If you’re working, that is success. Obviously it’s lovely to get really fantastic jobs, but the very fact that you’re managing to live and do the job that you want to do is a success in itself.

Jenna Russell

Now let’s turn this whole thing on its head. Should you be fortunate enough to land some work or even a stretch of continuous work (whoop whoop!), this does not mean your success won’t be without its own challenges. Having interviewed several actors who would be deemed successful by any actor standard, I recommend reading through these next tips thoroughly so that you can navigate the highs and lows of being a working actor:

(A) BE SENSITIVE! :

You will be surrounded by actor friends who have yet to work, are in the middle of a dry period or, even worse, can’t even land an audition. So don’t be constantly mouthing off about how terrific shooting has been so far or how wonderful it is working with A-lister X. They would kill to be in your shoes and while they do want to be genuinely happy for you, they are truly hurting from being left out. Every single one of us wanted to get into this industry to engage in the work. So watching others engage in it while you sit on the bench (again) is one of the true heartbreaking day-to-day realities of being a professional actor. 

(B) BE READY TO LEND AN EAR:

One of my mates wants to vent to me about their dry spell.
I love them to bits, but I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth and make them feel worse.
How do I go about talking to them?”

This is another matter of when it happens, rather than if it happens. When this occurs, you must realise that they are making themselves vulnerable. So act accordingly:

(1)  Genuinelylisten to them and remain involved. They are engaging you in a highly-sensitive topic.  

(2) Acknowledge the crap they are going through. Don’t judge it.

(3) DO NOT SAY ‘Well, things could be worse’ and then begin listing said ‘things’. 

(4) Ask questions about the existence of basic positive things within their careers. If they’re still auditioning, highlight that as a win. If they are happy with the work they are producing in scene study classes, commend them on it. Pick out things that they can rate as genuine achievements, no matter how small.

(5) Talk about any ‘actionable’ projects they have on the back burner or in their bottom drawer. Involvement in creative project can take their mind away from any immediate pain and empower them. Just make sure that the activity is actionable and is something they can act on immediately without having to worry about external limitations or barriers. If they do have something they can work on, ask them what you can do to help and follow through on it!

(6) Point them to TheLongHaul.com.au and tell them what this resource is all about. If they don’t have anything that is keeping them creatively fulfilled, tell them to focus on the sections about Industry Proactivity, Good Habits and Creating A Hinterland.

(7) Assess the state of their mental health. Ask them if they are OK. More often than not, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to ask. But sometimes you might hear or see some red flags. These could include:

  • An off-hand joke about self-harm or killing themselves.
  • Stating that the world would be better off without them in it.
  • Any mention of your mate selling off their possessions quite suddenly or using phrases like: ‘I’m getting my things in sorted’ / ‘I’m sorting out all the shit I won’t need’
  • Signs of physical malnourishment, sudden weight gain/loss or a noticeable lack of hygiene.
  • Uncharacteristic social withdrawal or substance abuse.
  • Continuous use of language and sentences that show a complete lack of any hope, purpose or direction.

Any of these could be a cry for help. If you recognise or hear any of these, ask your mate outright and clearly if they are thinking about self-harm or suicide. DON’T get cute and dance around the word. Just ask. If they say that they are, DO NOT leave them. Because they have disclosed this to you, you now owe them a duty of care. Physically walk with them or drive them to a hospital as soon as possible. If they refuse, continue to stay with them, monitor them and call 000 immediately (or 112 if you have no phone coverage).    

(C) PRE-EMPT LONG SEASON SYNDROME

This season / shoot / tour feels as if it’s never going to end. My work is suffering and I don’t think I can take it anymore.

Think you won’t be able to get through it? Guess what: you can and you will. Here are some of the tactics used by our consistently working interviewees:

(1) Meditation and Breathing Exercises.

Take some time out for yourself when an opportunity presents itself en route, between calls or during breaks The next time you have a few minutes between your call times, find a calm place away from your standard working environment where you can sit comfortably and quietly in uninterrupted meditation. It could be at home, in your parked car in the shade of a tree, in a trailer, or even on a bench at a park down the road. There are many free, high-quality resources on meditation and breathing exercises so definitely hit up YouTube and of course your local library. Once you have quietened your ‘monkey mind’ (as the Buddhist monks say) start to remind yourself of the new realities that your good fortune has bestowed upon you. How many actors would kill to be in your shoes right now? Think the stress of unemployment that has evaporated and the huge amount of surety this job provides. Because you no longer have these stresses, you have freed yourself up to do some of your best work on stage/in front of the camera. Reflect on how the show or the shoot cannot possibly be the same each time, no matter how ‘predictable’ you deem it to be. Think about how you as a storyteller wield the power of change and spontaneity. Reflect on the privilege and honour this gives you. Small meditative moments like this have a wonderful cumulative effect. They will refresh you, get your head out of the work and maintain a healthy mind across the duration of the project. 

(2) Reconnect With Non-Actors

We renowned actors are renowned for getting our heads stuck up our bums when it comes to ‘The Work’. Cue my own story. Long Haul Guy came home from a hard day of Chekhov scene work really frustrated with his inability to respond to the directors notes, believing that I  wasn’t servicing the text correctly and therefore letting down my scene partner. I’d gone over and over and over all my mistakes in my head as I rode home and was ready to vent big time. Upon arriving home, I did the good husbandly thing and asked my wife how her day had gone. My wife was teaching at a kindergarten at the time so she responded, “Well, I had three grand mal tantrums, some kid ripped up their bed during sleepy time and another two wouldn’t stop screaming until we forced their parents to leave work and pick them up. Oh, and one parent filled their kid with laxatives because he hadn’t pooed in two days and then left him on our doorstep at 5 am. But, hey, I guess it wasn’t too bad. You?”

The point is that we actors aren’t performing brain surgery, leading a patrol through Uruzgan Province or controlling poo explosions. No one is going to die if we do our job badly. The stakes in the work and the quality of the work ARE important. Don’t forget that if we have a crappy night, we just have a crappy night. We wake up the next day and give it another crack. Many other jobs are not afforded that luxury. The work deserves our passion and dedication. But it also demands perspective. Just ask World War 2 RAAF pilot and champion cricketer Keith Miller who deftly answered a question from Michael Parkinson regarding ‘pressure’:

Pressure? Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not.

Keith Miller

Swap out cricket for acting and the statement remains true. Therefore we encourage you to reconfigure your current mindset by reconnecting with the real world. For extroverts, this should be family and friends, preferably non-actors if possible. Catching up with a parent, a drink with a friend or even a hike with a member from the cast that you’ve made friends with (just make a verbal contract not to talk about anything to do with acting).

If you’re a bit of an introvert and find constant human connection a bit draining, consider some solo options like going to a movie, eating an amazing meal at one of your favourite restaurants, cooking some brownies for your neighbour or even strapping on your joggers, pocketing a bit of cash and Forrest Gump-ing it in one direction for as long as you can.

Choose a reset style that works for you and do everything to reacquaint yourself with the world as it exists outside the 4th wall. And remember: No matter how long, how arduous or how mind-f*cky the work gets … it will end. It has to. And then you’ll go on and do some different kinds of stuff. So that’s nice, isn’t it?

(3) Return to Your Acting Texts

This one won’t work for everyone as even the big-time bookworms amongst us will see this tactic as muddying the creative waters. However, many of our interviewees (and yours truly) found this approach to be quite refreshing. It’s amazing how much we forget when we spend a long time away from our acting texts. Thar’s gold in them thar pages, yarrrr! Go back to your favourite texts, skim through them and you might just see something that inspires you to bring a new level of nuance and spontaneity to your next performance.