Notice: Constant WP_CRON_LOCK_TIMEOUT already defined in /var/www/vhosts/thelonghaul.com.au/wp-config.php on line 93
Your Creative Growth: Classes, Mentors, Mates and The Dreaded ‘R’ Word – The Long Haul

In Breaking the Bubble Wrap, we dealt with the implementation of key habits that will set you apart as a true pro. The creative growth of an actor is multifaceted. All our teachers encouraged us to ’embed’ ourselves in the world of ‘humanness’- art galleries, lectures, Ted-X talks, reading non-fiction and fiction, overseas mission work, volunteering and the like. All will be beneficial, will ground you and increase your understanding of what it means to be a story teller on behalf of humanity. Having now had many excellent dialogues between both professional psychologists and actors, there are 4 main tactics we’ll be exploring. They are tailored specifically to actors, account for all levels of experience and will – with adherence-  ensure that you stick around for the long haul:

  1. Attending classes
  2. Picking an industry mentor and role model
  3. Reading books
  4. Creating or joining a professional development group

1. Attending Classes

Yeah, yeah. You never stop learning, blah blah blah.
Don’t rest on your laurels? Meh. That’s for pessimists and paranoids.

Average Jo, Lazy Arse Actor

You can’t hang on to your laurels. I’m a troubadour, going from castle to castle looking to sing for my supper. That’s the way it is; it never changes.

James Earl Jones, aka THE James Earl Jones

I know which mantra I’m living by.

Use a muscle, you’ll keep it and strengthen it. Refuse to use it or forget that it’s there, and it will atrophy and disappear. It’s the same with your craft! In the words of acting guru par-excellence Larry Moss: “You need talent for your talent”.

Lisa Mulcahy (‘A Life In Acting’) writes that continuous training for actors is pretty much non-negotiable. She also talks about how a one-trick-pony can be seen to be ‘talented’ in a particular role thanks to deft sleight-of-hand from a director:

…They can even rack up an Oscar or a Tony depending on how many bells and whistles the director layers onto the performance. But the moment they land another role, you will see that it’s just the same ‘act’ in a completely different role. I’ll bet more than a few major actors immediately pop into your mind fitting this description…

Lisa Mulcahy

Don’t fall back into the safety of ‘your natural mode’ as an actor. You need to be stretching, challenging and constantly nurturing your craft across the course of your career. Therefore start enrolling in classes the moment you graduate. Make them an indispensable part of your week to which you always allocate both time and funds. Not only will it provide you with organisation and structure, it will keep you exposed to the kind of creative, hard-working individuals you need to be around so you can saturate yourself with inspiration and ideas. As a general rule, if you’re ‘the best actor’ in the class, you’re in the wrong class. It might be nice for your ego to be constantly stroked by a praise-heavy teacher, but your time and hard-earned cash would be better invested somewhere where you will actually GROW as an actor.

But what about the other end of the scale? The acting teachers who are whispered of in hushed tones, who’ve seemingly forged their reputations by picking their teeth with the bones of actors? We’re told that the criticism isn’t personal (and it won’t be, if they’re a respected coach). We know inherently that no one can nail everything first time and that failure is inevitable part of creative growth. But despite all of this, the process of creative criticism isn’t rendered any more palatable. As we discussed previously, the actor is the art. So it can never NOT be personal, per-say. But…

We can never grow unless we’re challenged, so…. The secret to learning the most from any class? Show these crusty individuals that you’re game! The temptation will always be to think ‘Hell no. I ain’t coming out of my shell for that.’ and then go off to silently lurk in the back row. WRONG. Do the complete opposite. Make a personal contract to do a scene every time you’re in their class and if you’re challenged on a choice or an approach, just do your best to do it their way. Remember the eternal commandment to always respond to a note.  Don’t nod as if you understand, go ‘mmmm mmmm’ to show that you agree with their points and then just do it again the exact same way. Any professional growth you might have achieved from the class has already been stifled. In short, Lisa Mulcahy says:

“Get up there, take your lumps and learn from them- in a very short period of time, you’ll gain your teacher’s respect and attention and you’ll see that your work is getting better.”

2. Picking an Industry Mentor and Role Model

Let’s stipulate the difference here between ‘mentor’ and ‘role model’. 

A role model should be an actor whose work and career resonate with you on a deep level. More often than not, your chosen role model will embody skills, talents and aptitudes which you yourself have within you and wish to bring to full fruition. So research them, watch every quality interview with them that you can, read books about them and investigate their methods and techniques. Such information can provide excellent clues on how to nail your innate performance style and get your name continually mentioned in the right circles.

A mentor is somebody who has been in the industry for a long time (we’re talking 10 to 20 years down the track) who is all too happy to pass on their wisdom and knowledge to a young professional like yourself.

CAUTION: The choosing of an industry mentor should not be taken lightly. Just as you can flourish under a good mentor, a bad one can poison you from the roots up. The power that is wielded by bad mentor is particularly destructive.

It is not as simple as simply finding someone who is, dare I say it, ‘successful’ (again, no one even knows what that means). Don’t equate ‘working actor‘ with ‘good mentor material‘. There are plenty of experienced actors out there whose grip on reality is tenuous at best. Normally you can spot their destructive trail of tattered professional and personal relationships from miles away. Henceforth, we have developed a handy little checklist to guide you through the extended but important process of…

FINDING YOURSELF THE PERFECT MENTOR:

  • Do your research on potential mentors and create a shortlist (personal relationships are always a good ‘in’ but are not a pre-requisite). Don’t be afraid to ask people about them. What are they like to work with? How do they intend to engage with people? After all, this is how they will engage with YOU.
  • Organise a place and time to meet that is convenient for them (it’s your job to fit in with them). Consider this a no-strings-attached, commitment free way of seeing what they are like in the flesh before you make a more serious decision.
  • Does their personality gel with your own?
  • Do they have a skills base and a level of industry knowledge that reflects exceptional maturity and experience?
  • Does their feedback style involve constructive criticism and positive feedback?
  • As a mentor do they model the lifestyle that you want as an actor? Particularly, from an industry resilience perspective?
  • If things are going well, ask them if they would be open to being your mentor. Be sure to make a verbal agreements with them in regards to expectations (e.g. What you are comfortable OR not comfortable talking about with them, how often you should catch up, etc…). Also ensure that you incorporate an exit strategy into the conversation not that you should bill it as such (e.g. ‘If we get busy or snowed          under, we can always give things a break for a bit’.) That way, if things go sour, everybody has saved face.
  • Finally, if things don’t work out for you both, don’t be afraid to pull the pin. Just be sure to have a way of doing so without causing offence. You’re not in this game toburn bridges, piss people off and lose out on work because of a past professional difference. 

With any luck, this handy little checklist should help you find an an experienced and trustworthy mentor. Cultivate a relationship with them that allows you to glean every detail and piece of advice you can. These nuggets of gold can steer your ship around a multitude of pitfalls within The Biz. They’ve been there, so they should be happy to forewarn you. 

And don’t forget that in the near future… someone may choose YOU as their mentor! The more we discover about the world, the more we realise that it has been designed to work best when people work hand-in-hand in communities; not as isolated individuals. Be generous, truthful and available to those who reach out to you for your advice. Remember what Shakespeare himself wrote. Once you have ‘attained the upmost round’, don’t turn your back to the ladder, look into the clouds and ‘scorn the base degrees’ by which you ascended…

3. Reading Books

At long last the dreaded ‘R’ word raises its bespectacled head. Heck, if you’ve gotten this far (especially if you’re a non-reader), you’re already well-practised. So that’s half the battle sorted!

The research is conclusive: there is absolutely nothing that facilitates the growth of intelligence like the physical reading of a book, e-book or Kindle. Documentaries on Netflix, Foxtel and YouTube are useful but they still can’t hold a candle to the ol’ paperback. Reading, generally speaking, is a potent feeder of knowledge growth. But since we are talking specifically about creative growth and development, we recommend that you get your grubby mitts on as many books as you possibly can about this industry. Not just on methods and techniques, but CRAFT and CAREER also. We’re not saying buy them all, because we totally get the whole starving actor thing. A lot of quality resources can be found residing on the shelves of local council libraries or, even better, on your mates shelves (give them back, you hoarders). What I have tried to do with TheLongHaul.com.au is to give you a head start here. I’ve already done a sizeable hunk of the raw data collation for you which will hopefully prevent you from stressing about the virtual sea of reference material. But this resource is not an end in itself. It is a signpost to point you in the right direction. There will always be a huge array of opinions. But within all of them you will begin to discover some common ground or what I call ‘the Common Gold’. Although it may be articulated differently, hang on to that Common Gold and put it into practise, regardless of whether it is craft or career related. If the most knowledgeable figureheads in our industry are continually referencing particular techniques, methods and strategies, chances are it’s because they work!

4. Creating or Joining a Professional Development Group

Actors who have a strong foundation of friends and family, who have a full life outside of the business, who take care of their minds and their bodies and who maintain a level of positivity and gratitude, stave off bitterness and invariably enjoy more success.

Steve Braun

One of the key recommendations provided by the Australian Actor’s Wellbeing Study in Section 3 talks about the creation of groups that permit actors to check in with each other, set goals and empower them in their proactivity. 

Once again, it all comes back to community. Connectedness is key and is research-backed. The healthiest and longest living cultures in the world are always the most socially-connected ones.

What we are proposing here is a professional development group that is :

  1. Informal (keeps things chilled and stops counter-productivity)
  2. Actor-led
  3. Actor-populated
  4. Actor-specific

Whether it lasts for 2 weeks or 2 years is totally up to the individual dedication and discipline of its members. But as long as it exists, such a group can serve a function far greater than the sum of its parts: accountability!

So, how many members are we talking here? We recommend limiting the numbers; fewer members will make it easier to plan around daily commitments. 

And how often should you meet up? It could be a weekly whinge (maybe our new collective noun: a ‘whinge’ of actors), a monthly meeting or even a quarterly catch up (howzatt alliteration, folks!). 

Setting dates and times will be difficult as actors’ schedules are unpredictable, but do your darnedest to make it work. Once again, we place the emphasis on the informality of these catch ups. It should never feel like a chore.

Here are a few starter ideas on how you could use your time together:

(A) Discuss your progress toward current S.M.A.R.T goals and set new ones:

If you articulate individual goals out loud in front of other people, you are far more likely to stick to them. It also gives you an arena in which you can exercise control, something that the industry takes away from you constantly. 

(B) Troubleshoot any industry-related problems:

Want to have a vent about something in The Biz? Do it here. We all need a safe place to get something off our chests. However, there is a fine line between healthy venting and bitching. Don’t let this overrun the rest of the session and turn the night into a giant vacuum of negativity. We recommend nominating a responsible moderator with the executive power to keep excessive bitching in check. The Biz is already plagued by this kind of crap and it doesn’t deserve further airtime. 

(C) Talk about your achievements and successes:

Once again, the power of articulation can really help here. It will allow you to hear for yourself the tangible results of all your hard effort. Just be careful about this becoming a soap-box opportunity with which unscrupulous members could railroad the conversation by listing all their achievements of late and telling you how amazing they are (see the section on Living With Success).

(D) Try out new material:

An optional step, but a definite possibility depending on how much time you have to spare. If you want to give your new monologue / scene / unicycling routine a bit of a bash in front of trusted and respectful colleagues, exploit this opportunity for some constructive criticism.

(E) An extra deal sweetener:

Once again, this is an optional step but a tactic that I have personally used to great effect. Hit up the IMDB Top 250, a copy of ‘1001 Movies To See Before You Die’ and the Rotten Tomatoes Top Movie List. Take the time to trawl through the history of the best cinema ever created and create yourself a Need-To-Watch list. Then dedicate some of your meetings (or another time entirely) to making your way through this list. Take notes. Or not. Discuss acting choices. Argue over plot devices. Just do anything that fosters your historical appreciation for great cinema and good acting.

That’s it! If there’s a functioning peer group like this that is immediately accessible, join it. If you perceive the need to create one, just take the reigns and do it.