You may already know that I started out my career as a kid actor in Atlanta. It was my pursuit of a career in acting that led me to Los Angeles. Twice. And it was my survival job as a columnist for Back Stage West, interviewing over 250 casting directors, that led me to my career as — well — both a writer and a casting director.
Outside of speaking engagements and karaoke adventures, I’ve not been on a stage as a performer in over a decade. On August 29, 2000, I took the stage at the Belly Room of the Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip and did my seven minutes of stand-up comedy — the next-to-last performer of the night. Terrified and exhilarated, I had fun. And I didn’t suck.
So when a producer friend of mine asked me to take part in his show last week, I felt both terrified and exhilarated. And suddenly I was reminded of the “performer me.” As I prepared my material and promoted the event, I remembered how it felt to be “that me” that I had been for so many years, prior to figuring out what it was I was really meant to do (for now, anyway). And I felt a renewed level of respect for what it is you wonderful, amazing, fantastic actors do, every time you take the stage.
You put yourselves out there. You share your soft underbelly. You work your ass off to prepare your material, to promote your show, to present yourself and your work to those who gather to consume it. And you spend a pretty fair amount of time feeling some level of anxiety over the whole thing. “What if I suck?” “What if no one shows up?” “What if I forget my lines?” “What if everyone shows up, and I forget my lines, and I suck?”
Having this experience was a delicious, delightful reminder for me of what it is you guys go through. And I think every casting director, every agent, every manager, every publicist, every director, every producer, every screenwriter on the planet needs to have that rush of emotions at least once (if not regularly). It’s good perspective.
A couple of months ago, an actor wrote to me via my Facebook page. She had a big audition coming up, said she had read all of my past columns, had copies of all of my books, and just needed to know if I had any awesome, inspiring, last-minute advice that could help her with this big audition.
Overwhelmed by the question — I mean, if you’ve read everything I’ve ever written for actors that’s out there, haven’t I pretty much covered a whole bunch about how to get out of your own way and rock, every time? Where would I begin with a quick hit of advice? I wasn’t sure — I came up with the only thing I could reach for, in the depths of my advicey-being.
Ha ha ha, and all that. But the more I thought about it (and the more comments I got about it, from those who saw that reply), the more I realized that’s actually all it comes down to, after you strip away the specifics, after you remove all of the how-to’s and the what-not-to-do’s of it all. In the end, we all want to experience someone who is having fun and who doesn’t suck! Whether the stakes are high (we’re looking to cast you, you really need this gig) or really low (we’re just out to blow off steam after work, you’re just hopping up on stage on open mic night to work out), we love watching you have fun and we want you to be at least good. Even better? Awesome. But you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be flawless. You don’t have to hit every beat exactly as you rehearsed it and land every step exactly as you were taught. You just have to have so much fun that we don’t even notice the missteps, and have few enough of those that you do better than “suck-level” work. Awesome.
An acquaintance of mine asked me what I had planned that night, on the morning of the show last week. I told him and he said, “Break a leg!” Then he said, “You know what? I’ve never liked that phrase. I don’t want you to break a leg. What can I say instead?”
Have fun. Don’t suck.
That’s what I told him, and that’s what he then said back to me. Done. My new favorite “break a leg” saying. I wish it on all of you, every time.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering how things went on September 18, 2009, well, I took the stage at the Fake Gallery on Melrose and did my seven minutes of stand-up comedy — the next-to-last performer of the night. Terrified and exhilarated, I had fun. And I didn’t suck.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001084.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.