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Actors: Are You Sure You Want To Be an Actor? Read On!
WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO BE ACTORS?
Crazy people, manic depressives, people with too big an ego, people with too little ego. People with so much talent it’s scary. People with so little talent it’s scary. And probably everyone else in between. The ideal acting candidate has the following in their DNA: ear, energy, intelligence, imagination and intuition; the ideal acting candidate somewhere develops the following character traits: determination, drive, refusal to be beaten, resilience, pride, awareness of self and others. Combine these two lists of requirements and you have a potential actor – or saint!
So you have all these qualities! Great. Now some comments:
Actors fib. Maybe it’s a requirement. But they do. I asked several actors why they wanted to act. They mostly fib, but here are some of their more truthful answers, followed by my own observations.
1. “I thought it would be fun.”
ENTERTAINMENT? We’ll see. Work 9-5, come in late to sign up for an open call. Or instead, get up at six in the morning and queue outside the Equity building in all weathers. I remember waiting outside in 13 degree temperatures for two hours for an open call for a suitable “The Grapes of Wrath”. That was life imitating the name of the game at least!
ENTERTAINMENT? Tech and clothes that last until one in the morning. Long subway ride home. Getting up at seven to be at work at nine. Quit your job at any time. At seven o’clock in the theater. Curtain at eight. Hours and hours and hours of rehearsing. There are ten people in the opening night audience.
ENTERTAINMENT? Four months of open calls almost every day and no calls back. The air is heavy and leaden with depression, rejection, doubt, loneliness. Suddenly, a small house and family in Nebraska sound like Eden.
ENTERTAINMENT? After the audition, when the director tells you that you’re better than the “star name” they cast, but damn, you know the business! Gotta fill those spots! Subtext: You are nobody. “How grim to be somebody! How public, like a frog.” This is a small example of why I advocate that actors read poetry. No actor is better than Emily Dickinson.
ENTERTAINMENT? You have the female lead in a 35-minute short, opposite a big-name actor who won’t even speak to you because you’re not a “name” either. [“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too?”] In fact, he won’t even sit next to you in the bar scene. Me? Once that Northern Irish mood kicked in (controlled of course!) I was fine. Until then I felt like Dickinson’s Take TWO frog.
ENTERTAINMENT? Five years later, you still have a scar on your arm from a nail that some careless carpenter failed to hammer in properly and you hit yourself as you rushed off the stage. The lady in the wardrobe blurts out some cheesy talk that you can’t even hear in the triple XXX rating because you have blood on your costume. Sorry!
ENTERTAINMENT? You do Shakespeare for the NY Public Library. The woman you have a scene with in three minutes sprains her ankle, and you have to improvise both sides of the dialogue because the plot hinges on this scene, all while holding word balls in the air in dazzling iambic pentameter. When it’s over, take a Xanax or you’ll go into cardiac arrest.
Endless examples. If you’re in it for “fun”, go dance on the rim of Etna or Vesuvius or any other volcano while it’s raging. Now that’s fun!
Reason #2 actors give for becoming an actor:
“I thought I’d give it a try.
Me: Don’t bother. Fire-swallowing is an easier profession. Try it.
3. And yet another reason to become an actor:
“I played in a play in high school. It was a good memory.”
Me: Don’t destroy a perfectly beautiful memory.
4. Reason (Usually at the bottom of very few lists, if any!)
“I just have to. It’s like breathing. It’s something I have to do.”
Me: Oh dear, I hope he’s talented. His answer is impeccable.
With the possible exception of the “I just have to” answer, my own opinion is that 15 minutes in the sun is what attracts people to acting. do you want sun Go to Phoenix.
But it is the same desire for recognition and praise that draws us all, no matter how noble our professed protestations of wanting to act. A person who lacks the desire for recognition and praise will not try to get auditions and get roles.
Anyone who doesn’t want recognition is a fool. Every actor who says they don’t pay attention to reviews or recognition has a dad who is a director, studio nabob, producer. If you’re just acting for yourself (“I don’t care what people think as long as I’m happy with what I’ve done.”) then you don’t need an audience and playing charades on a Friday night is less exhausting. with friends and neighbors.
So my bravo to those who truthfully say, “Yeah, I’m all for fame and glory. I want recognition. I want to be famous.” Then let the desire for fame also be the desire that gets you to auditions and pounce on directors and producers. But also love acting, respect the profession and want to be the best actor you can be.
Acting, every word and every twitch of the eyebrow is a challenge. Let the challenge be the reason to become an actor. Because acting, especially on stage, is one of the hardest jobs in all of art. Challenge doesn’t begin to describe what it means to make an audience forget you and mix you up with the character you’re playing.
I remember once rehearsing the Duchess of York’s monologue as she cursed her despicable son, Richard III. Although the director later cast me, her response to my monologue was: “I wouldn’t want to skip you!” That was not me. Those words were Shakespeare’s. Not mine. The challenge was to make The Duchess sound real – real with variety and energy. The director’s comment was not intended as a compliment. But it was for me – because of the challenge of Shakespeare’s words.
My advice to almost anyone who wants to be an actor is NO. Find something you really enjoy doing where you can make a living and then do community theater. If you live in a big city, there are often movies being shot in your city and you could be doing extra work. In other words, training for a good profession while keeping your finger in the acting pie, just as a good amateur and not as someone trying to make a living from acting.
Although what I am about to say is contrary to the opinion of many people, let me say it – with the caveat that it is MY opinion and not written on a Mount Sinai tablet. I’m not Moses..
I firmly believe that there is an executive mentality: positive, courageous, determined, confident (about yourself and your abilities), full of energy and vitality. I do not believe that the role of a teacher or coach is to attract or obtain from a student the energy, vitality, joy, confidence that this profession requires.
Acting requires almost superhuman confidence, at least when auditioning or performing. You can certainly learn how to say a sentence or deliver a speech. But the desire to perform must be so strong that no doubt can prevent or destroy your ability to shine in an audition or performance.
Recently, a June graduate of one of America’s prestigious drama majors asked if I would coach her acting and guide her on how to audition. I agree. Then she went home (Ohio) to visit her brother and his children. When she came back, she said that their life was so good (family and home) that she wondered if she really wanted to act. I strongly suggested that she return home, find a job she enjoyed and build a good life for herself. I was completely honest in my advice.
I am most alive on stage or in front of the camera. Not acting is not being whole. BUT THAT’S ME. Quite boring in real life, but a cyclone when exiting. I do not recommend this profession to anyone unless you have drive, talent, the ability to perform well through rejection, and a joyful inner energy that is contagious to casting people and audiences.
I wish you luck and sincerely hope that in another ten years we see your name in lights on Broadway or on a movie sign on 42nd Street. Or that you will be happy in Montana, Maine or Mississippi with a good job, a home and a beautiful family.
But for those who really want to take action, read some of my later articles as well as those already posted here. See if you have what it takes. Then, if your answer is “yes,” we’ll guide you and help you weave the magic needed to reach OZ with as few twisted ankles or sore psyches as possible.
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