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Aspiring Actors Wait For Big Break in NYC - 2002-03-20

For every actor starring in film, television, or on Broadway, there are thousands more in New York City who are waiting for their big break. Struggling actors face enormous competition for the love of the theater or the desire for fame.

Hundreds of actors in their early twenties form a long line that curves around the New York City street. Many at the front have been waiting for hours on a cold Saturday morning.

It is an open call - an audition - for a handful of roles in a new television series.

Twenty-two-year-old acting student, Stacy Williams says after several auditions she learned a "trick of the trade": If you do not get there early, you probably will not be seen.

Ms. Williams says she believes this audition could lead to her big break. "I'd kind of like to be famous, be on the Oscars, say my little 'Thank You.' Who wouldn't want to be famous? Isn't that everybody's dream? To be on television once?" she says.

Ms. Williams says she is drawn to the spotlight, where she can assume different characters. At this audition, arriving early paid off. She is part of the first group of actors to go before the casting directors.

"Hi, welcome everybody. Thanks for coming. You can come a little closer," She says. Ms. Williams has about 30 seconds to make an impression.

Casting Director: "Stacy?"
Stacy: "Yes."
Casting Director: "Where are you from?"
Stacy: "I'm from Detroit originally."

It is unlikely that Ms. Williams will be called back for a second audition. Disappointment is part of the business. Many actors say they learn to accept rejection, even after they are told they are not thin enough, or are not pretty enough for a role.

Struggling actor, Amy Teeples, describes how she copes with rejection. "I just say, it is not my part. That has been my philosophy for years now, even auditioning for plays. If I do not get into the play, it was not meant to be. My part is coming," she says.

David Lotz works for Actors' Equity, the union that represents theater actors. He estimates that there are about 50,000 actors in New York City, and more than three times that figure in the nation. Mr. Lotz says in New York, only 15 percent of actors are working in any given week.

"As an actor, the chances are that you're looking for work. And if you are looking for work, then you need to be available to go to auditions, and to go to appointments and to kind of work the circuit. So that means you have to have a quote survival job, or a job that will pay you but also gives you flexibility," Mr. Lotz says.

Many actors find that flexibility in restaurant work.

Thirty-five-year old Rocco Turso has been a waiter for four years. He and several other actors working at the restaurant decided to take their fate in their own hands and to put on a show. They pooled resources rented a tiny theater and produced a group of one-act plays starring themselves. Not surprisingly, two of the plays are set in a restaurant.

Turso: "I thought you liked it when I was emotional, that's what you said?"
Woman: "Well, I say a lot of things that are true in the moment."

Mr. Turso hopes producers and agents who attended the show will lead him to steady work in the theater.

"It has got to be the big deal, the big stage. I've got to be able to work where I'm not waiting on people in restaurants. It's just not me. I need to get bigger and better. I do have an ego. Hopefully, it will happen," he says.

In the meantime, Mr. Turso, like so many actors in New York, will continue to work in the restaurant to support his passion for his craft.