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The Pro-Am Debate.

Word, words, words.

Let’s talk about words.

Or rather let’s talk about the connotation of certain words. They’re labels, really.

Specifically, these two: Professional. Amateur.

Now, in the city that I live in, these two words are loaded. Most especially within the theatre community, and probably, to some extent, within the film community as well.

And, let me tell you, I have put a LOT of thought into these two words. In fact, they really do intrigue me, because I have noticed (in my city only — I cannot speak for other areas) that the word amateur is virtual anathema around here. So much so that theatre and film groups are scared to refer to themselves as such, so they take on other euphemisms like: community, or independent, or even, in some cases, semi-professional (though this term is usually reserved for theatre groups transitioning from non-union status to full-union status).

But never, god forbid, do they use the term amateur. No one wants to be called an amateur.

Because, let’s face it, the word has some negative connotations.

Now, strictly speaking of course, one could say that an amateur does it for free and a professional does it for money, and leave it at that. The implication is that, as an actor or director for example, you can call yourself a professional if you make a living at it, but if you are just doing it on the side — usually voluntarily — then you should call yourself an amateur.

Except nobody wants to do that because amateur has the further connotation of referring to someone who is unskilled, inexperienced, and, you know, just generally awful at what they do.

So the word is avoided. Like the plague.

And, believe me, I get it. I get that fear. Nobody wants a negative label.

But it really bugs me that anyone and everyone working at that level — at the voluntary level — is characterized that way. So much so, that they are desperate to find alternate ways to describe what they do.

And I don’t like it. Because it doesn’t apply to me.

Because I, personally, don’t fit neatly into either of those categories. I don’t (yet) make a living at theatre or film. Yes, there have been instances where I have been paid, but most often I work voluntarily. So, am I a professional? Not really. Not by the money definition. Am I an amateur then? Well, I direct (or act) on the side, usually, of whatever job I am using to survive at the time, or I work at it full-time if I happen to be unemployed. And, yes, I often do it voluntarily. Does that make me an amateur? Possibly.

And then there’s the added confusion of union membership. I’m a member of the actors’ film union (ACTRA) but not the theatre union (EQUITY), so what does that make me? In a film I’m a professional, but on a stage I’m an amateur?

It’s all kinda stupid really, but here’s what I do know: I am NOT unskilled. I am NOT inexperienced. I am good at what I do. And I am not a hack.

I am a professional.

I do “it” (and by it” I mean acting or directing, but really you can substitute almost any artistic endeavour here), because I love it, not because I love myself doing it.

And that, to me, is the real difference between the two terms.

If you are a professional you do it because you love it — not because you love you-doing-it, but because you love the actual it — you love communicating a story; you love putting forth a tale and inviting the audience to meet you half way; coaxing them to engage in the story on a personal level. That’s where the experience happens, and it is golden.

That’s what I try to aim for: that — that golden experience. A professional aims for that.

An amateur couldn’t care less. She just wants to get her rocks off. Or he just wants to be looked at. An amateur does it solely for the fun of doing it. Sure, they want an audience. They need someone to look at them. But they don’t do it for the audience. They don’t serve the audience or the story. They only serve themselves.

A professional, on the other hand, respects her audience. A professional wants to co-create along with the audience. To a professional, there is no such thing as “good enough,” or “that will do.” There is only the truth, and the chance to get closer to it, to get clearer, grander, or more authentic.

And that’s what I do.

I work to create an experience for the audience, and I do it by constantly aiming for authenticity, by being brave, by honestly serving the story and, by extension, the audience — NOT by serving myself.

That’s what makes me a professional, whether coin is crossing my palm or not.

So yes, there are professionals and there are amateurs. Some professionals are amateurs and some amateurs are professionals. Hell, many professionals are very much professionals and lots of amateurs are, in fact, amateurs.

Whatever it is, YOU decide what you want to be.

As for me, I’ve already chosen. Sometimes I make money, sometimes I don’t. But I am always–always–a professional.

And yeah, I’m always open to a little more coin crossing the palm. I’d definitely be down with that.


Image by King Chimp (Soon to be Riley Bobs)on Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons.

2 comments on “The Pro-Am Debate.

  1. Chelsea
    August 12, 2010

    Could not have put it better if I tried! I agree! I am a professional and will be till the day I die!


    • Chelsea
      August 12, 2010

      And you are DEFINITELY a professional!


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This entry was posted on August 12, 2010 by in Stuff about Acting and tagged , , , , .

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