The problem with being an actor stems from the feeling that we’re always racing a clock. Actors are told over and over things like:
“You’re too old.”
“If you would have moved to Los Angeles sooner…”
“You should have more credits by now.”
And what this does is it puts actors against a wall – in a position that makes it almost impossible to give the craft of acting the respect it deserves. Think about it, you may have gone five months without any auditions and BAM, you’ve got a five-pager for tomorrow. You have to scramble to get work shifts covered, print off your resume, and find appropriate wardrobe because it says she’s a “high class socialite” and all you have is “commercial mom” plaid shirts. You’ll probably want to watch an episode of the show to get the tone and memorize your lines so “at least that’s done.”
Maybe… if you have the time… you’ll get around to really diving into the story and the whole “making interesting choices” part – whatever that means.
This is not the path to mastery. But it is what the industry demands of us.
If you were to pursue mastery in any other craft, you would be taught skill-by-skill, until you were ready to move to the next level. Wax on, wax off.
If you were learning to paint, you would study the materials, types of canvases and brushes, types of paint and how they react to water, how they mix, how long they take to dry. You would clean the workspace of your mentor for the chance to be around her work. You would paint and receive feedback. Paint again, and receive more feedback.
You wouldn’t be asked to paint a piece for the Metropolitan Museum right after you decided to be an artist.
And yet, as actors, we’re asked to do this all the time. Why?
It’s because a casting director already thinks you’re a master at the craft until you prove them otherwise. Because for someone who’s been a series regular for a number of years, five pages the night before filming is nothing. They have the process mastered. And casting just kinda assumes you can do it, too. Isn’t that nice they have that much faith in you?
Okay, so what are you to do about this? First thing is to remember that the mad rush to get prep an audition, especially in your first ten years as an actor – that’s just part of your job. You want auditions, you want to work and earn credits, and that’s how you do it.
But it’s in your hands to remember that there is more work to be done slowly on the off times. Painstakingly slowly. Skill by skill.
Here are some exercises you can work on in your own practice:
- Watch an episode of your favorite show several times. First for the enjoyment. Second for the story. Third for the technique of acting. How did the actors convey subtext? When were they still and when did they move? Did they add jokes that weren’t in the script by being physical?
- Practice memorizing large chunks of jargon. The ability to memorize easily is just like a muscle, the more it’s used, the stronger it gets.
- Work on your posture and alignment. Walk around in the posture of characters with a different status than your own.
- Practice auditioning while using the script, on-camera or in a mirror. Check out Margie Haber’s book for tips on how to do this effectively.
- Read screenwriting books to understand why writers write the way they do, it will unlock magical things in your acting process.
The industry may make you feel like you’re always racing the clock. So move fast when you need to. But remember to slow down when you can and truly build the skills you need to achieve true mastery. It will lead to a career that lasts much longer than the booking.