A leap of faith ... that paid off!


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By Kevin Theis


Last year, in what can be described as either a mid-life crisis or a leap of faith (or a combination of both), I quit my day job, packed my bags and went to Hollywood to seek my fortune as an actor.

Though I've been a professional actor here in Chicago for the past 30 years, I've never quite been able to make a living in the arts here. Plenty of work, sure, but ... it wasn't enough to pay the bills. So I decided (with the full blessing of my wife and family) to take the biggest chance of my life, walk away from my 9-to-5 job, and see if I could make it in La-La Land.

It was a fool's errand. The longest of long shots. Destined to be a complete waste of time and money. 

It turned out to be the greatest experience of my life.

In the space of just three months in Los Angeles, I had a crash course in "How to Succeed (and How to Horribly Fail) in Show Business" that will stay with me for the rest of my career.

On the plus side, I landed an agent inside of two weeks, which was a pretty neat trick. Then again, I also got sidetracked into one of L.A.'s worst actor traps, their "pay-to-meet" casting workshops (an immoral, insidious practice if there ever was one). 

I performed in comedy clubs as a fledgling comedian. I attended film and television auditions, any one of which had the potential to turn my life around. I even shot a low-budget film when I was in L.A., which was a wonderful education in and of itself. 

And in the end, I stumbled across an entirely new career that allowed me to return home and actually making a living in my chosen profession.

How? Simple. I became an audiobook narrator.

After attending an audiobook-themed meeting at the SAG-AFTRA offices in Los Angeles, I became aware that there were dozens and dozens of professional actors in the city who were, like me, spending a lot of time waiting for work to come their way who otherwise had nothing to do to keep their creative juices flowing. 

So to both keep a toe in the acting world and make some money at the same time, they began auditioning for audiobooks and working from their jerry-rigged basement or closet studios and began producing audiobooks from their own homes.

Hearing this was, for me, an epiphany. Audition from your house? Record in your basement? Set your own rates, your own hours? Only audition for projects you enjoy? What madness was this?

Now, a year and a half after first hearing of this burgeoning new industry, I have recorded and produced over 170 audiobooks out of my own ridiculous-looking basement studio. I have read fiction, nonfiction, self-help, exercise and diet books, mysteries, thrillers and some *ahem* adult fiction. 

And recently I founded Chicago's first and only audiobook production house, Fort Raphael Publishing Company, and not only employ audiobook narrators to read books for my own company, but I teach actors young and old how to do as I did and become audiobook narrators themselves.

Needless to say ... it's been a busy year.

It wasn't easy and it wasn't always fun. It put a strain on my life and my family like nothing else. But it was, without question, worth every penny, every ounce of sweat and toil.

And it all began when I finally took a chance and said, "I'm not happy with where I am and what I'm doing. I've got to try something new. Take a risk. Roll the dice and see what happens."

Because, sometimes, what happens is: You find the answer ...

... in your own basement.

Kevin Theis is a local actor, writer and director. His book chronicling his adventures in Los Angeles, "Invading Nirvana" will be published July 28. He is also directing the Oak Park Festival Theatre production of "The Fair Maid of the West," which he also previously adapted. That opens on July 29. The website for Fort Raphael Publishing can be found at www.AudiobooksChicago.com.

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