What I Learnt as an Actor Since Drama School | Acting Lessons
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What I Learnt as an Actor in 2017

Written by on | StageMilk Acting Blog

A year in reflection.

Since leaving drama school my life as an actor has both surprised and disappointed. It has not been the calamity I prophesied, nor the raging success I quietly hoped for. Instead it has meandered, and long periods without work have been interrupted by the most random assortment of acting jobs you could think of. My acting career has been shaped more by coincidence and luck than out of any clear action on my behalf.

I started 2017 in my usual way. I was rejuvenated after spending Christmas in my idyllic hometown in Queensland, Australia. Something about that sea air and a few weeks with my family always sends me back to Sydney feeling revived and ready to do it all again. And once again another year as an actor in Sydney began.

2017 marked my fifth year since leaving drama school. I had been perplexed by the industry so far. In many ways it was predictably difficult, but it had also been kind. Kind in almost random ways: landing roles because of friends, getting gigs on the back of half-hearted auditions, or without auditioning at all, getting in films because of my height or my hair, or because it was convenience, or simply because someone said “yeah, he’s alright”.

These five years have proved more unpredictable than I had expected. I think I had the notion of either soaring success or indisputable failure, and instead I reside in a kind of purgatory. Many actors have famously given themselves 5 years to “make it”. I certainly haven’t “made it”, but I am perhaps doing better than I was 5 years ago, but then again, who knows.

What I enjoyed most this year was returning to the theatre. It had been years since I was part of a proper theatre production and this year offered three fantastic opportunities.

It has been inspiring and reinvigorating to be back working in theatre, the stage was always my passion as an actor. I am so grateful for the opportunities of this year and the focus it has given me. Outside of my work on stage, it has been a quiet year. However, I have felt more inspired this year than most, and I have certainly learnt a lot.

I could go on and on, but this isn’t just about me. I want to share with you some lessons I learnt from 2017. Now you can learn from my mistakes, so you don’t have to spend the next year making them…

1. Follow the well written word

work on great writing as an actor

Early in 2017 I read “My Life in Parts” written by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame. He’d written an alarmingly personal book about his life and his career and how the two are inseparable. It’s a great read.

Read: Full book review here

One piece of advice that has stayed with me is this: follow the well written word. This is the rule Cranston lives by when navigating his career: work on projects where the writing excites and inspires you. I found it elucidating and immediately took it on as my own mantra.

We all know the importance of great writing and how it is the bedrock of great acting, but we are often lead by other factors: a paycheque, fame, notoriety. Of course there are always other factors that can’t be ignored, but I decided immediately after reading those 5 words that I would always work on projects where great writing was the main focus. If a script gave me that buzz, you know the one, I would do it; if it was poorly written I was out, no matter the price.

This simple rule resigned me to my principles and served me during the year. It is the reason I took an incredibly rewarding independent theatre production and the reason why the project was so successful. I recommend always working on projects with great writing.

2. Say “YES”

There is often a feeling of entitlement among drama school graduates. We’ve seen a few peers hit Hollywood, and another few dominate the local soaps and that illusive fame seems worryingly close. Though this is exciting, it is also debilitating. It sets a precedent and a tone. A tone that the only legitimate work is the paid stuff, or the stuff on a TV screen. I was hypnotised by this and it meant that the focus of the first few years out of drama school was always film and TV work, when in fact theatre was always my goal.

What I learned too late was that if your passion is for theatre, then that is established through the independent scene (mostly unpaid). Though it can be a thankless process at times, it is where you hone your craft and slowly build a name and reputation. Especially in Australia, where the professional scene is so small, and even professional actors can’t help but dip into the indie world here and there, the unpaid/underpaid work is so important. I wish I would have let go of my ego sooner and started working! Some of the best and most challenging theatre is in the independent sector.

3. Stop complaining

Whinging

2017 was also the year I landed a role with a dream theatre company. It was a rewarding process, but a tough one. Long hours and working in difficult conditions, and an old habit reared its ugly head: complaining. I found myself complaining about issues I had, and getting caught in the blackhole of gossiping and whinging with my fellow actors.

Though I managed to extricate myself from it for the most part, I saw how insidious it was. I saw how useless and harmful having a negative attitude can be. It’s tough to bring positivity to a situation, but those who did brought energy and openness to the rehearsal room and I was thankful for it. They were the ones I wanted to work with again.

Read: Why Gossiping Makes You a Bad Actor

4. Musical theatre auditions are terrifying

This year I auditioned for the Book of Mormon, the award winning Broadway musical which was finally making its way to Australia in it’s usual lumbering fashion.

Somehow I had received the audition. I had auditioned for musicals before, but never something on this scale, and it was terrifying.

32 bars of a song and 6 panelists. It was like being on Australian Idol. Somehow I managed to get a call back and then some. At each stage I was pushed to my limit, feeling like a fraud at every step, but I learnt a lot.

My respect for musical theatre performers skyrocketed after that experience, and I realised how lax I had been with my regular auditions. Just because I don’t have to dance or sing at an audition for a film or TV show doesn’t mean I don’t have to work. I did a number of lazy auditions in 2017 and guess what? I never landed them.

In 2018 I look forward to diving in deeper and taking auditions on as an opportunity to act. Not an inconvenience as they sometimes feel. Make sure you’re always grateful for auditions and give them your all!

Read: How to Prepare for an Audition 

5. Run your own race

2017 was another year where I saw friends and peers surpass me in every way. Friends I had studied with booked massive gigs, got massive paycheques and made massive leaps in their careers. At the same time other actors who had years of success behind them had a quiet year, and some threw in the towel all together.

The longer you stay in the acting game the more you see its transience. You see how career actors are made out of habit and consistency, not fleeting moments of glory. Of course there will always be those who skyrocket to success, but generally those with true talent come slowly to the surface. You begin to see the same people in shows, or creeping into more conversations accompanied by “yeah they were great in that” and so on. Hard work does eventually pay off.

I am reminded and inspired to run my own race. Live by my own rules and trust my own skills. Envy is ignorance.

6. The power of vocal work

As I mentioned this was my year of working in the theatre. And working in the theatre once again reminded me of the importance of vocal work and how much I had neglected my voice since drama school.

When you haven’t auditioned in 3 months it’s difficult to get up and do a vocal warm up. It feels aimless and a waste of time, but it’s not. Working on our voice is so important for when the opportunities come. And they will come.

If you don’t do the work you will be eaten alive in auditions by those who are working constantly on their voices.

I also saw how important a command of language is. How you need to be flexible and agile when working with text to bring it to life, especially when working on the classics.

Go do a voice warm up!

7. Remember your passion

passion for acting

In pursing a career as an actor we can often grow bitter. There is always an actor willing to meet up for a coffee to tell you how bad everything is, and very rarely is there someone to be hopeful. We get so good at finding the fault in things we lose sight of our naive love for acting.

I was reminded that cynicism is never-ending. Any great actor, great film, great novel, great anything, can be ripped to shreds by someone, especially on the internet. So why buy into it? Why allow their inevitable attitudes to affect your acting? Do the work and trust your instincts. Work with people in the new year that inspire you.

I hope that in reflecting we can all learn from our successful stories and our mistakes. I encourage you all to do the same, and as always feel free to share and engage with us via Facebook, Instagram and Email. We love hearing from you. Happy New Year! 

About the Author

Andrew Hearle

is the founder of StageMilk.Com. Andrew trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and is now a Sydney-based actor working in Theatre, Film and Television.

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