First of all I have to say that I loved acting and I miss it a great deal. Being an actor was my original creative dream, it was the thing that charged my soul and made me feel alive. I began in high school and next moved on to Community Theater while serving in the Army. I went to Penn State for my bachelor’s degree in Theater and then moved to Los Angeles. After doing some plays in tiny Hollywood-adjacent theaters I got an agent, got some work and joined two actors unions. I was in heaven, moving closer to my dream of making a living as an actor. Then came the hell. This is the descent wherein your creative life and your financial life smash together as if in a supercollider. Not even the joys of a national commercial and a scene opposite Michael Keaton and Helena Bonham Carter could keep that dream alive.
That being said, I love actors and I never discourage them from the dream. Someone has to make, why not you? The reality of an acting career is brutal to be sure but I think it is a noble profession, especially in plays and films that examine the human condition and our place in the universe or even reflect on our current events. It’s an important craft. The arts are vastly underappreciated in America and that’s not likely to change. Also not likely change: your long odds at making a living as an actor.
Let’s start at the beginning, then. The first question to ask is why do you want to be an actor? Why will you dedicate your life to that dream? If the answer is “to be famous,” you’re doomed already in so many ways; if it is “because there is nothing else I’m good at,” you need to try more things; but if the answer is “the drive to act compels me as if I were a spawning salmon,” you’re exactly right. You’re also likely melodramatic…
This is what I call the Magic Why. Why acting? You really need to be honest here. You can end up wasting an awful lot of time and money and even relationships. Do it for the craft. Do it for the joy. Do it because there is nothing more important to you in the whole world. Don’t do it to be famous, to be rich, to be loved, or to get laid. Respect the craft. Good acting entertains us, but great acting (along with writing, or course) affects us deeply, perhaps even haunts us.
Study, rehearse, expand your senses and pay your dues. Enroll in college. The very process of getting a bachelor’s degree expands your knowledge tremendously and challenges your assumptions. Push your comfort zone and act in as many different plays as possible. Read plays, as many as you can. And finally, there is no substitute for life experience. Travel, work different summer jobs and learn to observe people and their surroundings. All of this will help you master the craft.
You need to know about motivation, beats, action verbs, objectives, subtext and character arcs. You need to understand Stanislavsky’s Magic If, working from inside out or the outside in, and MOST IMPORTANTLY you need to learn how to actively LISTEN. It’s not easy listening to same lines again and again and then during each performance act as if you are hearing it for the first time. Listen to what the other actors are saying instead of waiting for your next cue to speak. And listen to the director and learn how to translate their notes, suggestions and instructions into action.
Now you see why actors who just want to famous aren’t often very good; it takes way too much effort to dedicate yourself to the craft of acting.
A flawless complexion, a gleaming smile and surgical enhanced attributes can make you rich and famous, I suppose.
But they’ll never make you a great actor.
I’m just saying…