Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dream of pursuing a career in the arts or entertainment? Successful Disney host and voiceover actress Stacey J. Aswad shares her advice

I love the arts. In my book I even mention that if I had unlimited talent and could do anything in the world I would be Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Alas, even my car seems to politely tell me that I don’t have career-worthy singing talent (which is why I write instead ;)).

However, some people think working in the entertainment business, or in any creative field, requires talent alone. You either have it or you don’t, right? Well, not quite.

Working in the arts or entertainment is much more competitive than the typical business world, and you must have a certain level of talent to even begin to compete. However – talent alone is not enough. In short, you have to have grit.

If you’ve ever been through the demoralizing process of trying to find a job, you know exactly what I mean. Most people have to go through that self-esteem-crushing job-hunting experience every few years at the most. People in the entertainment business have to go through it daily. It’s called auditioning.

This is why I’ve always been in awe of people who work in entertainment, not only because I love watching movies, listening to music, going to the theater, etc., but because I’m also amazed at what these people endure to make it. The celebrities we know by name get plenty of credit for their work, but for every one of them there are thousands of other people making our world a more beautiful, fun, and interesting place with their artistic talent.

I recently got to interview one of those amazing people, a dynamic actress whom I admire greatly – Stacey J. Aswad.

Before I met her face-to-face, Stacey was a core part of my yearly Disney vacation. She hosts the ‘Must Do Disney’ show on her own channel that plays 24/7 in the Walt Disney World Resort. It’s playing practically 24/7 in my hotel room when I’m there on vacation because I love it so much.

Stacey’s career spans far beyond her role with Disney, though. You’ve probably even seen one of her commercials or heard her voice without even knowing it. You can listen to her reel of voice over acting to see if you recognize her (you’ll also be amazed at her incredible versatility as a voiceover actress).

I recently got to talk with Stacey and asked her to share her advice for students who are thinking about pursuing a career in the entertainment business. Her advice is incredible, and applies to anyone pursuing any kind of creative, artistic, entrepreneurial, or non-traditional career.

Stacey grew up in upstate New York and danced most of her high school life: “I didn’t do a lot of parties and I wasn’t in a clique. I was pretty much dancing 6 days a week.”

Her dedication led to her acceptance to Juilliard. “I was able to do what I loved and be creative, but it also gave me an education,” Stacey said of her choice to go to college for dance.

That education helped Stacey develop the grit and dedication that has led to her success in the entertainment business: “When I was at Juilliard it wasn’t like I walked around saying ‘I’m great I’m at Juilliard.’ You didn’t have that kind of inflation because you had to keep working to stay in. My Freshman class at Juilliard started with I think 28 people. By the end of four years, I think there were only 16 who graduated.” Stacey was one of them.

Going to college for the arts taught Stacey how to manage her time, motivate herself, discipline herself, and collaborate with others effectively. But more than anything else, Stacey says the experience helped her handle rejection: “Juilliard taught me how to handle all kinds of criticism, both the constructive and the not so constructive.”

The petite Stacey spread her arms out as wide as they could go and laughed as she told me if her skin were actually as thick as it has had to be her body would take up the whole screen on my Skype.

So how do you develop that thick skin? When you talk to Stacey, she is about the nicest person you’ll ever meet. She doesn’t appear to be hardened or to have the kind of outward “toughness” or coldness you might think you’d have to develop to withstand such daily blows. However, Stacey has developed something crucial – mental toughness.

“I tell myself that at the end of the day, someone can choose to give you a job or not, but they cannot take away anything from you that truly matters. They can’t take away my self-esteem, my talent, my hope, my faith, my family.”

Stacey is the perfect mix of optimism and reality, a crucial recipe for success. She believes anything is possible, but she is also intelligently aware of the industry around her. When she graduated from Juilliard she became a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor: “I knew I wanted to dance but I knew I wouldn’t just come right out and get into a company.

“Having creative ability is important, but it won’t always lead to a job. You are the CEO of your own company, and you have to decide if you’re approaching your talent as a hobby or career. If you approach it like a business, there are infinite possibilities.”

From developing a fitness and nutrition program for the Youth Performing Arts school in Kentucky to producing a global web show for the voiceover industry, Stacey is constantly working on the possibilities.

Stacey’s realistic-optimism also helped her succeed as an actress. She knew she wouldn’t just move to LA and “make it,” so before she moved to LA she got her real estate license and built up enough income to last her two years: “When I moved to LA I was able to become completely focused and take classes, go to workshops, network, and audition without having to worry about getting a job right away.

“I saw friends who were so exhausted from waitressing and didn’t have time to take classes, network, or audition.” Stacey’s strategy paid off, and within seven months she had booked two national commercials for Time Warner Cable.

Some people think all you need is a pretty face, supernatural talent, or a “lucky break” to make it in the entertainment business. But Stacey proves that hard work and constant learning are just as necessary to succeed in the entertainment industry, if not more so.

And education, she says, is a great place to start: “I’m a huge fan of education, in traditional forms and just knowledge in general. It gives you the freedom to make choices.

“There’s something to be said for the space between high school and the real world, that space in the middle where you can explore, dream, learn, and focus on becoming brilliant at what you do.”

Stacey also credits college for helping her make it in her career: “At Juilliard I worked with people I never would have met just walking into auditions with a number pinned to me.” Those networking relationships are invaluable, and college is a great place to start building those relationships, as many colleges with creative programs hire people with real-world experience and connections.

So whether you dream of pursuing a career in the entertainment business, the arts, entrepreneurship, or any kind of non-traditional path, Stacey had some great advice to share:
  • You need to know yourself. Are you someone who sees the abundance of a situation or the lack of a situation? The way you frame things will determine how you’re wired and how you’ll handle the inevitable rejection.
  • Let go of the expectations of what you think you should do or what you think should happen. Just be present to what is happening, and be absolutely determined to bring very best to your situation.
  • Journal. I’ve been a big journaler my whole life. When I moved to LA I’d write about who I met and what I booked so I could look every single day at what I did. It’s a great way to keep perspective when you feel like there’s nothing happening. It’s also a great place to vent, consider where you want to go, and keep yourself accountable. When you write stuff on paper it spurs you into action.
  • Channel your excuses into something positive. We can make excuses for our whole life, ‘I don’t have a supportive family, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the right this or that….’ But at some point you need to decide what you want, and take all that energy you’re putting into why this ‘can’t work,’ and channel it into all the reasons why it could work. Then you can say ‘let me at least see if this is possible.’ I think you could be really surprised by what happens. There isn’t a dream that is too big. Just go for it.”
You can subscribe to Stacey’s free web show on the VO Buzz Weekly show website, see her incredible reel on her website, or enjoy her hosting of ‘Must Do Disney’ at any Walt Disney World Resort hotel. You can also keep up with Stacey on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube! Thanks Stacey!! :)

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