A Waiter Struggles to Hold on to His Acting Dreams

The alarm rings throughout the room. The unmistakable sound of Apple’s “xylophone” tune reverberates, trilling up and down the scale. Ben Skalski scours to find the source. It takes a few seconds, but eventually he unearths the iPhone from under his pillow and shuts it off. One yawn later, he leisurely lifts himself from his bed and slinks to the bathroom. 6:05 a.m. Another day. About 30 minutes later, the 24-year-old emerges, ready for another day of work. Donned in his waiter’s black uniform, he treks to the Astoria N/Q subway station. Twenty minutes later, he arrives in Manhattan.

That 20-minute stretch, Skalski confesses, marks one of his favorite parts of the day. As the train inches closer to Manhattan, Skalski whips out his iPhone and begins perusing lines. Not for his job, however, but for Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” In addition to his day job as a server at Le Pain Quotidien, Skalski is an actor. However, don’t commit the sin of labeling him an aspiring actor. He swiftly strikes down that notion. “Actors might be out of work at one point or another, but they’re never ‘aspiring, ” he says.

A graduate of the Stella Adler School of Acting, Skalski says he knew the road would never be easy, but he never anticipated it would be as rocky as it has been. Despite the hardships, however, Skalski never wavers in his dedication and his determination. In fact, he enjoys the challenge, figuring that each trial is a chance to learn and shape his acting ability.

“When you’re fighting for parts, you learn way more about what you can and can’t do,” he says. “I’ve learned more about myself from getting rejected and I use that to bounce back and work on those things.”

As the actor travels on the subway during his morning commute, he mumbles his lines in his corner seat, and a few passengers glance at him quizzically before realizing what he is doing. With the show opening soon, Skalski nails just about every line, but at one point chastises himself for misplacing a few articles – “a”, “an”, and “the.” Almost right on time, he concludes his morning ritual as the train creeps into the 57th Street station. “Well, now that I’ve got my lines, I don’t know what I’ll do at work today,” he laughs, and just as quickly, he melts into the bustling Manhattan crowd.

“Actors might be out of work at one point or another, but they’re never ‘aspiring.’ ”

– Ben Skalski, actor

Nearly 10 hours later, Skalski skips down the steps and returns home to Astoria. He arrives to find what he grumbles is his favorite thing – the month’s rent statement. After opening the envelope, Skalski emits one big sigh. Each end of the month brings the same rent statement, and by extension, the same question. Is this worth it? The answer is complex.

Despite living with his roommates Stephanie and Jessica, the trio’s apartment rent recently increased by $50. For Skalski, his portion is now $800. Though the increase may not suggest much, Skalski points out that difference amounts to an entire day’s pay for him. In the service industry, where servers are already scrambling for hours, Skalski predicts that hunting for extra hours may be difficult.

A logical alternative, a second job, seems logical, except it would indefinitely curtail his acting ambitions. “There’s no way you can juggle acting and auditioning, and two jobs. It’d be managing three jobs, really,” he says.

His room, littered with audition scripts, reveals a theatrical shrine. Next to the window, his bookshelf holdings span the entire dramatic canon, from Shakespeare to Stoppard. In the corner, a stack of resumes and headshots carve out a corner of his desk, ready for delivery at a moment’s notice. He throws the rent bill onto his desk and logs on to his bank account. Time to measure this month’s damage. To his delight, he finds it won’t be quite as bad. Overtime at work has lifted his pay nearly $100 above his budget.

Next month, he cautions, he probably won’t be as lucky. Rehearsals and performances for “Six Degrees of Seperation” have cut into potential work hours, and he opens the calculator application to estimate how many hours he’ll need to stay afloat. He fumbles for a bit and arrives at about 25 extra hours for the month, or nearly five extra a week.

Then, he gasps. In the midst of checking his banking account, a realization jolts him, triggering an “Oh shit!” He’s running late to rehearsal, committing a cardinal sin of theater. He scrambles around the room, hastily throwing on his left shoe and slipping on his right without bothering to untie it. In one fluid motion, he grabs his script, jacket, phone, keys, and wallet before spinning around to make sure he hasn’t overlooked anything. The second he realizes he hasn’t, he’s off, blasting down the hallway, at full speed to his favorite place: the theater.