In the SMFA context, what exactly does “ninja” mean?

Sean Frost

Sean, your timing is great with this question, because it lines up beautifully with this week’s column topic on generating content to repurpose.

My first instinct when I saw your question was to fire back a quick answer. My second instinct was to Google it, to see if I had done a longer answer already and could share a link with you so you could get more than the quick answer I was going to have time to fire back right then.

Then it hit me: I *haven’t* shared a comprehensive answer on this (at least not in writing or in my podcast; it *is* something I’ve covered in various interviews I’ve done over the years) and, hey! What a great use of the “Your Turn” space, so it’ll be something to which I can link back next time I’m asked. Heck, I could even record this as a podcast episode — maybe even these exact words right here — and point folks to that too. Ooh, I could even do a Periscope broadcast of the “behind the scenes” while recording that podcast episode and now we’re REALLY “walking the walk” of the content-generating machine column, huh?

Okay. Done.

So, what is the meaning of “ninja,” in a Self-Management for Actors world? How did that word even enter the SMFA Bonniverse?

Welp, it was in class. Back in 2009, we were gathering weekly upstairs at the Attic Theatre, in casting studio 8 of 310 Casting, and in the back room of Edit Plus. Self-Management for Actors class was then called “Class Rules!” because someone wanted a name for the class, and the only thing we had ever printed up was a list of class rules, back in November 2008, when we first decided to take the pre-showcase training we did as a part of the Cricket Feet Showcase and offer it up as its own curriculum.

I had asked the showcase alumni participating in this ongoing class never to really talk about it (“Let’s keep it like Fight Club,” I said) but people *do* talk and through referral only, we grew and grew and grew until SMFA became what it is today — fully fleshed-out curriculum offered worldwide with even college courses based on its principles — all the while with us turning away people on the waitlist for the class back then.

As you know, being a student of SMFA, its principles are “guy behind the curtain” in scope for the most part. It’s not about anything people *see* happening as much as what they may or may not *realize* has been happening all along after they’ve already become fans of your work. When we were in the circle of class, talking through the targeting process, one of the actors there stopped scribbling copious notes and said, “Man! This shit is NINJA!”

And that’s that.

The word just stuck. When we would start class with a round of “good news,” invariably someone would share a great story of how he used the SMFA principles to lurk then lead, another would share about how she used Self-Management for Actors to book the room, another would talk about laying the groundwork for healthy career longevity rather than being results oriented, and as everyone clapped to celebrate each share, someone would invariably say, “Ninja move, man,” or, “That’s ninja,” or, “Way to ninja that shit, y’all.” Because when done right, the “guy behind the curtain” stuff isn’t seen. It’s BEHIND the curtain. It’s making a difference without being credited for having done so.

Whenever I see someone listing Self-Management for Actors as a course on the *training* section of a resumé, I suggest they NOT do that. I mean, yes, tell people that you’ve found my work of value, refer others my way, thank me when you hold up something gold and shiny, of course! But there’s *zero* need to tell the buyers that you got ninja training! It doesn’t matter. Fellow ninjas know when they see one another. It’s as if there’s a plume of smoke, then the ninja appears. There’s been a lot of study, a lot of respect for the big picture, a lot of understanding what’s happening and where the actor fits in it all. There’s patience. There’s no neediness. There’s just readiness. And fellow ninjas see that “ah… THERE you are” quality in one another.

That, in a nutshell, is why the students of SMFA adopted “ninja” and why I said, “Okay… cool,” in response. When the Self-Management for Actors moves are being utilized on-brand and with confidence, buyers consistently say, “YOU are what I’ve been looking for! YOU solve this casting problem I’m having! Thank you! WHERE have you been my whole life?!? THANK YOU for being here NOW!”

It’s like they needed a ninja… plume of smoke… ninja appears. Awesome!

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.

(Visited 164 times, 1 visits today)

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.