There are a number of things that can kill your acting career before it even gets off the ground. Not nice to think about… but it’s important you understand what is expected of you as an actor working in a professional setting. Have these in hand - and your career is on a better footing from the start.
MISTAKE NUMBER 1: Turn up late. It’s a strong industry expectation that you turn up on time for your shoot or rehearsal or performance. "Time is money" in the entertainment industry - and a film crew can’t wait around for an actor, especially if they’re all being paid by the hour. If you’re due on stage and you fail to arrive for your call time (which is usually at least 1-2 hours before the performance, depending on what is required of you), you will have a worried stage manager or first assistant director trying to contact you urgently. But if you’re punctual and reliable, you’ll be seen as trustworthy - and that will increase your chances of being employed by the same people again.
MISTAKE NUMBER 2: Fail to do your prep work. Most of an actor’s work gets done before they turn up to rehearsal or their shoot. You have to have the self-discipline to sit down and learn your lines, research your character, and come up with ideas about how you’ll play it - before you even step into the work room. Then, once you’re there, it’s about getting on with the job. Fail to do it, and you’re unprepared - consequently, you might not be employed again...
MISTAKE NUMBER 3: Fail to report injury or illness. If you have become ill, or injured yourself (at work or otherwise), and you don’t let your team know, they could be putting you in more danger. Actors have to run, jump, stand for long periods of time, swim, yell, tumble, hit, carry things, dance, faint, die and many other physical actions, depending on their role. If others don't know these are a problem for you, they may just proceed as planned. You need to take responsibility for your own safety and not exacerbate any problems you have by keeping them to yourself. Likewise, if a doctor has given you specific advice, you need to pass that on to the person in your project who needs to know (e.g. director, assistant director, stage manager, work health and safety officer, etc. - whoever is your main point of contact.) There is nothing to be gained by not following doctor’s orders; in fact, by withholding crucial information, or downplaying your condition, you could do more damage to yourself which may potentially end your career as an actor. Just as one horrid foot injury can kill a dancer’s career, actors need to be equally careful of their voice and body; together these are your ‘instrument’ and they need to be in tune to play well. Make sure your colleagues and collaborators are perfectly clear on what you need, so they can find solutions to working around the problem. There is always the ethos that “the show must go on” - but it can still go on safely… or with an understudy! In some cases, an illness or injury may mean you have to withdraw from a project - but better that, than permanent repercussions.
MISTAKE NUMBER 4: Fail to get your ‘kit’ together. Every actor needs some key sales tools: some great headshots, a performance CV, a showreel, a website, and social media pages, to start with. Once you get an IMDB record - even better. Some actors go through drama school and never get these together, so are not ready to work on graduation. In addition to this you’ll likely need an ABN - an Australian Business Number - so you can be employed as a freelancer. With your kit you can approach an agent or apply directly to auditions.
MISTAKE NUMBER 5: Fail to source your own auditions. If you sit at home waiting for someone to ring and say, “I’ve got a gig for you”, it’s not going to happen. You need to get out there and find your own opportunities. Watch the industry. Keep an ear out for new projects. Look for audition opportunities and get out there and do them.
MISTAKE NUMBER 6: Fail to fill your creative tank. Succeeding as an actor is not just about putting yourself out there - you also need to nurture your soul. The reality is that not every acting job you get will be creatively rewarding (think TV commercial for hamburgers: smile, open mouth, bite hamburger, chew). Every actor craves a creative project that will stretch them, that will allow them to use (and show off) all their talents. But if you can’t launch that special project yourself, or it’s a long time coming, what are you going to do in the meantime? Without exercising our creativity, we can dry up emotionally and spiritually. We can lose our passion for the craft, get depressed and let it fall away. The good news is there are all kinds of things you can do to fill your creative tank. Go see a show. Take another acting class. Watch a film you wouldn’t normally watch. Gather a group of actor friends in the lounge room and do a playreading. You need input like this to continue your journey as an actor successfully. Without input, you can lose your zeal for the craft of acting and may give up. So when you’re not working as an actor, or when you’re not getting your ideal acting jobs, make an effort to keep your creative spirit alive.
MISTAKE NUMBER 7: Fail to overcome a crisis of confidence. From time to time an actor will have a crisis of confidence. There’s a bad review. Or one day you just have crippling stage fright which means you can’t go on. Or lines get dropped in a performance and it doesn’t go well. Or it’s been a long time since you’ve succeeded at an audition. Or you’ve got through to the third or fourth callback and you still didn’t get the gig. There are many things that might throw an actor’s confidence - and that could mean the end of your career… depending on how you handle it. To succeed in this business you need good strategies to manage your mental health - to manage things like anxiety and disappointment. Resilience is a bit of a buzz word these days, but resilience for the actor is essential. If you ever have a crisis of confidence, you need ways and means to bounce back afterwards. Counselling can be useful, as can mindfulness, talking with friends, and practising healthy eating and exercise.
When planning your career as an actor, it helps to equip yourself not only for the task of the actor - the acting - but for the lifestyle and its ups and downs. A great way to learn is by doing actor training in an artistic community - one that will support you during that training and encourage you long after you've finished. That's what we aim to do at Perform Australia. So check out what we have on offer - look around at www.perform.edu.au
Sometimes acting is a tough gig. Auditions. Rejections. Wondering if you’ll ever make it.
So it's time to encourage yourself!
Here are some inspirational lessons from actors with successful careers to remind you that you are not alone, and that what you do is worth it.
LESSON 1: BE AWARE OF THE POWER OF THE ACTOR. Actors are not just “pretending”. You actually have a significant role to play in society. When you choose to tell stories that matter, you can actually affect the course of people’s lives - and even the course of history. Stories can challenge perceptions, raise social issues, and even sway votes.
As Alan Rickman (Snape in the Harry Potter franchise) said,
"Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."
Alan RickmanActors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."
LESSON 2: REMEMBER THE PRIVILEGE OF THE ACTOR. Feeling emotional today? Good. You need to be able to access your emotions as an actor if you're going to create authentic characters. Acting is about finding that emotion in your voice, body, and face, and bringing it to life on stage and screen. Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) said,
"Acting is the greatest privilege. You get to inhabit lives and you get to touch real emotions. That’s the job and at the end of the day, you’re calm like you played a great game of rugby. And then at the same time you’re going, 'OK we’re going to climb that mountain again tomorrow'."
You take the audience on a journey up that mountain, too. They'll experience what you have to give. And then - your job is to let it go. It’s the character living those feelings, not you.
LESSON 3: KEEP PERSPECTIVE. Are people telling you to give up this acting thing? Well, you’re not the first to experience this. Even some of the world’s most successful actors have been forced to face this issue - Tom Hiddleston (Infinity Wars) is one of them:
"My father and I used to tussle about me becoming an actor. He's from strong, Presbyterian Scottish working-class stock, and he used to sit me down and say, 'You know, 99 per cent of actors are out of work. You've been educated, so why do you want to spend your life pretending to be someone else when you could be your own man?' "
If this sounds familiar, don’t give up. Tom Hiddleston’s net worth is now $22 million. He’s doing ok from this acting thing.
Likewise, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) wasn’t sure how it was going to go, either. She reflects on her early years as an actor:
"Acting had become like this terrible addiction. I felt I needed to give it five years and see where it took me.”
So give yourself a reasonable time frame to get started and established, and don’t expect too much too soon.
In five years, Cate was on her way and winning some wonderful roles.
LESSON 4: LEARN TO LIVE THE ACTOR’S LIFE. Emma Stone (Easy A) originally began acting to deal with her anxiety, but quickly grew to love it and wanted to make it a career. When you’re starting out professionally, the actor’s life is full of uncertainty - admittedly not a great situation for anxiety sufferers:
"All I wanted to do was sit in my bedroom and worry, but instead, acting threw me into situations where you just have to go with it. And it was good for me. Like the shy kid on the debate team."
Learning to ‘go with it’, to be in the moment, to work with whatever happens, is a big part of training to become an actor. And it has huge application in general life for all of us.
LESSON 5: FIND YOUR OWN SENSE OF SELF. You need this to sustain you as an actor - as you do in any creative field. Sometimes people are drawn to acting because they can pretend to be other people, but never face up to their own internal issues. Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) said:
"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
Acting is about living truthfully in given circumstances. Rather than becoming somebody else, acting is about finding more of yourself to bring to a role.
LESSON 6: OBSERVE THE HUMAN CONDITION. As Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange) says:
"See lots, read lots, hear lots. Experience life as well and just keep observing, really observing, not just looking.”
A good actor is constantly absorbing material to enrich their capacity as an actor. You’re always learning; your next role might call for something quite outside your normal experience. So expand your horizons. Go to the theatre. See a film you might not ordinarily see. Go to an art gallery and stare into the eyes of a portrait. Read widely. When you go to a café for a sit-down, watch the people go by. The whole world can be your inspiration when you’re an actor. And if you’re not working as an actor right now, you can still keep your observation skills going till the next job comes along.
So there you have it - six great lessons for the actor. You don’t know the future. We can only ever live in the present. So stick at it. Train hard. Master your craft. Put your best self forward. See what happens.
Photos courtesy of depositphotos.com.
Writers from Perform Australia contribute to these posts