You’re probably thinking: how can an actor under 30 talk about having a long lasting acting career, when his hasn’t even started!? Well at the tender age of 29 I can already see talented actors dropping like flies, and missing out on work for a number of reasons. For many it’s the usual reasons: financial pressures, rejection, lack of opportunity, but for others it’s completely their own doing. That’s why I wanted to write an article discussing some of the good habits that will lead to a lasting career.
I have had the opportunity over the years to sit down with some leading actors in the industry, all the way from Hugo Weaving to Sarah Snook. And you start to see some patterns forming. Though there is of course a huge amount of luck in this game, if you want to keep getting employed, you should start to develop the following habits…
#1 Stop climbing
Focus less on reaching “career goals” and try to reach creative goals. It’s not about landing a role in a successful TV show, but instead about working with a TV director you resonate with. When all our goals are simply based on success, fame or money, people can feel it. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have all those things, but they are the byproducts of being part of great projects. Seek out great writers, and other creatives – surround yourself with inspiring people who have motivated and focused energies, you’ll find yourself feeling the same way.
Idea: if you’re having a quiet year, take a look at a script you absolutely love and see if you can put it on with some friends. If that’s too daunting, just pick out a great scene and work on it with another actor.
#2 Stop competing
Your fellow actors are not your competition. I know it can feel that way as you are sitting in the waiting room with 6 other actors who look just like you, but having a competitive attitude is not productive. It creates a feeling of scarcity and leads to bitterness, jealousy and resentment. Encourage friends, help others with auditions, and celebrate other people’s success stories. As Tony Robbins as it sounds, being supportive of other people’s success will inevitably lead to your own success.
“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” Les Smith
#3 Stop being too cool for your friends.
Your friends become the industry. The end.
So many actors are trying to get ahead of their peers and preferring a networking night over seeing your mates theatre production. This desire to make connections in the industry is admirable but don’t leave your friends in the dust. In 10-15 years time your friends will be the casting directors, and artistic directors of theatre companies. And in 20-30 years they will industry leaders. Rise up together.
#4 Cut the attitude
All great directors love working with creative and opinionated actors. They love seeing bold choices and having a collaborative approach. However, this isn’t always a utopian process. Sometimes directors are rushed, stressed or occasionally just don’t care. Whatever the situation, don’t EVER bite back. Don’t get snarky, don’t give attitude. Always be on your best behaviour, a bad reputation travels fast, and it’s not worth getting worked up over. You’ll inevitably be working with some terrible directors and other creatives, you’ll just have to find ways to work with them, and not against them. There are lessons to be learned from facing hardships. But in saying that, there is also a level of “terrible” that should not be tolerated, such as abuse and sexual harassment, in which case – please, do not stay silent. Just evaluate each situation as it arises, and ask for help or guidance if you need it.
#5 Start being good to people
I am fortunate enough to be close friends with one of the most giving actors in the industry, Travis Jeffery. Travis has been an inspiration to me as an actor, but also as a person. Every project he works on, whether that is a small TV role, or a major film, he always goes out of his way to make everyone on set feel supported and cared for. He meticulously picks out gifts for everyone at the end of each production, and leaves behind a swarm of fans from Costume Designers to Camera Assistants. Travis does this because he is through and through a good guy, but I’m sure it has also been a huge factor in his re-employment. From directors to TV executives, they want to work with him again, because he is a great presence on set. This doesn’t mean you can simply “buy” a career by being nice to everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to be a good person to be around.
Idea: next time you’re on set, make it your goal to at least say hello to every crew member. Bonus points if you can remember names.
#6 Stay in touch
Every play I have ever been a part of, has been like a little family. Of course there are spats and people fall out at times, but mostly there is a lot of love and mutual respect. But often without the formalities of rehearsals, and the realities of daily life, you often lose touch with other actors. Don’t let this community go! Stay in touch with actors, and other creatives. Not only will this lead to more opportunities, but it will help you stay inspired and develop a great support network.
Idea: reach out to someone you loved working with who you haven’t contacted in a while.
#7 Start setting achievable goals
People often underestimate what they can do in three years and over estimate what they can do in 6 months. I get emails from lots of actors who want to land great agents, who have been acting for less than a year. Sorry team, that’s just not how it goes. I also hear from actors who have been “acting” for 10-15 years and still are represented by an extras agency and have never been part of a paid production. The actors who have lasting careers set real and tangible goals, that are grounded in working with great people on great projects.
Idea: spend an afternoon reassessing where you are at. Set some goals for the next 3 months, 1 year, 3 years and 5 years. Don’t focus too much on the goals that are out of your control. Look at achievable goals and break them up into even smaller goals, so eventually you’ll end up with a to-do list.
#8 Develop other passions
Even if your career is rolling along nicely, there will be down time. And it’s important you don’t eat yourself alive when the inevitable quiet times come. Finding other passions, however simple, will be fantastic. Music, pottery, poetry, chess, find somewhere else to put your energy. These passions will allow you to stay level-headed, and also could invigorate you creatively.
#9 Develop great relationships
I’ve mentioned a number of times the importance of being a genuine, good person. Your reputation is everything. But a lot of actors, so determined to be successful, are not kind to their friends and family. Your core relationships are so important in your life, and it is essential to keep investing in those. Whether it’s calling your mum every week, or going out for dinner with mates, make time for your core relationships and put the effort into them. Family and friends keep you grounded and happy!
#10 Start thinking about ongoing training
Whether you are consistently booking work, or having a quiet week, month or year, ongoing training is one of the key ingredients to a long and fruitful career. It does a couple of things: A) It shows the industry, and yourself, that you still want this and have an attitude to constantly improve and learn and B) It keeps you fit. The more you work on your craft the more likely you are to book work. The actors I have been fortunate enough to interview all share this common trait – they love the craft and are eternal students. They are constantly striving to become better at and more knowledgable about this illusive thing we call “acting”.
Not sure how continue this ongoing training?
As I mentioned in point 8, ongoing training is so important. But classes can be expensive, and intimidating, or just a 2 hour drive away. We recently launched our very own online acting class. If you join up you become a member of StageMilk and get access to a bucket load of resources including monologues, scenes, voice warm ups, plays, and much more. But most importantly you get to work on your craft. This is an online scene club, where every month we work on new projects to help hone your craft. You then get feedback on the work which helps you make improvements each and every month.