Are Hyphenates Islands?

I am a newcomer to both your column and to acting. In Beware the Island, you warned that actors should be cautious about their excitement for auditioning for Indie films and other projects where the Island Syndrome is at work. I couldn’t help wondering if that applies to new actors as well. I find that as a newcomer, it seems that the most important thing is to get experience and I don’t really focus at all on the producer, director, writer stuff.

What does concern me more is whether my efforts should be all-encompassing with respect to type of training and experience — local theatre, musical theatre, film, TV, commercials — or if I should concentrate on developing my skills in one of those areas, get some good credits in that area, and then move on to the next. My ultimate objective is TV and Film.

I’m so glad that you took the time to write to me. After writing my column on Beware the Island, I had a moment in which I thought of some filmmakers who may LOOK LIKE islands but who are actually hyphenates. And your email allows me to address the issue of the right kind of hyphenate (the island-looking person who isn’t truly an island).

Definitely, as an actor starting out, you need to get experience (and lots of it) and it can sometimes be the “island-like” projects on which you can take great big chances and “fail big” in order to get not only the credit but the “I went for it” feeling that really helps, early on in an actor’s career. Timidity is such a virus sometimes. Being willing to go for it can really help you, creatively. And what better place to really put yourself out there than on a project that no one will ever see? That way, if your instincts led you astray, at least you aren’t forever doing damage control over that choice.

I think the point of last week’s column was more about choosing to work with someone on a power trip vs. someone who does all of the “little jobs” because they know they can work cheap. I think of people like Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, just off the top of my head, who were filmmakers often credited in their own early films as editor, producer, writer, location scout, DP, etc. I think the issue to assess is this: Does the filmmaker have a big ego or is the filmmaker being resourceful? That’s really what it comes down to. If someone is wearing a bunch of hats because it’s cheaper to do so, that’s usually not an ego issue. If someone is doing everything because it’s the only way he or she can control control control everything… well, you know that type, right? And we don’t work in a world in which any one person has control over EVERYthing. Resourcefulness is lovely. Addiction to power is ugly. I have no problem working for a filmmaker who is hoping to craft a brilliant piece of film on a very low budget. But someone who wants to be the one and only voice in a project scares me a bit.

Okay, so now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me address the issue of focusing your efforts, as a new actor.

Experience is a good thing, whether it’s in community theatre, industrial films, nonunion commercials, spec pilots, student films, or cable access TV. Every time you work as an actor (even if you aren’t paid to do so), you are increasing your knowledge and building a better foundation upon which to launch a professional acting career. I can’t imagine that you live in a place where there is so much work from which to choose that you need to segment your approach. Definitely, you don’t want to stay aligned with only one coach for your entire acting career (as awareness of diversity in style of tackling material can only benefit you, as a performer), but when you’re hired to work as an actor, you’re building a resumé, a demo reel, and — most importantly — relationships within the industry. Sure, you should try to do a little bit of everything so that you learn what your strengths are, but I wouldn’t attempt to segment your focus so much that you get pigeon-holed early on in your career.

Stay in great classes, enjoy the diversity offered you as a performer (meaning, the fact that you can do theatre, film, episodic TV, musicals, commercials, industrials), and embrace where your career takes you. You could be steering yourself toward a segment of the industry that won’t be a good match for your style of work or your approach to material. Be open. That’s one of the best parts of being an artist, really.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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