Alycia Kaback – My Journey from a Waitress to the Tony’s
My name is Alycia Kaback, and I’m lucky enough to work in the entertainment industry in the eye of the storm, Los Angeles. It was a long journey from my hometown of Coral Springs, Florida, to Hollywood, and it was an incredible and successful one as well. I am sure that is what you are here for – the success – and I am happy to share it with you. We all want our piece of the glory in this industry; there is nothing wrong with that. The inspiration will drive your discipline and keep you consistent. However, I want to give you a very blunt picture of my truth and how I made my dream into a business that not only fulfilled many of my aspirations, but also allows me to help others achieve theirs.
I definitely grew up in a legal family. My dad went to West Point and was a corporate lawyer. My mother was a legal secretary who ran my dad’s business. Growing up, I always heard the comments that I should be a lawyer as well. My parents were actually the ones telling me, “Honey, you don’t want to get into the law.” That was fine with me – I was perfectly all right watching my TV shows.
The first present I really remember receiving from my parents was a Fisher Price Movie Camera – probably in response to my early attraction to the silver screen, and possibly to keep me away from law! I was six years old, and I was absolutely enthralled with this camera. I said to myself, “I’m going to be a filmmaker when I grow up.” All of my friends wanted to go into additional professions – medicine, law, professional princess – but I knew exactly where I was going.
At the same time that my parents were trying to drive me away from law, they were unable to really commit themselves to the idea that I would be a successful filmmaker. My parents were very successful. Obviously, they did not want to see me fail in an industry that seems to depend on luck and connections more than skill. They also didn’t want to pay for a college film school degree only to see me unemployed and unhappily trying to kick down impossible doors. So, for all that Fisher-Price love at age 6, they told me at age 17 that they would not pay for me to go to film school. Even back then, film school was not something that you could finish with a work-study program. It was expensive.
Just so you can see the numbers: Full Sail, Northwestern or Chatman film schools can easily cost you $200,000 with no guarantee of even an entry-level position. My parents pressured me to attend college for business and warned against communications, broadcasting, journalism or theater.
I don’t know where I got the gumption to say to them, “This is my dream. This is what I want to do. You guys were telling me my whole life that I should follow my dreams. Now that I’m old enough to make my own decisions, you guys are telling me ‘no.'” Quite a speech for a broke high school student to give to loving parents, but I’m sure there have been many similar scenes played out in teenage bedrooms across the world.
I ended up going to college in Orlando. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house – my first taste of real freedom! My head was spinning. I thought about joining a sorority, partying and just having a great time experiencing life on my own. My parents hit the brakes again with another very interesting, sudden announcement – my mother informed me that she had breast cancer. I had literally just unpacked my suitcase for my first year of college. Why did they feel the need to tell me at this point, I thought? I thought about packing all of my stuff right back up and moving back home, but I decided that a greater gift to my parents would be my self-sufficiency. My dad did not need another dependent at a time that he should be focusing exclusively on my mother.
I let this drive for self-sufficiency lead me into my first real job as a hostess at Planet Hollywood – the one right on the Orlando Disney property. As a patron, Planet Hollywood on the Orlando Disney property is one of the coolest places in the world to be. As a waitress – well, let’s just say that after a year of this job, I decided to relocate back home after all.
Back home in Miami, I ended up graduating with a double major in TV/film and communications. I took the double major to expand my options in case I could not get a job in the industry. My parents, of course, did not even understand this logic. At least by this point I had come to the realization that they were not hating on me – they just seriously did not understand what that little Fisher-Price camera had done to me.
Immediately upon graduating from college, I quit my waitressing job. I quit it forcefully. I made a mental note that I was never going back. I now had all of the armaments I needed to move into my dream job in the communications industry, and on top of that, I had parents to make believers out of! You can probably guess what happened next – 30 days later I was right back in the apron that I had callously tossed aside because I was “finally on my way.”
I was embarrassed as hell for myself and for my parents. I had promised them that I would not be that 40-year-old waitress. All of the money I had went toward school. I had worked so hard. I literally had no extracurricular activities, no internships no charities. I thought this discipline alone entitled me to success in my industry. Not only success, but greatness. I don’t have to tell you that this kind of an attitude, which may or may not be defined as entitlement, will definitely get you nowhere.
While I was paying these dues thinking that blind focus would automatically catapult me to success, I was also creating my resume of crazy pitch stories. I would literally put my resume in cookie trays at restaurants I thought were celebrity hangouts. I was all over Craigslist, Monster, Hot Jobs – all of those sketchy online employment boards – getting absolutely nothing. I went back for advice to the only place I could really trust, my parents. My mother told me bluntly: “You don’t have a name.” In return, I begged her for help. She was incredibly blunt with me yet again: She told me she didn’t know anyone in the field and that I should go back to school and become a court reporter or a pharmaceutical professional.
I went back to trying to figure out something on my own. This stage of my life reminded me of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Looking back on that movie, Dorothy was actually taking advice from some of the most ridiculous idiots in the world. She was talking to a dog, a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion, all of whom were missing a vital organ or two. My posse was kind of like this. My parents didn’t understand the industry, and neither did any of their friends. My parents literally coerced a family friend to visit me at my waitressing job to ask me, “Honey, have you ever thought about doing real estate?”
I answered him, “Not really old man. Not interested. I have dreams.”
I found out later just how hard my parents had worked to coerce that old man to convince me into real estate school. I ended up going. I had absolutely nothing going on, and my cookie tray resumes getting any calls. I can tell you straight out that real estate school was full of absolute idiots.
Seriously, this school was nothing but a bunch of neophytes trying to impress each other. None of them knew anything. None of them had achieved any success, but they always felt the need to give out advice. I’ve never thought the words “shut up” so much in my life. What really killed me is the fact that my mentor seems to be more impressed with the demeanor of my new set of colleagues than he was with their actual success rate in business.
I really don’t understand people who will take the advice of a nice failure over a successful jerk. Does it really matter how a jerk’s advice comes to you if the advice is solid? People who watch Shark Tank and immediately talk about Mark Cuban because “He’s such a jerk,” have just eliminated themselves from my inner circle for life. Dude, he’s a business owner. Who cares about the rest of it? I am actually highly enamored of the individuals on Shark Tank. They have done such incredible things with their lives, and the people who would call Mark Cuban a jerk are usually people who have never stood up for themselves IRL, IMHO.
Somehow, I made it through real estate school on my second pass through. I truly don’t know how I passed my test and earn my broker’s license – I was probably the worst broker in the history of being a broker. If you catch me on a good day, you might be able to coerce a joke out of me about waitressing somehow jumpstarting my success in real estate and lighting a fire under my entrepreneurial spirit. There is probably more truth to that joke than I would let on, but seriously, don’t kncck waitressing. The people skills you learn here will elevate you in your future pursuits.
My mentor also turned out to be quite a great person as well. After I pass my real estate test, I ended up being just like those people I hated in my class – a loudmouth, overbearing know it all. I was lucky to have a mentor to take me through those first professional hurdles, save me from myself a few times, and show me the ropes step-by-step. Never underplay the importance of having a mentor, and do not let your youthful exuberance water down their wisdom. Because of my mentor, not only was I successful in real estate for 10 years, but I also had enough free time to meet a boy and fall in love.
I decided to make my way out of Florida when the real estate market crashed. I had saved up enough money to move straight into the heart of the beast – New York City. Why not? Everybody had been calling me crazy my entire life. I was 30 years old, and I figured that I would own the crazy. If I wanted my life to have a chance of success on my terms, I needed to make a move now.
New York is the most exciting place in the world. So much of the world’s talent is located here and in Los Angeles. However, you will get used to seeing broken dreams as well. Unscrupulous “modeling and acting agencies” make a living by turning talented people into blind, human piñatas that they send on goose chases while bleeding them dry with fees.
If you don’t take in anything else of what I say, realize that you cannot buy a modeling career at the mall. You cannot buy a career, period. Connections are everything. You need legitimate agencies in order to find these connections, and legitimate agencies do not charge upfront fees. Repeat that with me: Legitimate agencies do not charge upfront fees.
In the entertainment industry, the rule is simple: If somebody wants you, you don’t pay for anything. The people with the money make their money on the back end. For instance, that coveted Screen Actors Guild membership isn’t something you buy your way into. You earn it by being on set and getting waivers. However, once you’re in, you will be paying dues to the union. See? Back end, not front end.
My experience as a lawyer’s daughter actually began to pay off for me as I researched agencies. I vetted agencies by their Yelp reviews and rankings on the Better Business Bureau. In doing this, I actually discovered something incredibly important about the BBB and Yelp – companies can pay for those great ratings and reviews. Some of the worst companies in the world can literally purchase integrity for $424 a year. The terrorist group Hamas purchased an A rating on BBB, if that tells you anything. Yelp recently suffered a class-action lawsuit because of its policy of changing ratings based on private payments.
A great deal of my research went into the so-called “scam companies” that seem to promise the world but end up producing only dissatisfied customers. Well, there is another side to this story. The sense of entitlement that many people have when taking modeling pictures, dance classes, piano lessons or acting classes is that they will become the next Tyson Beckford, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys or Zac Efron. There is absolutely no guarantee that if you pay $5000 or $10,000 for one of these classes that you will be ensured employment in your field. Many of the companies that were getting called scams by dissatisfied customers were actually just doing their job. They provided the training that was advertised, and people were unhappy because that training did not automatically catapult them to the top of a producer’s casting call.
I started to wonder why people came into the entertainment business feeling this sense of entitlement. I thought back to my own experiences in waitressing and real estate – the bad advice that I received from people in those professions. Similarly, bad advice was creating a sense of entitlement with prospects in the entertainment business.
I finally knew what my place was in the entertainment industry. I would start a networking company to bridge the gap between training and employment. Once you get trained, you come to me. I am the one to put you in touch with people who can actually help you leverage your skill into work.
To this date, I have been running my business for eight years connecting truly talented people with real industry contacts. The truth is that it does not matter whether you attend the Yale School of Drama, Dillard or Stellar Adelaide. If you have what it takes, there is no reason to go through all of the crazy drama of dealing with scam companies. Your trainers are not supposed to be your agents. However, too many people spend too much money and time with the wrong people in the entertainment business based on bad advice.
With people skills that I cultivated in waitressing in real estate, I was able to build up a significant network in the entertainment business for my clients. Teri Bostaji is the head of Wilhelmina Kids & Teens in New York City. She manages people like Peyton List from Jessie and Bunk’d, and she comes to our events. None of the kids she manages are actually super attractive, but they are laughing all the way to the bank. You don’t need to have an eight pack and look like Ryan Gosling in order to make it – you just need the right connections for your base of talent.
For those of you who do need a service before putting yourself in front of top decision-makers, we have top people from the industry at your service. For instance, I have cultivated a very good friendship with Chris Lanson, a part of Harper’s Bazaar and a makeup artist on America’s Next Top Model. He also boasts work on Pretty Little Liars on his resume. Imagine having Chris do your makeup before you go in front of a high fashion New York City photographer just featured in GQ, who we also have coming out with us.
You will also be able to talk to some of the greatest mentors in the business. I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with Dan Lauria, whom you may know as the dad from The Wonder Years. Dan is also a writer, and actually wrote the movie Bronx Tale. He’ll be the first to tell you that a great deal of his success came from mentorship from the great Carey Grant. If there is any service that I would encourage you to take advantage of at our networking event, it is mentorship. There is no way that I would have been able to create this life for myself without great people holding my hand.
Getting back to me, because that’s what people in the entertainment industry do, we need to wrap up this story. So, what became of the little girl who was fighting her parents to attend film school, ended up a waitress and real estate agent, and moved to New York City on a whim to pursue her dreams at age 30? Well, I have been a part of Tony award winning Broadway shows, I have done business with some of the most incredible people in the industry, and I continue to connect with more talented, unique individuals every day.
I had a show at CBS Digital which has garnered me press passes to NASA. I am working on a new book and a major motion picture. I throw some of the best networking events in this industry and help up-and-coming talent find their niche in the marketplace. All in all, it’s a pretty good life. I invested in myself, I took a chance, and I let go of the initial sense of entitlement that I had coming in. Things looked bleak at certain points, but I wouldn’t change a thing in my journey from being a waitress to holding a Tony.
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