Thursday, May 19

MY Two Cents – For What It’s Worth

Acting is one of the most difficult professions in the world. Chances are you didn’t need me to tell you that but for those unfamiliar with the challenges and hurdles that aspiring actors must face I thought I would put it out there as a reminder.

Many young actors have come to me over the years with a misconception regarding the demands of this profession. Some have received encouragement from family and friends that tell them that they “have what it takes” to make it. This may or may not be true. But in many cases the aspiring actor does not understand what it takes to make it in this highly competitive profession. I am not suggesting that I have the answers but at the very least I may be able to shed some light on the subject.

Anger is a part of all of us but in excess it is a destructive force that erodes from within and prevents us from reaching our goals. Acting, like life, is a relationships business. It is important that you present yourself in the best positive light at all times. If anger is your dominant emotional condition you may be setting yourself up for rejection before you walk through the door. It’s possible, even likely, that you may do well in an audition and fail to get hired because of your “attitude.” Anger in the nth degree leaves stains that even the strongest bleach can’t get out. As someone who had more than my fair share of anger as a young man I can tell you that it is not an asset when it comes to building positive relationships. If you’re aware of it, do something about it before you burn bridges that cannot be rebuilt.

Rejection is a part of this business. It hurts when you do not get the role but it is part of the actor’s day-to-day reality and you must find a way to deal with it. Different actor’s develop specific strategies for dealing with the big “R”. As an unemployed actor Gene Hackman found that a positive approach to the audition process was his best bet. When he got called in to read he got excited about it. He loved to act and felt that the audition gave him an opportunity to do the thing he loved best. As a struggling actor, Richard Dreyfus, after a fruitless audition, would mutter to himself, “What’s the matter with these people? Don’t they know how good I am?” Kathy Bates, when asked “How do you get work in this business, said, “You get so good that they have to hire you.”

Whatever your approach you must understand that the best actors in the world have faced rejection and still do. The fact that an actor wants to play a role, even those that have experienced some degree of success, is no guarantee they will get it. Warren Beatty wanted badly to play the role of “Stavros” in Elia Kazan’s “America, America.” Kazan, who had directed Beatty in “Splendor In The Grass,” and liked his work, did not think him right for the part. Eventually he hired an unknown Greek that had never acted before.

A thick skin is a requirement if you are to succeed in this business. There are a great many reasons why actors fail to get a role. Often times they are just not right for the part. Period. End of story. Other times, and this is not uncommon, an actor gets called in to read for one part and is then asked to read for another. It is not an exacting science. It is not personal, even when it feels that way. It is a business.

Then there is this thing called craft. Too many young actors take it for granted. Some think that attending the occasional workshop will provide them with the tools they need to succeed. A workshop is an opportunity for students to experience a particular approach to the craft. It can give them a feel for the teacher’s level of expertise, ability to communicate, knowledge of their subject, rapport with students, personality, and the type of environment they will be exposed to if they choose to study on a long term basis. It is by no means a substitute for acting classes. If you hope to earn your living acting then you must do everything you can to establish a foundation that will enable you to do just that. There are no short cuts to developing a solid technique.

Preparation is the key to having a successful audition. It is not a guessing game. There are specific tools that must be applied to the script and you must have them at your disposal if you want to make a positive impression. Don’t squander your chances. Looks and personality alone will not get it done. They might get you through the door but in the long run if you cannot do the work you will be “Dust in the wind”. There is no substitute for a thorough preparation. When you know you have covered as many bases as possible you are putting yourself in a position to do your best work. You cannot hope your way to a role. “Hope” is for the unprepared.

Lastly I want to address the issue of money. Clearly it takes time, energy and the highest level of commitment to become a working professional. But it also takes money. In the 25 years I have been teaching I have never taken anyone’s finances for granted. As a former actor I am well aware of the cost and sacrifices involved. It’s one of the reasons that I haven’t raised my rates in over 10 years. In a day an age when rents are through the roof and the cost of living higher than Mt. Everest, I have nothing but respect for the sacrifices my students are making to achieve their dreams. But I have also seen money issues used as an excuse to avoid training. When I was acting and not in a play or film, I was always in a class. I was determined to be the best I could be and I knew that I would need a good teacher to help me find my way. To do that I needed to find a way to earn enough money to pay for classes, rent, food, and the rest. Was it easy? No. Necessary? Yes. Mandatory? For me absolutely. The old expression, “Where there’s a will there’s a way”, is still as true today as it has ever been. If you truly want it badly enough you will recognize the need for quality training and you will find a way to pay for it.