My dear friend, Luc, called me the other day. She had a friend with a 22 year old son who was in undergrad school and had caught the acting-theater there. He was planning to quit school and move up to Los Angeles to do an 8 month Actor Training Program. She wanted my insights and advice. In an impulse to be of service to this young gent….I gave it some serious time & reflection. The following is basically, my advice to that young player. Pass it on to those you believe may benefit.
1.) Get honest with yourself about why you want to be an actor. What is motivating you? If you are doing it cuz you truly LOVE everything about it and feel most yourself doing it and alive then it may be a great path to follow. If fame is something you are chasing…and really be honest with yourself about this…and this is nothing to be embarrassed or hide from because our culture promotes this so strongly. However, that is just smoke and mirrors created by the Hollywood machine to make money. And sincerely, if that is why you want to do this career….I recommend against it. Not because you won’t achieve it if that is your goal. But, largely because you will hurt yourself and at the end of the day end up empty handed. If fame is a by product of following your love of creating as an actor…. embrace fame by all means..it is part of the territory. Enjoy the nice things about it. But, if it is your motivating force you are off base & will be unsatisfied at the end of the day. Look at why you want fame. Really. What is that need? There are other ways to satisfy that need that will truly nurture you. Cuz here’s the thing. Acting is a total lifestyle commitment that will impact every single area of your life and take everything you have. The LOVE of the craft and storytelling and the crazy aspects of the business will feed you in and of itself. During the hard times the LOVE is what floats us. Regardless, of what shows up on your path. Cuz, it’s not like any other career. There is no road map and final destination. Even if it seems like some actors have arrived….it is still hard work. Actors continually need to generate and remake themselves at all levels. It is a generative career. So, get real with yourself. Look at your desires & needs realistically. This lifestyle, as you can see by the stats & self destruction of celebrities in Hollywood, it is a challenge on every level for most.
2.) Understand the lifestyle choice. What do I value in my life and what lifestyle do I want? Be open to new and different and more. Try it on & see how you like it. But, in 5-10 years what is my bottom line. In 5-10 years… do I see myself doing this for a lifetime as a business? Or would I be happy making money doing something else and doing this as an avocation? Do I want to give it my full commitment and see where the chips land in say 5 years and then reassess? Set yourself goals and deadlines…then reassess whether you are making the progress you want. In the meantime, till that deadline is met. Play full out at what you choose and don’t look back or question your choice during the period of time you are committed to it. So….timelines and reassessing and evaluating where you are at points and where you want to go and whats working and not are really important. Again, commit fully for a period of time that you set for yourself with a specific goal in mind and see where that takes you. Get in there and see the lay of the land. If something isn’t working then change things up. Look closely and analyze what you are doing and what works. Do more of that. Or approach it completely differently for a while if it isn’t working. Stop if it is unsatisfying & doesn’t make you happy for too long a period of time. Do something else by all means. You can always re-create yourself. Louise Hay started writing her books at 60 years old.
3.) A career as an actor has no road map. A degree in acting is not necessary. IMPECCABLE TRAINING IS NECESSARY FOR LONGEVITY. There are some amazing schools for actors that will give you a degree which may benefit you later if you decide you want to teach because you would LOVE to do that too or something else where a degree may be a helpful credential. However, if you are beginning your career and already creating something to “fall back on”….an acting career probably isn’t the career for you. There are no guarantees in this career except for those with complete commitment and strong intention. When Denzel Washington was asked, ‘Did he go at his acting career with something to ‘fall back on’?”…he said, “That doesn’t make sense. I was determined to succeed. Why would I set myself up that way and give myself an out? I don’t need to fall back on something. I’m falling forward.” Now, that said, to go to a great school like Yale or Juilliard and get a degree makes sense for many reasons. But, never in my estimation as a back up plan for the actor. There are many other reasons to get a degree as an actor from a great program. One reason would be that you give yourself the opportunity to get fabulous training for a period of time & build your craft without other distractions. You give yourself the opportunity to grow up a little and discover who you are and what matters. You give yourself the opportunity to fall on your face and make mistakes in a conservatory atmosphere and not on the job. You give yourself a chance to become literate about history and great writing and literature which can only serve to make you a better actor and feed your imagination. These are especially good reasons to sign up for a professional actor training program and possibly get a degree. Do you need a degree to work as an actor? Absolutely not. But, to have longevity in this business….you need to study the craft and practice. So that when the opportunities come you are ready. And if they don’t come right away…you have the smarts to create opportunities. You don’t wait. Another reason to study your craft at a great school is to surround yourself with a community of friends and fellow artists that you can potentially create with and mutually support each other through the journey. These relationships if strong can lasy a lifetime.
4.) Find Mentors. People in the business who have gone before you and are where you aspire to go. Lots of them. Read about this in “They Can Eat You But, They Can’t Kill You” by Dawn Steele. Learn to cultivate relationships with these mentors. It is primary. The advantage is that thru these connections may come potential jobs & information from those who have gone before which will prevent you from making the same mistakes as they did & other connections and introductions. They have the inside scoop. You can excelerate your career progress exponentially. It is the language of the biz. You must learn to do this and be bold and smart about it and sincere. Be a passionate learner and be of service to them. Give back to them.
5.) Surround yourself with a community of responsible, positive, creatives that are like minded and equally brilliant and determined. Support each other, create projects together, share leads and information….play hard and laugh together. Stay away from dysfunctional irresponsible people who play victim. This will hold you back. Spot the good ones and cultivate friendships and working relationships with them.
6.) This is “Show Business” & that means you need to be a business person about you & your career. Business is 50-75% of what you do. So, become a great business person. You are the product. You need to be disciplined and apply principles like any other business does. Keep stats and records and evaluate what you as your product objectively & creatively. Relationships & networking are key in all businesses. But, especially this one. People are the life blood of your flow. You need to get & stay smartly in the drivers seat. Begin now to create a data base of contacts with notes about them and stay in touch cleverly. Use social networking strategically. Give gifts and thank you notes as a regular protocol to those who help you out.
Play full out! Have fun! You can always change direction. You will learn alot and enriched by whatever you choose to do! Trust your instincts! Good luck!
Break a Leg! Let me know how it goes….
List of Acting Schools I recommend:
“study with the best of the best”
Yale, Juilliard, ACT, ART, CAL Arts, North Carolina School for the Arts, Rutgers Meisner Program, Temple, Carngie Melon, NYU, Steppenwolf, Shakespeare & Company, New Actors Workshop.