Does Fortune really favor the Bold?
May 25, 2014 1:36 AM   Subscribe

Do I have an opportunity for some killer career networking right on my doorstep? Or just the chance to be a pest?

After a long, ten year battle with illness, I am finally moving on with my life and pursuing my dream. I'm an actress who started in community theater and I'm now going pro. I've spent the last several years taking classes and honing my skills and just recently landed an agent.
But I'm still very green. I'm not in any of the unions yet and have never actually had a paying gig. And because I lost so many years due to illness, time isn't on my side. So thinking strategically about how to move forward becomes all the more important.

Recently I found out that a very prominent theater producer lives in my building. (How do a major producer and a struggling actress come to live in the same building, you ask? My uncle is helping me out and renting his studio to me at a very generous rate.) Not only is this man very connected and successful in his field....but I've been reliably informed that he is also really nice.

Which brings me to my question: Is there some way that I can use this apparent stroke of luck to my advantage? Or is it just a short cut to a restraining order? Friends have suggested I try to casually befriend him the next time I see him in the elevator. But that could be a long, long time from now. I don't run into him all that often. Someone else suggested that I just knock on his door, which seems like terrible idea. Nobody likes to be cornered. I thought of slipping a note under his door, introducing myself and pitching with such charm and panache that he would HAVE to give me a break of some kind! But that best case scenario likely exists only in my head. Also, he's gay. So don't think that I'm trying for any kind of sketchy...uh....entanglement. That's not what I'm aiming do here- just to be clear.

So I'm putting my dilemma to the hive mind. Is there potential here or it is it just one of life's cruel ironies? What specifically am I aiming to get him to do? Cast me (in a tiny ensemble part) in his next show...or refer me to a colleague who could do the same? This would allow me to get my Equity card quickly, a process that can otherwise take eons. Or maybe let me take him out to lunch to schmooze and pick his brain? Heck, at this point, I'd offer to be his assistant. The more specific I can be in my request, the more professional I’ll seem. I usually err on the side of caution in life but I've learned the hard way that that often doesn't yield the results you want. This is an industry built on risk taking and chutzpah. Those who can't pluck up their courage often get left behind. So what should I do and how should I do it?

Also, I'm new to Metafilter and this is my first if I got something in the formatting wrong, go easy guys. Thanks!
posted by ChickenBear to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Casually trying to befriend him under false pretenses sucks, dont do that. As for the rest of it, I would probably leave the guy alone, personally, but someone more familiar with your situation could give better advice than me about that part.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:00 AM on May 25, 2014

Is there some way that I can use this apparent stroke of luck to my advantage?

I'm sorry but this is this man's home, his private space. It's not a work space, not a professional space, it's a place where he gets to be himself, with a reasonable expectation that no one is going to be pitching at him.

If you want those opportunities, and be viewed as a professional, approach him as a professional, in professional capacity. Not as a neighbour. This is abusing your status as a neighbour, and people in creative sectors get it all the time.

I'm sorry, but good luck anyway.
posted by smoke at 2:04 AM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Unfortunately I don't think this is really the stroke of luck you hope it is. You share a building. This is not going to make you any more appealing than the many other ppl who no doubt would like to use some tenuous connection to further their professional lives. There's just no reason that he will see any attempts at contact as anything other than intrusive. Sharing a lift is just not something that will make him feel any obligation towards you, as say, a shared (common) friendship might.

The only way it might work would be if you could become friends and exploit that eventually. I think that's pretty cruel, but you probably wouldn't be the first.
posted by jojobobo at 2:48 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I believe this would work against your goals. He would be right to be wary about mixing work with home because if it went pear shaped, you live in his building. I wouldn't approach him at all. My boldest step would be to put up a flyer in the lobby to a show I was in and hope he saw it.

But your idea just won't work FOR you, and will almost certainly work against you. Bummer, I know.

But really, leave him alone in the sanctity of his home. It's really no classier than pan handling.
posted by taff at 3:04 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I saw that the question said "do I have an opportunity for some killer career networking right on my doorstep?" I....thought you would describe some sort of career networking opportunity. A great conference, festival or other chance to meet people in your field. This is not that. At all. I'm sorry.
posted by kate blank at 4:09 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there a doorman that could facilitate an introduction?
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:34 AM on May 25, 2014

People build networks by offering something in kind, so the only legit way to do this would be to host some sort of party or event or bakesale or whatever for everyone in your building/street and invite him along. If he comes, great, you can cheerfully mention that you heard he was a producer and that you're a thesp too, but you must leave any further detail off the table unless he asks directly. Basically you can't demand that a stranger care about your career, but eventually a friend might. And you might meet other creative types in your building too - fun times all round!
posted by freya_lamb at 4:39 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hmm. I used to be an actress in New York (a wildly unsuccessful one:-) and I feel like some of these answers are perhaps coming from a place of not understanding that world. I have absolutely seen fortune favor the bold, in rather outrageous ways. (And that's nothing to do with anything sketchy, even!)

That said, I wouldn't harass this guy or pretend to befriend him or anything. This is what I would do. (If I had more nerve than I actually do.) Assuming you know his work and actually respect it. I would knock on his door (or better, politely approach him in the lobby or a common area if possible) and say, "Hi, I'm ChickenBear and I live in 14G. I don't want to take up your time, but I just wanted to let you know that as an actress I really loved [Play you produced] and [Other thing you did]. I found out you lived in this building, and I just had to tell you that! Anyway, sorry for bothering you, have a good night!"

This will either lead to nothing (so, no change from where you are now) or to him being friendly to you when you run into each other in the lobby or whatever. If he starts being friendly to you, then who knows what could eventually happen. Eventually, though. I don't think you can ask for, or expect, an instant job from this.

There's another thing you could do, if you can figure out a way to encounter him in a more professional setting first. Like if you know he's going to be at a show or party that you can get into, where it would be standard to introduce yourself to him. Then you could say hello as you would to anyone in that setting, but mention that you found out you live in the same building. Which might make you more memorable to him than the 500 other actresses he just met that night.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:27 AM on May 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

Yes, there is an opportunity right now. Similar to DestinationUnknown, seek him out and let him know that you are an actress and you know what he does. Let him know that you were surprised by the fact that he lived in your building, that you respect his work, and that this is your one-time sales pitch at his door. At that point, you force cover letters, head shots, reels or whatever into his hand,. With that, you tell him that that was it - that's all the talk about networking and the industry that you want to force between the two of you, and that you'd like to concentrate on being neighbors. After this, you respect his anonymity and privacy and be a good neighbor.

When you encounter him a week or so later in the elevator, let him start a conversation. If I starts talking about acting, stop him - ask him if he's genuinely interested in your portfolio, or if he's just making small talk. If he's just making small talk, ask him if there's any other topics he'd rather discuss - wine, clubs, the tenant in 4C.... anything - let him know that your focus is on being neighbors first because you'll be neighbors until one of you moves and you'd rather get to know him.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:44 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you likely to get any traction out of this? Maybe not. But is it worth giving a shot? Probably. There are two possible downsides. One, you all don't click and this doesn't help you at all. Okay, you haven't lost anything and are where you started. Two, you come on too strong, don't let it die, and creep him out. Now you have an enemy in your field (some kind of negative presence who can say bad things about you, at least).
posted by J. Wilson at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2014

What I mean is, take a shot but expect nothing -- but be willing to walk away and make that clear, and don't come on too strong.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:30 AM on May 25, 2014

I agree with Destination Unknown-- try to connect with him on the basis of having mutual interests / being a fan of his work. There's nothing sketchy about that. Also, part of networking is just making connections without any concrete expectation- "enlarging your network" is always a good thing- you won't necessarily get a job out of it, but you never know what could happen, down the line, just by knowing him. So I would say keep your expectations low, and just be cool and chill. Let him know you're a fan but don't ask for anything. Then, maybe in a few months when you've established a friendly familiarity, you could ask him for an informational interview. But I think even being on his radar is a good thing so you should aim for that at least.
posted by winterportage at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember reading a study in Social Psychology class during my undergrad which found that people are more likely to feel fondly towards those living in close quarters to them. Wish I could remember the title of it. Anyways, you might have his subconscious on your side.
posted by winterportage at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2014

On preview, I see winterportage made a point similar to mine but they made it much more succinctly.

Here's the thing about networking: it often goes nowhere. So if you are going to network with anyone - including this guy - you have to go in without the attitude of "OMG this is totally my big chance!" I've had this attitude before and I've felt that "great, this will really be the thing that helps me take off" feeling. It didn't do me any favors, it just made me focus unnecessarily on that one opportunity and in the process of over-focusing on it, I likely ruined the chance for actual networking. Also, bear in mind that you are not the first actor/actress who has approached this guy trying to get on the inside track to an acting role. He's probably had this happen many times already, and who knows how he feels about it.

Networking, instead, is about forming relationships that may or may not be important or beneficial. The relationship aspect comes before the benefits, and the benefits may never materialize. So calm down and assume that this is NOT your big break, even if it might be beneficial in the long run. Otherwise you're going to blow it or become too focused on this instead of building your skills and network more broadly. Networking generally happens more organically than people realize. It's not like taking an exam where you jump through the right hoops and then you're done, it's like (actually, it is) forming a friendship where it grows (often over time) through mutual interest.

It seems you have three options: one is to do nothing, don't reach out to the guy. This is safe, it avoids the risk of you getting a reputation as "the actress who harasses producers in their homes." So that's definitely a viable option, and you can keep doing what you're doing. Second, you could make a single big gesture like Nanukthedog suggests. This gets your info into his hands rapidly so you don't have to sit around waiting and wondering. The downside is this is extremely pushy and if he doesn't react well then it shuts down the possibility of truly networking with him. Since you are pretty green, I would guess that the portfolio you would be throwing at him isn't really ready to make a big first impression. So while you can do this, I don't recommend it. Caveat: I have never worked in theater or any similar industry, so my advice may not be spot on about what is appropriate among theater people.

The third option, which is my recommendation (slightly beating out option 1) is to wait until you see the guy naturally (elevator, lobby, etc) and introduce yourself. Yes, this could take a long time but as I said above try not to see this as a shortcut but as a long-term opportunity. Try to build a simple friendship with him. Feel free to ask him a little about his work - it's probably important to him so it's a fair thing to ask about - but also get to know his life and interests. Don't go in with hopes that he'll cast you, but rather just someone to talk to who knows your industry. Who knows where it will lead. Maybe he'll just be a friend. Maybe he won't cast you in anything, but will be someone who talks about the industry and from whom you can learn. Congrats, you now have something of a mentor, or at least a friend whose wisdom you can absorb. There is a chance that he'll actually directly move your career forward, but you can't count on that and if you try to force it you might lose out on a long-term beneficial relationship.
posted by Tehhund at 8:09 AM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you have a current headshot with your resume/credits on the back or a business/post card with your photo and your website? If not, you have to have one or both. If so, do your local places that display headshots have yours? (Drycleaners, car wash--here in LA, even my local post office has headshots tacked up. Chains don't usually do this, but mom and pop places do.)
You're not going to meet cute, ala Nora Ephron movies. I wish it were so, but serendipity just doesn't work like that. But, action is good fortune. So--does he have a dog? Does he walk the dog at fairly predictable times? Can you figure out his schedule? (If you have a doorman to whom you're nice and tip at Christmas, he/she might help you.)
With some research and forethought, you can probably manage to bump into him, casually, when you're looking good, and just happen to have your headshot in your bag. (But you always do, right?) You introduce yourself, you loved his (latest) and you've studied with, worked with, know slightly Person He Knows. (There must be someone--doesn't have to be well known or important--but you want to establish a link.) And that's it. You pat the dog, ask if you may give him your card (not if his hands are very full) and then you're done. Being stunningly beautiful makes this a lot easier, but you're displaying poise and self-control and deference, all of which are good qualities for anyone in performing arts. You can go home and then jump up and down, silently screaming I Met Joe Mantello!
posted by Ideefixe at 8:28 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If this guy is as successful as you say, all he does all day is get bombarded with actors and scripts and whatever all day long. Every waiter, delivery guy, store clerk - the list is long - pitches him. Doing this at his home is really aggressive and stepping way way outside a boundary. The likelihood of it resulting favorably to you is about 0% - maybe 1%. Trying to befriend him is about as bad - he gets this all day long every single day and can likely see it coming a mile away. This is not how people get discovered, with maybe a crazy exception once in a blue moon - and that's with actual professional credits.

Also, take into account that you have no idea what kind of person he is. Do you care? He's a person and all these machinations seem to be ignoring that.

Which is what he gets all day everyday everywhere he turns.

Take all your incredible enthusiasm and tenacity and hit the pavement. Keep doing what you've been doing and be open to every opportunity to showcase your talent - but living in the same building with someone is not an opportunity.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 8:43 AM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't like the idea of going up to him for a favor/to be discovered. It would really bother me if someone did that to me in the privacy of my own building, and it would have me form a negative opinion of them right off the bat.

That being said, is there anything else that would make a valuable connection but not be as direct and asking for a blind favor? Asking for advice or learning something from him seems a much nicer focus to your connection, which would give you a focus for your conversation and not seem quite so pushy.

I've been an artist and when I come across other artists, curators, collectors that I have been neighbors with, I was more excited for the sense of community (which allowed me to grow immensely and had way more long term value) rather than what I could get out of them.
posted by Vaike at 9:48 AM on May 25, 2014

Your only option is the "casually befriending" path.

If you just boldly go knock on this guy's door, tell him you're an actor, and ask for... something (?????), he's going to tell you to fuck off. Maybe not in those words, but that will be the response.

Also, I'm going to be very frank about acting and "breaks" and the like.

You need to know what you want, here. There's no such thing as whatever nebulous svengali "big break" you're thinking of. Casting directors cast specific roles in specific shows, on a specific timeframe. If you're able to find out that this guy is producing a show with a role you'd be perfect for, sure, go knock on his door and introduce yourself. But if it's just an open ended "please to make me a star now kthx" kind of thing, you're really wasting your time.

If you don't have a specific goal in mind from this guy, just befriend him casually. That way, if you're ever perfect for something, he'll be able to find you. Also, the bigger goal here is really to get invited to his parties and meet other pro theatre people, especially casting directors or maybe people in a similar boat to you working at your level that you could collaborate with without it being a huge get. (Which is the real way the sausage is made for people at your level -- it works horizontally much better than vertically.)

Also, I really would not worry about "playing the long game" and your age. There are actors of all ages, and pursuing acting as a career absolutely is a "long game" kind of thing. You have no control over getting cast in anything. You just have to keep throwing spaghetti at the wall until it sticks. If you think of acting as something that should take a few months to get established and then you get your "big break" and are set for life, you will inevitably fail. Because that's not how acting works, even for the most successful actors.

You will especially want to learn not to squander advantageous connections out of a sense of feeling rushed.
posted by Sara C. at 11:24 AM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Hi, I'm ChickenBear and I live in 14G. I don't want to take up your time, but I just wanted to let you know that as an actress I really loved [Play you produced] and [Other thing you did]. I found out you lived in this building, and I just had to tell you that! Anyway, sorry for bothering you, have a good night!"

Perfect for when you pass him in the lobby or see him at a party/on the street! Don't knock on his door. Don't give him a portfolio. If he wants to talk after you introduce yourself, that's great. If not, then just continue to say hi when you see him.

Don't force yourself on this person. He deserves his privacy. You don't want him pissed off if you happen to run across him in a professional scenario.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:28 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think if you read some biographies of successful people, there would be quite a few bold ones who leveraged their advantage like you're proposing. Don't be an actual stalker or a creep, of course.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:35 PM on May 25, 2014

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