I remember again going back studying with Peter Kass asking ‘What is a good artist anyway? How can I learn to be that?’ and Peter very wisely saying ‘Don’t worry about being a good artist- become a good plumber’ . I loved that! Being a good plumber meant developing the craft, the technical skill, the willingness to work hard and letting the art grow out of what you learn.Lisa Mulcahy
Real-world reality slap. You won’t be working and auditioning all the time. Unless you’re the next Jennifer Lawrence or Chris Hemsworth. The reality is that the vast majority of our careers lay somewhere between what we hope will happen and what The Biz actually dishes up for us. So the question is:
What are you going to be doing in between the auditions and your day-job to maximise your chances of getting work?
The answer lays in the immediate creation of proactive habits. When you enter this industry for the first time, that is the pivotal moment to begin them and shape them. When you begin to think of these habits as a day to day occurrence, the more likely you are to maintain them. So be sneaky and start to add them into your routine bit by bit. This way, you’re effectively supercharging your employability by disguising proactivity as part of your day-to day. It’s sneaky (you are actually putting in the hard yards) and effective (’cause you’ll feel as if you aren’t) !
Steven Pressfield compiled a famous and eloquent little booklet of small meditations and distilled life lessons that he discovered as a professional writer. It is deliberately laid out in the same style as Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and Pressfield has aptly entitled it ‘The War of Art’. Though he mostly references writing as the art form, these small sermons remain applicable to most artistic pursuits. Here, he makes two very striking points about a professional’s work ethic:
(I) A professional seeks order:
When I lived in the back of my Chevy van, I had to dig my typewriter out from beneath layers of tire tools. Dirty laundry and mouldering paperbacks. My truck was a nest, a hive, a hellhole on wheels whose sleeping surface I had to clear each night just to carve out a foxhole to snooze in. The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.
(II) A professional dedicates himself to mastering technique:
The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognises the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. The professional dedicates himself to mastering a technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
These words provide a wonderful insight into the state of mind that you, the new actor in The Biz, need to be in to create what we’ve called…
The Long Haul Mindset:
- Be organised, goal-oriented and proactive.
- Never rest on your laurels.
Told you this stuff ain’t rocket science. We’ll touch more on this in Section 3: Living The Long Haul. But, for the moment, I do hope that the following Long Haul Life Savers bring home the fact that the completion of your training does NOT equate to a self-propelling rocket-armchair being gaffed to the backside of your career! Wanting success is not enough. Likewise, studying acting in a drama course isn’t enough. Be the actor who found the work they sought, not the one who waited for it appear like a Fairy Godmother and then got all miffed when she didn’t turn up to help and… turn pumpkins into… gigs… Sorry, I’m in a weird mood.
LONG HAUL LIFE SAVERS:
- You are now a professional auditionee, so embed yourself in the craft of good audition technique.
All actors, agents and casting directors that I’ve interviewed picked auditioning as the #1 skill to have as a new graduate. Not one person disagreed, so that’s why it occupies the number one slot! Given that you are now a professional auditionee (whether you like auditioning or not), get your grubby fingers into every damn resource you can in order make yourself an auditioning whiz. Webinars, YouTube, books, council libraries, workshops, classes – the whole shebang. Many reputable Casting Directors offer short courses or workshops specifically dedicated to audition technique, so scope out your options (doing your due diligence, of course). TheLongHaul.com.au is not here to pool and summarise those resources for you, but please consider us standing on top of an oversized clown ladder waving obnoxiously-oversized neon signs saying ‘READ ABOUT CASTING AND AUDITION TECHNIQUE!’. Which brings me to…
- Pilot season, pilot season, pilot season!
US Pilot season takes place each year between approximately February – April. Ideally, this will translate to several auditions for you, though the amount will depend on your age, ethnicity and which casting director is casting the project (see section on Casting Directors). For a new grad, this means that you are placed in a position where you can get up in the face of casting directors and state your claim on any role that comes your way. So stand out! Take risks with the material! Find the most obvious approach, and then DON’T do it this way like so many thousands of other actors will. Don’t let the volume of work fool you. Treat each project with the same care and respect that you would for anything else. Read your scripts. Yes, ALL of them (I’ve read 12 pilot episodes in a week, so you’re not off the hook here). ALWAYS rehearse your scenes with DUE DILIGENCE. Casting directors work at the speed of light to cast multiple pilots for specific US networks, so wasting their time with a half-arsed audition isn’t going to endear you much to them.
- Everything is an audition. Not just auditions. EVERYTHING.
Remember how we talked about actors ‘auditioning for a project, not a part’ per-say? Whether you think you’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell of nailing a role or the industry scuttlebutt says the role has been cast, go in and smash it anyway. An opportunity to do something brilliant and original is just that. Remember- you’ve been asked to put something down for them, so that is a vote of confidence in YOU.
- Cultivate all your industry relationships.
Neither the audition nor the job will ever be enough to propel you forward. The savvy actor -with or without a gig- is already thinking about how to get their next one. Like auditioning, networking is a craft. Until you reach a point where people know who you are and are actively seeking out your services, you will have to water this garden yourself. Know what you’re chasing. Be informed Have something to ask people if you meet them. KNOW who is who and what is going on because this is your industry. Embed yourself in it and understand how it’s inner machinations work. Always wear your artist hat but keep your business one close at hand. Follow things up. You don’t need to drop by with a crate of champagne or a stack of pizzas. A simple thank you card to someone you’ve worked with can go a long way to make you memorable.
- Write to directors and writers you admire.
This is a controversial point…. kind of. Some people gave me a thumbs up. Others, rolled their eyes. It may be slightly archaic, but I believe it shows a higher level of respect and care in a world where communication is cheap and over-saturates every aspect of life. Those who receive your letter will see immediately that you deem them worthy of special effort. That being said, always pick your battles. Don’t be contacting incredibly well-known directors at massive theatre companies who are putting on a production of Streetcar saying “Dear (Well Known and Famous Director). I understand you’re putting on a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I am the Stanley you’re looking for.” As director and actor Samuel West (Notting Hill, Van Helsing, Mr. Selfridge) says:
No you’re not. You’re an idiot. I don’t put on Hamlet without knowing who’s going to play the main role. So choose your battles. You’ll have more luck if you write to me suggesting yourself for a small part for which you’re perfectly cast. The most useful folder any director has- and it’s not often very fat- is the one marked ‘GOOD and HUMBLE’.Samuel West
- Re-direct your energy if you keep getting the same road blocks.
It’s a juggle, this one, and you’ll only learn from experience. Don’t throw in the towel at the first non-response. Just know when to re-evaluate, call it a dead end and move on.