How to Set Goals as an Actor | StageMilk
how to set goals

How to Set Goals as an Actor

Written by on | The Acting Lifestyle

There sure is a lot of jazz out there about life and career planning right now. However, the concept of five-year planning was introduced to me a few years back while I was still studying. One of the only goals I could muster up was ‘Work as an actor on stage’ – the rest were as broad yet determined as that. Perhaps I was not yet privy to my own ambition. I’m embarrassed to say that the concept of ambition was something I had filed into the ‘making epic sacrifices’ file of my mind’s cabinet. But as time went on I pulled that file out, looked at it, realised there’s a bit more nuance to it than that. I refiled ambition in the ‘Writing down what you want to achieve and then setting out a plan to get yourself there’ file and closed the cabinet.

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Whilst I was studying acting, I truly knew what I loved about the work I was doing, the community within it and my own strengths but I had no other specific goals within the overarching goal of ‘work as an actor on stage’ to break down and work towards – and boy, did I know it. At drama school I was (and don’t get me wrong, still remain) very much a citizen of dreamland. When considering my future in this vocation I liked to journal, draw, and imagine. I thrilled in analysing the stories, plays, monologues, performances, shows and films that truly inspire me, boiling it down to their very essences and then pouring these discoveries into a journal where the ephemeral dreamscape of my mind could materialise right before my very eyes. 

This exercise of creating an actor’s manifesto is one I would strongly encourage as it opens the gate for you to take a plunge deep into the well of your inspiration, pull out what you find and henceforth see what sort of work you want to put out into the world. Creating your own manifesto is a deeply personal, fun, and enlightening acknowledgement of everything that has formed your inner creativity over your whole life since you can remember. And it can be completely unbridled in its form. It can be a journal, a corkboard, an exercise book or even a giant piece of butcher’s paper you can roll up and put it away. Whatever vessel you chose to hold your manifesto should have an enormous amount of space to be filled. Because trust me when I say this: when you start it’s truly hard to stop. 

This brings me to the five-year plan, which I see as a completely different entity altogether. It’s a similar concept but is much more laser-focused on its intent. Think of it as dipping a thin paintbrush in exactly the colour you want and drawing a very thin, precise line between point A and B on a piece of paper. As opposed to putting all of your favourite colours in a paint tin, swirling them together and ecstatically throwing the whole tin in a giant and colourful splash across the page. Definitely a mood, but not what I’ll be showing you in this article. I wanted to outline the difference between (and the importance of) a manifesto and five-year plan so we don’t accidentally build a playground when we need to build a railway. You feel me? Alright, enough analogies let’s get down to business:

Step 1: Write your goals down

Ok, you’re probably thinking “Well nuh-derrr captain obvious”. Captain obvious is obviously obvious but also critical in her obviousness. I want you to see your goal like any company sees its mission statement when setting a five-year goal. Forbes.com explains it thusly: ‘It guides employees to make the right decisions that are in line with helping your business achieve its mission’. You run a small business with your agent called ‘(Insert your name) – Actor’ and I believe there’s not a huge difference between how any other business grows itself and your own business with the decisions you and your agent make as a team. If you’re still studying or freelancing, you could consult a teacher, a mentor or even a trusted colleague on these goals and help in holding you accountable. It’s not all up to them for accountability, a lot of that is on you. But the invisible pressure I feel after sharing my professional goals with people I trust and admire definitely helps me keep myself accountable. 

Is this MY goal, or someone else’s? 

When approaching your five-year plan, you need to write down exactly what it is you want to achieve as precisely as you can. Reflect on your goals and consider; will this make other people happy, or will this make me happy? Will this make other people proud, or will it make me proud? And just as importantly; is this someone else’s dream for me, or is this my dream for myself? I say this because I’m aware of how many other people’s dreams have lived rent-free in my head before. And it’s important to decide whether it’s truly what you want to do with your career or if you have adopted other people’s ambitions purely because everyone’s doing it. Before you embark on a course to achieve said dream, I want to make sure you’re beating your own drum. You’re an authentic, unique specimen of an actor and I want you to honour that.

Make sure they are WORKABLE

Focus on the goal you’re setting is actually workable in a five-year stretch. Who knows, you might achieve your goal in a lot less time, and then it’s time to create another! A lot of the work we go for has so many variables other than how you deliver on the day. We all know these variables and I understand how sometimes it feels like all that happened when you booked a job was that the planets aligned, you felt good ju-ju, the reader wore a mauve shirt and you had Weetbix for breakfast instead of toast that day. But the goal you set in a five-year plan as an actor has to be something you yourself can break down, work towards and not be reliant on The Force to make happen. ‘Work as an actor on stage’ is quite broad, but ‘Produce my own work that will push me greatly in my skills as an artist’ is breakdown-able and workable. ‘Get voiceover gig’ I’ll admit is specific, but ‘Greatly improving my chances of getting into the voiceover world’ is doable – definitely within 5 years. Other ones could be ‘Set myself up as an actor in London’, or ‘Improve my chances of working in animation’ or ‘Create my own theatre company that specializes in touring contemporary theatre to regional places’. It’s all in the wording which will affect how you then plan out your steps. Clear and concise wording makes it much easier to navigate your goal and to make sure you’re staying on track. And more importantly, it helps you stay on track with your improvement in areas that need more focus and attention. 

Step 2: Strengths and Areas Needing Improvement

Now that you’ve laid out your goal I want you to write down what you’ve already got going for you and what areas need focusing on. This helps you to; 

  1. Identify the best opportunities to pursue in achieving your goal
  2. Understand the areas you need to work on in the near future
  3. Be aware of what strengths and skills you need to foster and maintain along the way.

As a demonstration I’m going to imagine I’ve chosen the goal ‘Set myself up as an actor in London’ and I’ll do a quick ‘strengths and areas of improvement’ list as an example. 

Strengths:

  • Good friend contacts in London
  • EU passport (which I won’t be able to use soon but who knows)
  • Eligible for a 2-year visa
  • Good sense of contemporary London accent and regional dialects
  • Have studied there before and know the companies I want to align my work with

Areas of Improvement:

  • Need to build work contacts in London
  • Need to find a UK agent
  • No UK showreel or voice reel yet
  • Need to build more savings
  • Need to have a better understanding of the market

This is a brief at-first-glance breakdown but a good example of how I would lay it out before step 3.

Step 3: Work Backwards

Now you’ve got your goal, you know what you’ve got going for you and what needs working on, you’ve imagined yourself with you in your goal; getting more voiceover tests (or even going to the studio to record), going to auditions in your new home city of London, LA or Vancouver, or closing night of your independent theatre piece – whatever it is, you’re there. Now break it down into smaller one-year goals, lay them out, and work back from your first one-year goal into quarterly goals and then monthly goals. For the sake of demonstration again, let’s go back to the goal I set out in step 2. 

  •  5-year goal – Set me up as an actor in London
  •  4.5-year goal – Auditioning for work that aligns with me creatively and professionally.
  •  4-year goal – Have put on a show I am proud of within an independent season, have made good working relationships within the independent industry in London.
  •  3.5-year goal – Have put on an independent show I am proud of on the fringe circuit
  •  3-year goal – Have set up a solid side hustle that I enjoy and have signed with a UK agent that aligns with the career I want to create.
  •  2.5-year goal – Have moved to the UK.
  •  2-year goal – Re-hash accent work again. UK Voice reel and showreel are done
  •  1.5-year goal – Have accumulated enough savings for the move, bond and enough time to sort out my side hustle. Have enough savings for a voice reel and showreel. Now keep saving.
  •  1-year goal – Wouldn’t hurt to start re-hashing accent work. Keep Saving
  •  9 months from now – Have organised VISA. Continue Saving
  •  6 months from now – Have an idea and outline for an independent show you want to stage. Continue saving.
  •  3 months from now – Have an outline from friends who’ve lived/live in London about living costs, where to live, where to work, what they wished they knew or what they would do differently moving over, what they would do again moving over there.
  •  1 month from now – Have had the conversation with my agent about the move. What this means. Market analysis, examples of clients they’ve had do this before, possible agents/casting agents they could get me in contact with, any hot tips and advice they have. Run the professional goal breakdowns by them and seek their advice on the game plan.

Again this is a loose example of how I would map this out and break it down, there’s definitely a lot more that I would find to add to my monthly and yearly goals once embarking on that journey. The important thing is if you don’t get a particular one done by a particular time, that’s ok! Add an extra two weeks onto your deadline. You get one done before the other, no problem! Swap it around with another. Just make sure you’re holding yourself accountable and ticking those things off the list. This breakdown will change again and again the further you progress, the more you learn about this new area you’re jumping into, and the more the world/market changes. These targets will be ever-moving so stay focused, soldier.

But let’s say you’ve chosen a goal where the yardsticks along the path are not as clear and concrete as it is with moving your whole life overseas within five years. Let’s say you’ve chosen to greatly improve your chances of working within the voiceover industry. It’s crucial that you measure out for yourself what your metrics of success are. Is it to walk out of a test feeling proud of your work instead of feeling shitty? Is it to get more voiceover tests? Or is it to get your first voiceover test? These are all incredibly important for yourself to determine and will be specific to you individually. Everyone would be approaching this goal from a different angle so understand those metrics of success in relation to your goal, set them out, and work backwards from where you want to be. And then figure out exactly what you need to get there. That could be doing more workshops on technique, seeking out specific voiceover representation, doing a voice reel you’re super proud of and stoked to spruik around, setting up off the wall VO tests for yourself as you would do with practising self-tapes, investing in your own gear (not essential, but could be what you need where you’re at), getting on top of who all the big players are and where to main studios are and what sort of VO work they do – the list is endless, and I could go on with that one forever. 

Step 4: Go for it Tiger 

You’ve planned, you’re focused, and you’re motivated so fling yourself down that path today. Hold yourself to it every day you’ve got some precious spare time on your hands. Go back to that five-year plan and think ‘Is there something I could be doing to tick things off the list right now? Could I be adding things to the list? Could I be updating it or changing it?’ 99% of the time and 9/10 dentists would agree, there is. I want to pull you out of any feeling of inaction, or that you’re out of control of your destiny as an actor, or relying too heavily on The Force. You can achieve the goals you want if you set out your game plan into these doable, achievable tasks.

The inevitable thing is life will happen: taxes need doing, pandemics may occur and lightbulbs will need changing. Life in general likes to oscillate wildly between boredom and chaos – and to just about everything in between. Life simply doesn’t always like to stick to your five-year plan as you want it to. But the beauty of all of this is you will end up either achieving your goals or will be somewhere completely different to where you’d be if you’d done absolutely nothing at all. And you’ve had some sort of say over your own destiny. If you do end up somewhere you’d never dreamed of down the path of this five-year plan I mean come on – what an absolute gift. Besides, I believe it is our deep attraction to seeking the divine unexpected possibilities in our craft and our lives that drew us to this thrilling work as actors in the first place. Stay authentic, stay open, check your blind spots and I’ll see you in the future!

About the Author

Emma O’Sullivan

Emma O’Sullivan is an actor, writer, juggler, frequent pasta maker and sometimes stilt walker. She graduated from WAAPA in 2016 with a BA Acting, and cut her teeth at the Hayman Theatre, Curtin University. Since graduating she has written and performed two solo shows at Perth, Newcastle and Sydney fringe and also with JackRabbit Theatre company. Originally from Perth, she is now based on the east coast and when you don’t see Em onstage you’ll find her practicing some *siq* new diabolo tricks and club juggling at park near you.

About the Author

Emma O’Sullivan

Emma O’Sullivan is an actor, writer, juggler, frequent pasta maker and sometimes stilt walker. She graduated from WAAPA in 2016 with a BA Acting, and cut her teeth at the Hayman Theatre, Curtin University. Since graduating she has written and performed two solo shows at Perth, Newcastle and Sydney fringe and also with JackRabbit Theatre company. Originally from Perth, she is now based on the east coast and when you don’t see Em onstage you’ll find her practicing some *siq* new diabolo tricks and club juggling at park near you.

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