Among my myriad of other tasks, I am currently doing some assembly work on my syllabus for my intro to acting class.
This is a bizarre experience in a lot of ways because it makes me harken back to many disparate but not unrelated periods of my life: when I was a wide-eyed but arrogant college freshman taking my first semester of classes, when I was a wide-eyed but talented youth taking my first acting classes, when I was a wide-eyed but optimistic young actor pounding pavement and auditioning to land parts that would surely, one day, make me famous.
…Oh how far have I come.
I do have high hopes for the potential of this course (as well as a few realistic ones which are probably nearer the mark for the actual effect that I can have on students of varying degrees of seriousness over the course of one semester). Mostly what this has made me do is spend time going back to basics, remembering what it’s like to be new at something (which, as a dear mentor once told me, is the key to success at any level; she called it “beginner’s mind”), and thinking very seriously about if I could only instill one thing upon an absolute beginner student of acting, what would that be?
I’ve come up with some answers (which I will leave unsaid in this forum, at least until I test their efficacy in the classroom). I’ve also come up with some things that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out (which I am much more inclined to share since they may or may not make it into my classroom given the fact that most of my early experience was in conservatory-setting rather than the non-major-friendly theatre department which, as you may imagine, is a completely different beast). As it turns out, those things are pretty applicable to things outside of acting and so are also pretty relevant to the general blogosphere…
Always have confidence. Your confidence, more than most other things about you, will attract the auditioner’s eye. Be very careful not to confuse confidence with arrogance, however; it’s a very fine line. One is attractive; the other is repulsive.
Make eye contact, shake hands firmly, know where your business cards are, smile, and be polite no matter who you think you may be talking to or how rude that person may be to you. These things will make them want to work with you and, if they want to work with you, a myriad of other sins can be overlooked.
Life is too short to work with people who make you miserable and the power of networking is strong. If you yourself are someone who is well liked (and, if you follow the above rules, why wouldn’t you be?), you will always find somewhere to land. It may not be where you thought you’d land, but I promise it will be better for your sanity.
Protect your physical well-being. If a director asks you to perform something that you feel is unsafe, say something and stick to your guns. Your health is not worth a job no matter how many lines you have (especially if they’re not paying you).
Burning bridges is always a bad idea. You never know where you’ll end up and who will be there with you. Save yourself the awkward situation down the road and learn to execute grace and class as expediently as possible.
Theatre is an extremely high-stress profession that involves late nights, emotional intensity, tough and frugal living, and the necessity to disconnect yourself from your own ego. The sooner you understand how these things may effect you and how you deal with them the better off you will be in the long-run. If you can’t do any one of these things, you may want to reconsider your life choices.
Just because you aren’t a full-time theatre professional doesn’t mean theatre can’t be a part of your life.
It’s okay to wind up somewhere you hadn’t planned on being. It’s okay to decide that this isn’t the path for you. It’s okay to start over for any number of reasons. You aren’t letting anyone down (including yourself) and you haven’t lost anything by it.
The sooner you can be comfortable in your own skin with your own emotions, the better you will be onstage. Acting isn’t a profession for the insecure. You will be asked to be ugly, you will be told you are fat, you will be given unflattering things to wear. If you aren’t completely comfortable doing this in front of large audiences of strangers multiple times a week, you won’t be able to do your job.
Good acting requires unending tenacity, insurmountable bravery, and unquellable curiosity. Never give up, bounce back like rubber, always be willing to try things.
Not everything will work for you but that doesn’t mean that nothing will.
Strive for perfection, but realize that it is unattainable. That doesn’t mean you should stop trying, just that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you realize that you didn’t quite manage it. A true artist is never satisfied.
There will always be someone better than you. There will always be someone prettier than you. The trick is to figure out what you bring to the table that no one else can (…and if that fails to remember that talent and beauty are subjective but ice cream is not).
And on that note, I think I’ll go back to figuring out how much reading to assign.