Talent is meaningless if you don’t have the tools to manage resistance.Steve Braun
I will make the assumption that since you’re here reading these words, you’ve already undertaken long-term or full-time study at either a drama school or a similar actor-training institution. This may have consisted of anything from multiple short courses over several years right through to a three year full-time degree. The following words are aimed directly at you. Even if you’ve arrived at this page out of mere curiosity and know nothing of the quirks and bizarreries of drama training, I encourage you (BEG you) to read on. This material will provide you with an excellent head start on your peers.
We all know that acting is the quintessential ’boutique profession’, meaning that there are very limited employment opportunities. It’s by no means the only one either. Premier League football players, Lego set designers or news anchors would all be classed similarly. We know that very few people can enter these professions and remain employed continuously. Now let’s think back to the situation here in Australia. There are hundreds of actor-training programs available across multiple universities, TAFEs, private acting studios, schools and private practitioners. Conversely, how many training institutions out there are offering professional courses for news anchors or Lego set designers? Not many. Basic economics has provided us with the idea of ‘supply and demand’ and this concept remains applicable here also. Large amounts of boutique grads, low level of demand from a boutique industry. But then, a brand spanking new actor straight out of drama school is hit with a double whammy:
The problem of extremely limited opportunities is compounded by the sheer amount of grads entering The Biz each year.
Now, before you take me to task, please DO NOT THINK for a moment that I am railing on the idea of drama schools. I’d be a first-class hypocrite, since I graduated from one myself. It remains one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever been a part of and an indispensable time of growth and joy in my life. It also helped me secure a wonderful agent with whom I couldn’t be happier. And, more importantly, it was my drama school that administered the scholarship that made this resource possible. The drama school as a ‘creative hothouse’ fulfils an essential role in finding, nurturing and releasing trained and capable story tellers into a world made up of multiple narratives. We desperately need the skills of highly-trained storytellers to recognise, harness and release the power of our stories to make them TRANSFORMATIVE. To make something transformative is to CHANGE THE WORLD. So, rest assured, I firmly believe we need our drama schools!
But the imbalance between supply vs demand feeds an even greater problem…
We’re getting into the philosophy of art here, which has it’s own schools of thought. We will define the world ‘self’ here as an unaltered, unaffected, unaided, framework-free human being with nothing more than the power of standard speech and gesture to communicate. Highly arguable, we know, but that’s the premise we’ll roll with. We believe an actor is unique among artists due to the special relationship between an actor’s ‘self’ and their art. The painter has their palette and a canvas. The architect; their drafting and modelling systems. Both are artists and pour their soul into their work. But the art still stands apart from the individual. We at TheLongHaul.com.au stand by the statement that outside acting there is NO OTHER profession, artistic or otherwise, where you – the professional – ARE THE ART ITSELF. The actor is both the painter and the canvas. The melody and the instrument. The vision and the sculpture. Our currency is humanness. Our emotions and our minds are the tools with which we create art on the canvas of ourselves. The good Mr. Strasberg concurs:
The actor creates with his own flesh and blood all those things which all the arts try in some way to describe.
This is both an amazing and terrifying truth to come to grips with: amazing, because of the honour and pleasure of the task. Terrifying, because where the jobs are fewest, continuous rejection is at its highest. This continuous rejection could not be worse matched with a more personal art form. When the painting is rejected, the painter is gutted because that creation was the purest extension possible of their own self. But when the actor’s work is rejected, both ‘painting’ and ‘painter’ have been stomped on. There is no extension of self because the work is the self.
The actor and the art will forever be one and the same. Every audition, every masterclass and every project sees us open up our innermost vulnerabilities to the mercurial whim of the work and the audience. Bravely, or even ignorantly, we accept the fact that our soul may indeed be stomped flat as a pancake. So when we come to the real-world scenario of being ‘professional auditionees’, we’re not talking about the possibility of a soul pancaking as a singular occurrence. It’s an inevitable fact that you’ll be ‘pancaked’ again and again and again. Yet this is what we do and we do it because we believe in the importance of our art. But we would never consider doing anything else because we’d be lost without it. Here I give my most favourite ever quote on the value of our craft. Whilst it refers specifically to theatre, it holds firm for film also. It comes straight from the mouth of one of the titan playwrights of our age, Arthur Miller:
There is a certain immortality involved in theatre, not created by monuments and books, but through the knowledge the actor keeps to his dying day that on a certain afternoon, in an empty and dusty theatre, he cast a shadow of a being that was not himself but the distillation of all he had ever observed; all the unsingable heartsong the ordinary man may feel but never utter, he gave voice to. And by that he somehow joins the agesArthur Miller
That should leave us in no doubt about the true
awesomeness of the honour we’ve been gifted. Our work matters. If acting
is our lifeblood, you and I deserve to relish this professional journey. From
the very first day of our careers right through to their conclusion, we deserve
to joyfully engage in a craft that is powerful and transformative.
But then, if our careers ought to be such an honour and a pleasure…
Why are we plagued by an industry-wide pandemic of bitterness, bitching, anger and cynicism?
Why are actors more than 2.5 times more likely to report substance abuse than the average population?
Why are depression and anxiety practically synonymous with acting?
Why are so many newer actors reporting that their industry bewilders and terrifies them?
Historically, across all professions, the worker has been told to suck it up and push on no matter how rubbish it gets. Current research now tells us that for the sake of our basic happiness and wellbeing, the days of this antiquated attitude are numbered. No longer is it enough to say: “You must suffer for your professions sake”. Those days are gone, dead and buried. People matter and, contrary to what you may have heard, actors are people too. In fact, I would argue that we as a profession are one of the most vulnerable to burnout. Our industry is a psychological mine field and needs to be acknowledged as such. I am thankful that these red flags are beginning to instigate some seismic changes in the way our institutions are nurturing and training our young actors because they’ve realised that they are- as gatekeepers – the ‘first responders’ to such warnings. Regardless of your level of experience, there’s no point in being able to play a believable character without having any resilience tactics that permit you to stick around and actually play that character!
A devil’s advocate could retort, “Yeah, well, engineers and accountants are doing it tough to. What about their mental health and workplace stressors? That’s typical of you artistes; head up your bums thinking you’ve got it worse than anyone else.” It is true that any occupation will have it’s own shortcomings that directly affect mental health. But until an engineer or an accountant has to attend a hundred job interviews a year in which they are given a few minutes to bare their guts to all-comers, suspend all sense of dignity and show how ‘good and believable a human being they are’ I shall stand by the following statement:
The greater the risk of a soul-pancaking, the greater the duty of care owed.
TheLongHaul.com.au champions the general acknowledgement that we as actors are all owed a duty of care by those who would wish to see us succeed: our training institutions, our representatives and our workmates. And this means being forearmed and forewarned.
Our current system isn’t working. We need to try something different.
This resource is a start.