It’s that time of year when folks create a list of resolutions for the New Year, review successes and failures from the past year, and set goals that may or may not make it to this time next year. It’s such a fun tradition. It’s not one I’ve ever technically followed, as I do my “new year” on my birthday each year (including resolutions), but in honor of the majority of my readers who may find this list useful NOW (and not in six months or so), I present a Top Ten Working Actor Resolutions list. Enjoy! And feel free to share your list with me.
1. Set yourself up for success, not failure. As I’ve learned watching crowds thin out at the gym between January and April, many people select resolutions and goals at the first of the year that simply CANNOT be met. It’s fascinating. Everyone is going to quit smoking, work out every day, call home weekly, send more birthday cards throughout the year, and label every receipt for the taxman. Until a few months pass. So, help yourself succeed by choosing reasonable goals and creating realistic timelines in which to achieve those goals. Forgive yourself when you slip up and get back on the path to your goal quickly. That’s a wonderful gift to give yourself, no matter what resolutions you’re trying out (and no matter what time of year you try them).
2. Meet one new industry person each month. I have a “civilian friend” (non-industry) who made a goal to meet one new person every month last year. I seem to recall that he did pretty well and has ten new friends in his life. Here’s a distinction I would like to make: don’t just meet a new person each month, make a friend out of each one. You meet people on the set, in class, at auditions, while schmoozing at networking events, even at the newsstand while you’re buying the trades. Strike up a conversation, get comfortable introducing yourself as an actor, and build a relationship that could lead to something major, in terms of both your career and your life. You never know!
3. Update your demo reel. The reason I’ve included this on my list is that I experienced, again and again in 2004, actors telling me they’d have a demo reel ready “soon,” and then never following through. So, here’s my tip on this goal: say today that you WILL track down all of the footage of your work that is currently “out there,” meet with an editor to determine what belongs on the reel and in what order, get the material edited down to its perfect three-to-five minutes, and have enough duplicates made that you are ready to hand off a reel, when asked for it. Give yourself all year to get this done. What? Look, I know what’s going to happen. I’m telling you to give yourself a year to get your demo reel because it’ll make you say, “A whole year?!? That’s CRAZY! C’mon! Anyone can get a demo reel together sooner than that!” Really? Okay then. Next year at this time, when someone asks you for a copy of your reel, if you don’t have one, you get to say, “I had a whole year! I can’t believe I didn’t get my demo reel together in a whole year! I suck!” Or, better yet, you will have your demo reel done and will be happy to hand it over upon request. That’s the result I’m hoping for, for you.
4. Get better at a special skill. You say you speak Spanish? Get better at it. You say you can do a British accent? Improve it. You list skiing in your resumé’s special skills section but really haven’t hit the slopes in over a year? Strap on a pair of skis and get thee to Mammoth. You list your vocal range as Mezzo Soprano with High Belt but haven’t even sung karaoke in a year? Warm up and get singing. You should be able to do everything on your special skills list with little or no warm-up, right in the audition room (for the most part). Anything out-of-date on your resumé shouldn’t be on your resumé. And that’s in every section!
5. Let someone change you. In my own reflection of the year 2004, I realize there are a few key people who changed me. Now, I consider myself to be pretty much who I am at all times. Meaning, I perceive that there’s not a whole lot left “out there” for me to experience that could change me at my very core. Still, I allowed myself to be genuinely moved (and at a deep level) by actors’ work, by writers’ words, by singers’ voices, by aspiring actors’ dreams. As an actor, you inhabit various characters all the time. You are constantly studying the human condition and applying your experiences to its interpretation as you help bring a character to life. Maybe this year you can allow a character you portray to change you, to give you the gift of a deeper understanding of yourself, to develop a part of your psyche you’d thought was fully-formed. And if you can allow a character to do that, perhaps you can allow others to impact you deeply as well. It’s a lovely experience.
6. Move up a tier. I’ve talked about “making it” in a past column. “Making it” in this business involves a series of smaller moves up rungs of a metaphorical ladder, each move up leading to another tier in the industry. Look at where you are. Are you the funniest person in your improv class? Are you the most-frequently booked co-star repped by your agent or manager? Are you growing impatient with being the most professional actor on the set of another free student film? Maybe it’s time to start saying no to some things. Moving up often involves making a hard choice or two. Do you leave your class so that you are challenged more in a harder class? Do you look to bump up your quote or tell your agent that you’d like to start NOT going out for co-star roles so that you can move up to guest star gigs? Do you start NOT doing student films? Agree to check in with yourself regularly this year and resolve to move up a tier if you’re ready. And if you’re not ready? GET ready.
7. Take a day off every week. I constantly hear the advice that actors should do something toward their acting career EVERY DAY. Um, yeah. You’re an ACTOR. That is your JOB. In any other profession, no one would ever have to tell someone to be sure to do something career-related every day. So, since you’re a pro, I know you’re already doing something in support of your acting career every day. Right? Right. Okay, so my recommendation is that you resolve to take a day off each week. That’s right. Be a non-acting human for one day each week. On this day, do not read the trades, don’t send out headshots, don’t rehearse a monologue, and when you speak with others do not gab about the wonderful role you read for the day before. Instead, volunteer your time. Clean cages at an animal shelter. Serve lunch at a halfway house. Deliver popsicles to kids in the chemotherapy ward. Pick up garbage on the beach. Better your world, surround yourself with non-actors, and strike a balance between the blissful, fantasy-filled life you live most days and the very real world in which you exist. Give something back one day a week and enjoy the other six days (the ones in which you have a full-time job as an actor) that much more because of it. Balance is a lovely thing.
8. Intern. Have you interned in a casting office yet? Have you volunteered a day with your manager to open envelopes and answer phones? Have you worked as a reader? Have you ushered at a theatre in exchange for free admission to the play? If you aren’t the type of person who can fathom working in an office (I’m that type, so I know the folks I’m talking to VERY well, here) then find another way to get some experience doing something you’ve never done before in the industry. It’ll give you amazing perspective on your role as an actor. Be a PA on the set of a student film for a weekend. Run errands for a busy producer. Copy sides in a commercial casting office. Do something for nothing. Believe me, it’s NOT for nothing. You will learn so much when you take off your actor-glasses in these situations.
9. Write it all down. Julia Cameron instructs artists to keep “morning pages” in The Artist’s Way. In 1993, when I started trying to do daily “morning pages,” I found such a rigid practice to be a bit too confining for my tastes. That hasn’t changed for me. I simply cannot “show up at the page” every day just because someone else told me to do so, no matter how good for my inner artist it may be. That said; I keep a pad of paper and a pen by my bed (Yes, I wake up in the middle of the night and write sometimes.) as well as in the glove box of my car, on the coffee table, and in the kitchen. Why? Because writing (and going back later to review my writing) is a source of inspiration. I suspect it may be for many actors as well. Maybe it’s a sketch idea, a future screenplay, a character name you’ll want to use someday. Perhaps it’s an epiphany you don’t recognize yet. Don’t fight it. Just write it down. If you’re a geek (like me), start a blog. If you like bookcases lined with your own journals, buy the nicest bound blank books you can find and enjoy filling them up. If you’re more of a scrap paper type, find one central place to store these scraps. You NEVER know when you’ll need to consult your musings for inspiration.
10. Stay grateful. If you blow off all of the above-suggested Working Actor Resolutions, please at least do this one. Be grateful that you are pursuing your dream. Acknowledge that most people never get to spend a day actually going after what makes their heart sing, yet you do that every day. When you see an amazing performance, thank the artist for sharing at such a deep level. When you read a wonderful script, thank the writer for creating a world that inspires you. And when you’re invited to do your work in front of someone — at any level — be sure those who invited you to play know you were thrilled to get to do so. Remember, you chose this life because you couldn’t fathom living as anything other than an actor. Each time you are called in, you’re being told, “I agree. You ARE an actor.” Isn’t that a dream come true? Be grateful. Stay grateful. Enjoy this life you’ve chosen.
And have a blissful 2005. I look forward to hearing about YOUR resolutions.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000155.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.