August 2019 Member of the Month
TAC member Mark Lanham started his career in the corporate world. He owned a full service advertising agency with three other partners for 15 years, and then eventually transitioned to be a full time actor and writer. Mark is that guy at TAC who is here by 10am Monday through Friday. He’s working, he busy, and he puts the rest of our co-workers to shame. (JK! All of our coworkers work super hard!) I got to sit down with Mark and talk about what he has been working on, and learned for myself that it’s never too late to take a leap of faith of transitioning careers. His experience of corporate to actor, and giving to other artists as a way to get ahead in the industry is why we thought he would be a great TAC Member of the Month.
How did you find TAC?
Bethany Lauren James (of The Actors Forum). I had been in her group forum and had done some private consultations. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and she was like “hey, I’m at this new place!” Eventually, I messaged her and asked her to meet to do a consult. We met here, she showed me the space, told me what the deal was, I interviewed with Rachel to get the sniff test, and next thing you know, I was a member.
What do you use the space for?
I’m working on a solo show now, which I submitted to two different festivals. And I’m waiting to see if it’s going to get picked up by any of those two festivals. I’m also a ghost writer. I help people write books. The Co-Op has been my writing camp, which is so much better than Starbucks, where I would spend a lot of money, and get crappy internet. This space is great. When I worked in the corporate world, you get used to that socialization. When you’re out on your own, there’s nobody. I would frequent certain Starbucks, and they would say “oh, here’s that guy again.” One of the blessings of TAC is the collaboration. I never yet met anybody who has an attitude. I have a lot of respect for Rachel (Rachel Berger Founder/Executive Director of TAC) and how she runs the place. It’s kind of like when you put together a good party, you want to invite the right people that are going to contribute to the place, and who work and play well with others. It’s been really great from that aspect. I have a client who wanted to create an illustrated book jacket, so I was able to collaborate with Phil and Ruth (Phil O’Brien and Ruth Walker of W42ST magazine), because they use illustrators for their magazine. So those kinds of connections are great.
Tell us about your time in the corporate world and how you transitioned into the arts?
I went to college when I was 22 to get a theater degree, but didn’t finish because I was working for PBS in their graphics department. Then I got my first agency job working with this great guy who came up with his business in the whole Mad Men era. He smoked in the office, had a three martini lunch, super cool, amazing copywriter. Then I got into this other agency and it just stuck. I hit 40 and thought that I needed to finish my degree, because at some point I will be upset if I didn’t get my college diploma. So at that point I went back to college, University of Nebraska, and it was great. It was one of the craziest times in my life, because I was working full time in the agency business, taking classes, and because I was in the theater program, I was doing rehearsals and performing at night. That whole experience made me realize that acting is what I love. You need to make that leap and try it, or else you will always be wondering what it would have been like. So I came to NYC in August 2007, started coaching, submitting for auditions, and I gave my notice to the agency. I was able to get representation, by October, I got my first show, and even worked with that theater again in January for an understudy role.
What do you think helped you move along in your acting so quickly upon your arrival in NYC?
I think the fear is you get here, you’ll be on your own, and no one will help you, but I was amazed I got into places where things came together. I found people who do this and knew about that. I think there is a community here that are generally nice to each other, because we don’t know where our next job is going to be. You have to help each other because we need that. That’s how I got that understudy job, I just ran into someone who was in a show that was already running for three weeks, they needed someone to cover for this role, they gave me a number to their casting guy, and I was given the role on the spot. You find people. Even here in the Co-Op, I’m working with Yaakov (Yaakov Bressler of Dramatic.Solutions) to get someone who does WordPress coaching. You can either do some research online, get a guy on Fiverr whose crazy, or you can use your community. I know Yaakov isn’t going to steer me wrong. He’s going to find me someone whose going to get the job done. I want to help others as well. It should be a win win.
What has the process of your solo show been like?
This show was based on personal experience. I thought it would be like a Ted Talk, where it was like a 20 minute inspirational piece. I showed it to a director friend of mine who told me to think of it in terms of a theater piece. So at that point I’m thinking, “I’m here up on stage talking for 20 minutes, how can I think of it as a show?” I started thinking visually on how to contribute to the stage picture of it, and just went from there, to the point where I think it could be a much bigger piece. It’s powerful. I feel like I’m going to get places with the content I create, because I’m in the driver’s seat. In an audition you’re kind of waiting to be the right person for someone else's project. I feel like once I got to TAC, I kind of took a leap of faith. If I wasn’t in a place like this, I wouldn’t have put my show together with the resources I have. I took advantage of TAC’s library over here, where there’s this amazing book on solo shows, and it talks about the history of how they all started out. I have a showing in September where I’ve invited guests whose opinions I really trust, just so I can get it out in front and see what happens.
What is some advice you would give to other artists?
There were moments in this business where I thought to myself “what am I doing?” I think there is a benefit when there is so much stuff coming at you. You can make a choice; you can freak out, or you can adapt the attitude of getting things done. You have to be really kind to yourself. I never want to forget why I am here, which is not to be a ghost writer, but an actor.