If you are an actor then you need to act! And keep acting.
Time and time again I hear about actors who have become disillusioned with the industry and have quit acting. These are often terrifically talented individuals. They can often be the guys who graduated with flying colours and were expected to hit the big time.
The acting world is full of young actors who do not get work immediately. Full of actors who find that the industry isn’t how they had envisioned. Actors who send out their CV and headshot to every job they find listed, to all the agents and casting directors, but find themselves not getting seen for months on end. These are the guys who find it hard to remember their love for acting and it is often these guys who can quit acting all together.
When I think about them and why they quit, I always come to the same conclusion. They hadn’t quit acting, they hadn’t actually been acting, they had been “trying to get a job”: they had become professional “CV and headshot senders”. That wasn’t what they had wanted to do, if your job was being a professional “trying to get a job-er” it would certainly make even the most positive of us a little bit disheartened!
Literally, I think I’ve quit acting three or four times, only for a few days. Maybe for a few weeks.
What these people wanted and needed to do was act, that is where their love was, where their passion lied. They had quite simply ‘stopped acting’.
So, do you need to have an acting job to be an actor? Simple answer: No. If you want to be an actor then you need to act and keep acting.
There are many ways you can “keep acting”, it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. Get together with a group of friends and one evening every couple of weeks have a play reading group. It can be like a book club, each person takes a turn in choosing the play, you divide up the parts and read it aloud. Afterwards spend a few hours discussing the play, it’s themes, the characters, and the ways you could play them. You will learn from each other, you will feed off each others creativity and you will bring something new with you to your auditions and meetings.
I was recently talking to an actor friend who has acted professionally both over here in London and over in New York City. We talked about the main differences between the two communities, and she told me that over in the States one of the big differences is that people keep studying and practising throughout their careers. Over here in the UK the common attitude is that once you have graduated that’s it, you’ve done your training and you don’t step foot in a classroom again (until you train for a new career!)
Acting classes really are the best way to ‘keep acting’. If you think acting classes are just for young actors, think again. I know many older, working actors who continue taking classes even when their careers are up and running. Not only does belonging to a class mean you ‘keep acting’, it means that you are honing your skills and learning new ones. Not just from the teacher, from the other students. Mixing and networking with actors in classes gives you a real opportunity to witness how other actors work, and if you see something that works for someone else and you think it could work for you, steal it!
Being a part of an acting class, gives you the chance to try new techniques in a safe environment. You are able to take risks which you couldn’t take out in the real world. It will cost you nothing if you make a mistake trying something new in a class. If you try something new on a shoot you could risk costing the production money, or wasting precious daylight. The classroom is a safe environment, and is all about exploring and learning.
I think as an actor one of the best learning experiences you can ever have is the freedom to be bad. The freedom to fall flat on your face can be completely liberating. The best lessons you will learn are those from making mistakes. An acting class gives you the opportunity to try and fail. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Acting classes will cost you, but the money spent is a professional expense and so you are able claim this expense when you come to do your taxes.
Money spent on honing your skills, money spent on keeping you active, money spent stopping you getting rusty, money spent helping your career and helping you to keep acting is always going to be money well spent.
Take a class once a week, once a fortnight, once a month, whatever your budget will stretch to, your network will grow, your skills will be kept sharp, your experiences and techniques will grow and best of all you will be acting.
I have always found that if you are doing something, then you will create more of it in your life. When you make it happen, it will come and find you.