Greetings fellow performers. It’s an honor to share my insights with you in collaboration with Milkstop Creative. My name is Mike Tomano and I’ve made a career out of my creative pursuits. In 1989, I left my forklift running and, at the age of 22, decided to purse my artistic passions full-time, vowing to never look back.
So, what did I do? Well, I increased my time at standup open mics, auditioned for every commercial, children’s play, Renaissance festival, Halloween attraction, and improv group I came across through my expanding network. I schlepped my drums in the back of my battered Pontiac Firenze to every sticky-floored barroom gig I was offered. I even played in…gasp!..a wedding band. (But no one totally rocked a sky blue tux with a peach-colored ruffled shirt like Yours Truly. Celebrate Good Times, C’mon!)
At that early stage, the point wasn’t artistic integrity, it was making performance and creativity my livelihood.
Not easy. I quickly learned the amount of discipline and dedication to “make this thing happen” was a gargantuan task. But I kept on learning, kept on growing and kept on “keeping on.” I spent a couple of glorious years at The Children’s Theater of The Second City. I took classes at Players Workshop and Victory Gardens. I was privileged to learn from some amazing teachers and apply my skills to a number of areas in the theater. I loved the work.
The great make-up artist, actor, stuntman and director Tom Savini gives this advice to folks looking to work in the industry:
“The more you do, the more you get to do.”
Sounds simple enough, but that shared philosophy has kept me active and earning for over 25 years.
Whatever medium you find yourself working in, it is wise to learn as much about every aspect of it as you can. If you are an actor, a working knowledge of what the director of photography, lighting tech, set designer and other key players in the production do will help you become a better actor. Knowing what others need from you is essential to standing out. Plus, while you are attempting to establish yourself, getting involved in other areas of the craft will open doors of opportunity. Remember, the key is to keep working. You’ve got to love the work. If you are starting out, and get the news that you didn’t win the role for the local community theater play or student film, ask if you can help or assist. Radio and Television performers find audio production skills, writing commercials or running tech will not only keep them employable, but make them valuable.
There is always the goal of becoming a “star” or “making it.” Too often, those lofty dreams get in the way of actually ever becoming a professional. You have to love the art and you have to love the work. It’s easy to romanticize about being a great author. Book signings with lines around the block, multi-million dollar options on your Great American Novel, talk shows…but what about the endless chasing of the creative fountain? What about locking yourself away in a room for two years writing something you don’t know if anyone is going to care about? It’s easy to give up if it is not the work that drives you.
I’ve been lucky enough to make being a radio personality my “day job” for the last quarter of a century. Everyone I meet mentions how fun they think my job must be and how they’d like to do it. Well it is fun. Great fun. Very rewarding. I make a great living talking, laughing and helping thousands of people start their day. It is fun, because I love the work. So, the getting up at three o’clock in the morning, need to consistently deliver growth in ratings and revenue, continual changes in the industry and fierce competition are accepted. It sounds easy, but it is far from it.
As a musician, my fascination, adoration and passion for music continues to grow. Every musical situation I’m in I treat the same, whether it’s a recording studio, bar gig or festival setting. They are all opportunities to create magic with others. I love every note I play.
Acting is an obsession of mine. I’ve spent a lifetime studying the craft. I make notes on subtleties that I notice in others’ performances. When I see a film or play that really works, really moves me, I analyze what made it special. When I see something that sucks, I analyze that, too. When I receive a script, I read it numerous times before I even begin to think about building my character. I first attempt to find the mood. Then I get to know all the characters and take an objective look at my character’s relation to them.
Finally, I begin to see my character come to life. My primary job as a broadcaster, musician or actor is to make everyone else’s job easier. Think about that.
If you are meant to be a performer, you will be. If you find yourself on an insatiable quest to hone your craft, you will. If you are in love with your art, your art will be good to you. Love your art like a child. Nurture it. Feed it. Provide its basic necessities. Care for it and give it ample room to grow. Be grateful that it’s in your life. And then, get to work.
You’ve got to love the work. Go get ‘em, Grasshopper!
Mike Tomano is a Chicago area broadcast personality, actor and musician. He has appeared in numerous independent and industrial films, commercials and stage productions. His radio show has received four Illinois Silverdome Awards for Excellence in Broadcasting. Mike is currently a featured performer for Milkstop Creative, will appear in The Leonard Bocx Production, Robot, and hosts mornings at WIVR in the Kankakee region and WIUR in Northwest Indiana.