I have been an on-air spokesperson for a regional grocery store chain for the past 8 years. Often, people ask how I acquired this role. The story is rather simple, actually: my agent in Kansas City made me aware that the audition was taking place, they sent me five paragraphs of copy (the scripts for five separate commercials), I memorized and prepared the copy, and a few days later I went to the audition at a local casting studio. After the initial audition there was a callback, then one more. At the end of it all, I got the part! I really had no idea what the role would turn into—I assumed I would do one round of five commercials and then be on my way to the next audition. Instead, I became a spokesperson. My contract for exclusivity with the company came a couple years later. Since then, my on-camera and voice career has included only one gig: being the Price Chopper girl. This role has included commercials, voiceovers, print work for newspapers and on the sides of 18 wheeler trucks, introducing acts such as the Harlem Globetrotters and Sesame Street live at the Sprint Center and, mostly, happily greeting people in public.
There are basically two main grocery store chains in this region: Price Chopper and HyVee. The former is not widely known outside the Midwest, while the latter has stores spread beyond the borders of Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. The fact that there are only two main grocery store chains in this region means the competition between the two is apparent. Thus, the commercials in which I am featured have been heavily played on all the local network stations for the past 7 years. The mere nature of the advertising beast means that my face and voice are easily recognizable. Especially when I go into the city—I technically live out in the country—I am often asked, “Excuse me, are you the Price Chopper girl?” Or, “Hm. How do I know you?” And one more, “Hey! You’re on TV! Jane, come here, I am meeting someone famous!” A few times I have been asked to pose in photos. A few times I have been invited to birthdays and backyard parties. A few times I have been asked to sign things. To be honest with you, I am not famous enough to ever mind any of these requests. Instead, I am of marginal fame in my region and I am, therefore, inspired to giggles and frivolity any time I am recognized. Ain’t nobody got time for pride in a business that can wash waves of feast or famine across your resume at any given moment. Fickle as this business is, I realize that I am nothing but blessed to have a long-running commercial job that I enjoy and it is fun to be recognized as a friendly personality.
Truth be told, I was never interested in pursuing the commercial industry. I attended Regent University, which is a school well-equipped in both the areas of faculty and facilities to teach the craft well. My MFA is in Acting and Directing for Theatre: in my mind the emphasis was always on the word “Theatre.” Alas, I was the only member of my 12-person MFA class who often announced that I did not care about TV, commercials or film. I only wanted to be in the the-a-tah. And I said it that way because that’s what theatre snobs in grad school do. Perhaps, I meant it. Perhaps, I was a little fearful that I wouldn’t be able to break into acting for the camera and shaped my career goals around the mold of my own fear . . .
There were two things that opened my mind to the possibility of auditioning for a commercial agent upon graduating: the first was an acting professor that joined the Regent faculty during my final semester, Mark Paladini. The second was an assignment given to me by Mr. Paladini, whom I will further refer to as Mark.
Mark taught me everything I know about camera acting. Namely, there are three specific lessons he taught me that I would say are solely responsible for any success I have had on the audition floor: buttons, positives-to-negatives and commercial style. (If you have any questions about any of these elements, please feel free to ask me. I share this wisdom freely as it was given to me). During my one semester under Mark’s tutelage, and alongside my fellow students, I began to see what makes a successful on-camera actor.
The assignment Mark asked us to complete that consequently began to change my career goals was to write a set of camera-related objectives for ourselves. Basically, he asked us to visualize the goals we wanted to have accomplished in our career 1 year after graduation, 2 years, 5 years, etc. I have to admit, I was extremely annoyed with the assignment. My inner monologue went something like this, “I have no idea where I will be living in one year from now, how the heck am I supposed to foresee what I will be doing in this unknown place? This feels like busy work. Now, let me go practice a monologue or sing to myself in the the-a-tah!” Looking back, I don’t think I liked this assignment because I was not fond of uncertainty. I didn’t like investing in dreams I wasn’t sure I could attain and I didn’t want to be disappointing: to myself, my colleagues, my family . . . anyone really.
Once I finally committed to contemplating Mark’s assignment I realized some things about myself: first, I was a little bit of a coward. I played my goals safe and I recognized the pattern as I continued to press into the honesty of what I truly desired in my career. The second thing I learned was that I was a little bit courageous. Whispering into my consternation was a voice that told me, “You can do this. Just don’t shrink back, set a goal and do the goal.” Eventually, after wrestling with my own hesitation, I wrote down:
“One year: have acted in one commercials.
Two years: have acted in three commercials.
Five years: have acted in five commercials.”
I immediately regretted writing these goals because I wondered whether I was setting myself up for failure in the mere penning of such words.
In a grand plan of God’s leading and through the day-to-day grind of auditioning, being disappointed and auditioning, again, I ended up acting in 22 commercials the first year I graduated from graduate school. My average significantly dropped off the following year because I was signed as the spokesperson for Price Chopper, thus, I was no longer permitted to audition for any other on-air work that would play in this region: they wanted to own my face and voice and I wanted to be owned. It worked out well for both parties.
As I look back to the year of acting before I auditioned for Price Chopper I am keenly aware that every job I did was further preparing me for the next job. I was learning technique, etiquette, poise, acting styles, patience and some really practical lessons such as, don’t eat too many snacks provided at the Craft Services table and negotiate for the comfortable shoes with the woman in charge of wardrobe. In summary, work breeds work.
Allow me to ask you a question . . . don’t overthink your answer . . . what is the one thing you want to be doing right now but are not even pursuing due to fear? Whatever that one thing is, I encourage you to set a goal for yourself. Make it specific! “In one year I will have done this [insert goal related to the one thing].” Then, tell someone who cares about you that you have set this goal. Next, activate. Spend at least 10 minutes a day activating some task or process of thought that will lead you to your goal.
My last piece of advice for the day . . . wait for it . . . “Never pay full price on gas, again!”
–Jill Szoo Wilson