s the punchline to this drawn-out story: I got accepted into three different schools. One in Long Island, one in San Francisco, and one in Birmingham, England.

I couldn’t go to any of them because I flunked out of college that spring.

Emailing each of them back was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever had to do. But things got worse.

After an unsuccessful “college try,” I moved back in with my mom with my tail between my legs. I’m all for people living with their parents to save money and figure something out, but this wasn’t my choice. I was back to square one. No job. No real skills besides acting. A ton of debt.

A few weeks into that summer, that same girlfriend broke up with me. She had graduated and wanted to explore the world and herself. I was in a hole with no idea how to start digging myself out. It made total sense. But it crushed me.

Unfortunately, none of those events motivated me to begin climbing that mountain. In fact, in June of 2017, after stealing a bunch of prescription pain pills and anti-depressants from various people, I tried to kill myself.

That sounds awful. And it was. But it wasn’t out of intense depression. It was almost out of laziness.

I had so many things to figure out and repair. The second I thought about the first few steps, I’d get overwhelmed and would avoid anything and everything. It seemed truly insurmountable. So I tried to bypass it.

I’ve shared that story before and can go into more detail in a future blog. But all you need to know for this one is that it was my breaking point. My rock bottom.

My decision

To Kill a Mockingbird dressing room, 2015.

Waking up from that, everything clicked.

Whatever I had been doing up until that point clearly wasn’t working. Something had to change. Many things had to change. So I started at the beginning.

I began applying for jobs—bigger restaurants in my area. I opened a new checking account since my old one was closed due to prolonged overdrafting. I got a gym membership and started working out 2-3 times per week.

But the question remained: When would I have time to audition and perform in plays? There were numerous theatre companies in my area. How could I make it work?

I wouldn’t.

It was both one of the easiest and most difficult decisions I had ever made. I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t prepared to pursue arguably the most grinding, unforgiving, and least lucrative careers in the world. I could barely take care of myself. I needed to grow up.

Many of the successful paid actors I know today have one or two (sometimes three) side jobs. They’re scraping by.

I didn’t want that. I don’t ever want to live anything close to paycheck to paycheck ever again. I didn’t know what I would pursue instead, but I knew it would be something much more likely to make a great living. I had an inkling it would be in the world of business.

So I haven’t done any sort of acting since failing school in the spring of 2017.

Will I ever be on stage again? Maybe.

Theatre will always be a love of mine. Going to shows is one of my favorite ways to spend a night out. I’ll always have a deep respect for the craft of acting and storytelling. I still act out my favorite movie/television scenes when no one is around.

But if I never act in another play again, I wouldn’t regret it.

I have so many other things I’m passionate about. My business. Creating content. Writing. Chess. Jiujitsu. Connecting with others.

I’m not the lost 23-year-old I was when I was…23 (that’s math). For now, I’m content with going to see as many performances as I can. I also have a bunch of old theatre friends creating their own shows and doing incredible work. Seeing them do their thing makes me smile every time.

For me, acting was like the perfect guy or gal you meet at the worst possible time in your life. It brought me tremendous joy, fulfillment, and friendships. But wasn’t the right time. I had to learn how to live first.

It wasn’t you; it was me. We had our time. Maybe I’ll see you again. 🎭