Boston native Rachel Bailit started working in Hollywood in 1995, hoping to become a TV star.
A comedic actor by nature, she landed some bit parts and commercial work, but it was work she describes as "light and breezy" smaller, superficial roles. She found herself wanting more.
"It was the Hollywood dream," Bailit said, "but along the way I fell in love with acting. I wanted to be taken seriously, but I didn't have the goods."
She enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, scraped and struggled for tuition, hoping the experience would change her techniques and give her the experience and credentials she needed to get better work.
Hollywood's top acting schools are filled with students like Bailet, who may have downsized their Hollywood dreams but have become devoted to their craft. And while young people with big-screen aspirations remain their bread and butter, the larger institutions are attracting nearly as many students who harbor no illusions of becoming the next Meryl Streep.
The more established Hollywood schools, like the Strasberg Institute, the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatres or the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, make a point of reality checks to rein in expectations and to attract students whose goal may simply be the community playhouse.
"There have always been more people who think they are going to be a star than there ever are," said David Lee Strasberg, who runs his late father's famed acting institution.
"The people who come in here are serious about acting, not driven by the industry. We see people who have no money, are spending all their savings to do this, and why? Because they have to act."
Irene Gilbert, president of the 21-year-old Adler Academy in Hollywood, warns students that their classes are not for those looking for quick fame or a movie role.
"Commercial success would be nice but that's not the point," she said. "Obviously, the percentages aren't there most will not become successful, wealthy actors, the Brandos and De Niros."
As for Bailit, she still hasn't landed that TV series. But she will star in her own one-woman show called "Sugar Happens," on Comedy Central's stage at the Hudson Theater on April 18.
"I couldn't be happier, my training has been such a blessing," Bailit said. "People always said (success) may not happen right away, and I do want to make a living at this, but I think financial success will be the icing on the cake."
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