Acting is one of the most competitive, belittling, exhausting lines of work you can possibly pursue. Karina Wolfe, who grew up in Durango but now lives in Los Angeles, knows the struggle better than most of us. Wolfe has returned to her hometown to star in a Mona Wood-Patterson-directed Merely Players production opening Aug. 12: Donald Marguiles’ play “Collected Stories,” about the complicated relationship between a writer and her student. It will be performed at the Durango Public Library and features only two characters (Wolfe and local actress and artist Maureen May) talking over a six-year period. We spoke to Wolfe about how brutal the industry is and her advice for young actor hopefuls.
How did you become interested in acting?I was in ballet starting at 3 years old. When I was 9 or 10, my ballet teacher was like, ‘You’re more interested in playing the characters than learning the choreography. You should be an actor.’ Pretty much by middle school, I was obsessed. I love sinking in and discovering the truth that the writer left behind. Getting to touch an audience. You do the preparation, then wait for the mystery and the magic in the moment.
How does stage acting compare to film? They’re both great in different ways. With theater, you get the chance to really live in it for an extended period of time. You get a lot more rehearsal, and dive a lot deeper with someone directing you. With film, they tell you where to stand and at what angles, but you have to do a lot of the work yourself. Then it’s nice, because you get to do it several times. You usually do it in little chunks.
What’s something people wouldn’t expect goes on behind the scenes of a film?Just how many people are standing next to you, watching. There’s usually way more crew than cast. So even if it feels really intimate, there’s anywhere from six to 25 people in the room, staring at you. That’s something I had to get used to.
How is acting in LA different from acting in Durango? There’s a lot more opportunity in LA, but it’s also harder to get those opportunities. There’s so many people fighting for even the non-paying student film with one line. So much of it becomes about selling yourself, playing the game, trying to get an agent, going to casting director workshops. But then you’re like, ‘Wait, I haven’t actually acted or fulfilled my artist’s soul in a while.’ If you live in a smaller community, a lot of the time you get to work more. In San Francisco I was working all the time, going from play to play. After a while I didn’t even really have to audition, people just know when you’re a strong actor and invite you to do shows.
There are a lot of people in LA seeking the fame and celebrity, not necessarily valuing the work or training. And then it’s like, ‘Oh, everyone’s an actor, I have to think of something else to say.’ You have to find your identity outside of acting in order to survive.
Any advice for young people who want to get into the industry? Take the time to find love in your life – whether it’s with friends or family or a romantic partner. Surrounding yourself with people that make you happy, and getting some hobbies that make you happy, too, so you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket. There’s a lot of rejection. Though you don’t have to look at it as rejection – just going out and finding the audition process part of the fun of acting and not having expectations. Which is hard. And knowing yourself, being confident; if you don’t get a part, it doesn’t mean you’re not an actor. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with people I respect and would love to work with someday happened through my restaurant, where I get to wait on a lot of celebrities. Some of the strongest connections have been made talking about politics, brewing kombucha or cooking. People want to talk to you as a person, not just as an actor trying to make an opportunity. So have other interests!
Do you have a dream role you’d like to play?I love to play dark, emotionally-wounded characters. Innocent, but damaged. Drug addicts and things like that. I’m not sure why; I think it’s because I feel pretty grounded in my life.
What’s something you don’t like about the industry?It’s cruel. Especially in my range, like a white girl who looks in her 20s, it’s so saturated in LA. A lot of the times the part goes to the hot chick or someone who knows someone. It’s hard to get to the next step. It’s hard to get an agent without legit credits. You could be acting your whole life, but if you don’t have “CSI” or any recognizable movie credits, it’s hard to get an agent. Yet it’s also hard to get the auditions for those parts without representation! So it’s a catch-22 if you’re not well-connected, don’t have a famous family member, if you’re not extraordinarily beautiful or really rich. But it’s an exciting challenge. It’s definitely possible, it just takes a lot of work and time.