I’ve spent the last week traveling throughout Taiwan. Other than my time working with actors here, I can honestly say I’ve rarely thought about acting or the industry. I’m proud of myself for taking the time away. It wasn’t easy. Show business is like the ocean, and it can be hard to feel like you’re “turning your back on it” by leaving town. There’s always the fear of missed opportunities, but sometimes leaving town gives a crucial sense of perspective on the game.
For me, it has been refreshing and has allowed me to return to my studio with a renewed sense of humor and fun about the whole damn carnival of this crazy industry. The one piece of career advice I keep giving that never gets old is “Stop making yourself crazy!” As an actor, it can be easy to feel manic-depressive as you swing from opportunities and excitement to rejection and disappointment week in and week out. Even the sheer waiting game of anticipating the next audition or the next showcase or the next time your agent will call, can make you feel like you live this bizarre hybrid-existence of being half-frozen and never quite living in the moment.
Despite all these obstacles, you can really find inner peace and your own sense of forward momentum, and start having more fun. Because if you’re not having fun with your own life path as an artist, then all the sacrifice is just not worth it.
1. Stop believing all the hype. One of the hardest parts of being an actor is all the free and unsolicited advice you’re given. This can range from advice on the hottest headshot photographer of the moment, which acting coach to study with, and what kind of read a particular casting office likes. All this free advice can be helpful—sometimes and in small doses—but quite often it can make you feel like you’re going mad.
Stop listening to what other actors are saying you should do to further your career. Turn up your music in the audition waiting room or when you hear talk of “niche” or “type”—they’re just a call to action for you to conform to someone else’s stale concept of what box they think you should fit into. Aren’t you sick of all the BS and industry shoptalk being shoveled 24/7? I am. Remember, your path to acting success will be 100 percent your own. In a previous article, I discussed the necessity of rejecting the “herd mentality.” It’s OK to be aware of the advice that’s being swirled and swished around this town, but going with your gut, your instincts, and your genuine interests will be a truer guide to you every time.
2. If you’re not having fun it’s not worth it. If you’re not having fun when you’re acting then just stop. Some acting teachers and methods make a fetish out of students digging up past trauma and pain—so much that it fast becomes a competition of who’s more screwed up. If it’s not obvious why this is harmful to one’s psyche and development as an artist then please stop reading.
Other teachers make it their duty to be downright nasty to their students, so that class borders on abuse. Generally I’ve found that the mentality in such scenarios is that such harshness is just supposed to make one a “stronger actor.” Such a notion is pure garbage, and it just allows the teacher a stage for power and ego-tripping. When you’re acting, you shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to please people or trying to check a series of boxes; you should feel dangerous and exhilarated. If you don’t, you either need to find a new class or a new technique that does let you fly forward, take new risks, and even surprise yourself.
3. Set realistic goals. Without realistic goals, you will always feel like you’re behind or failing. Setting realistic goals, however, will make you feel like you’re making steady, regimented progress. A common question I get from new actors is, “How long will it take before I’m ready to audition for major roles and/or look for top tier representation?” Sanford Meisner believed it took “20 years to become a master.” I think that notion is both true and absurd as actors like James Dean, Heath Ledger, Natalie Portman, Sam Rockwell and others couldn’t claim the title “actor” using that rule. Remember, show business in New York or Los Angeles means you’re competing at the highest level of the game. You can’t expect to just grab a fiberglass pole and vault your way to a gold medal in three weeks. It takes time, the love of craft, and patience to reach that level.
4. Create your own opportunities. None of my clients—both celebrity and working professionals—with successful acting careers ever waited around for someone else to give them work or validation. They created their own awesome opportunities to showcase themselves at their best. An actor I’ve worked with for years recently created a web series that turned pop lyrics into dramatic scenes—it was picked up by Warner Music Group. And you can create more than acting opportunities. One of my clients is on a mission to bring clean drinking water to Swaziland, one is a champion for animal rights, another is an Instagram star, etc. All of these actors have one thing in common: they’re creating their own fun. No actor was ever handed a career on a silver platter. Being the creator of your own acting opportunities is both smart and rewarding as it ensures you’re never waiting for breadcrumbs from someone else.
This article was originally posted on Backstage