Seven Actions for the New Actor
Allow me to be frank at the commencement. This is not a ‘how to become an actor article’. This article assumes that you, the reader, have already taken the first step on the path of becoming an actor: you’ve decided it’s what you want to pursue. This article is all about ACTION. This article is about taking steps today (not tomorrow) to kickstart your journey as an actor. I’ve got seven actions up my sleeve for you and some guiding principles to go along with them. Today is the day folks, no more excuses, it’s time to really begin. Let’s go.
Being a beginner at anything can be a daunting position to be in, but I have good news for you. The objective of the actor’s journey, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned expert, never changes. The objective is this: to get a little bit better at acting every day. This objective is the secret to success as an actor. In fact, if you replace the word ‘actor’ with any chosen skill or profession, it’s the secret to success in everything. This is what we are here to do today: get a little bit better at acting.
Now, I’ve outlined above my target audience for this article. This is for those of you who are new to the craft of acting, but who are pretty darn sure it’s what you want to do. You’ve done a bit of reading on what the heck acting actually is, maybe you’ve even done a bit of research about training institutions or maybe you’ve even flipped your phone camera around onto your face, pressed record and done some acting. If, however, you find yourself feeling like a fraud, reading this article having not really begun your journey as an actor, that’s ok! You are of course welcome here. I’d just like you to do something for me first.
What I’d like you to do is to head on over to this article here and have a read: How to Become an Actor.
That article is a really great launching pad for actors, and I think it’s worth you reading some of the preliminary information about becoming an actor. Once you’ve read that, I expect you to be zipping right back on to this article to start taking some action with me! Let’s move on now to talking about some of the guiding principles I want to underpin our action points today.
There are a thousand things I could suggest that you do to start your journey as an actor. All these tasks may be useful, but what I think will add value to these tasks is if we pair them with a few foundational principles to maximise their effectiveness. Here are three principles I’d like you to consider and incorporate into the action points which will follow:
#1 Action over Motion
I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear at the moment. It’s exceptional. Every page has an idea or technique which jumps out at me as being incredibly practical and useful. This is an idea which is directly derived from his book.
We need to prioritise action over motion. What this means is that we (human beings generally, but also actors) spend more time thinking about the steps we will take, planning them out and ruminating on them rather than actually doing them. This is an easy trap to fall into, and one that I fall into on a weekly basis! It’s an easy trap to fall into because motion feels good. Planning all the things we are going to do feels like action, it feels like we’re achieving something. Unfortunately, all we are achieving is the plan itself. Motion is not action. We need to hijack our own processes and start to ensure that we are actually starting to tick things off the lists we are making, and by doing so we are taking action. By taking action we’re getting a little bit better. By taking action we’re moving towards becoming the actor who we want to be.
#2 Boil it Down
The next trap to fall into when trying to build any skill set is to set our expectations too high with what we wish to achieve. I’m trying to learn a language at the moment and I began by saying to myself, “Jack – do this for an hour every day and you’ll be fluent in no time!” Great, sounds correct, right? An hour a day will make me bilingual for sure. The first day or so was straight forward enough, but by day three I was already thinking, “Aw man, I have to do this for an hour…?!” Whoops. Habit gone. No more new language after that day. I had robbed myself of all sense of achievement with my pursuit because I set myself up for failure by setting too high standards. With anything we wish to achieve we need to take a single step each day. And this single step needs to be simple and achievable.
There are many versions of the seven action points I’m going to outline below. There’s no ‘right or wrong’ way of doing them – the actual doing of them is up to you and your process. What is important, however, is that you make each of the tasks you wish to do simple and achievable. And by achievable I don’t mean ‘achievable some day’, I mean achievable today.
#3 Quantity Over Quality
Another point from Atomic Habits, James Clear flips the commonly used phrase ‘quality over quantity’ on it’s head. I have always prioritised quality over quantity – whether it came to acting, writing, exercising, you name it. The unfortunate fact with that approach is that when we are beginners, prioritising quality actually becomes a hurdle to our development. It’s motion instead of action again. We’re beginners, after all. The task for us at this stage does not need to be quality. It just needs to be quantity. We need to get rungs on the board. We need to get stars on the uniform, reps under the belt, whatever analogy you wish to use. Practise practise practise, repeat repeat repeat. Practising acting, even if the ‘result’ of your acting is imperfect, is infinitely better than imagining yourself doing good acting but not actually doing any acting at all.
To Summarise, these are the three points I want you to apply to our seven actions today:
- Take action today, don’t just make a plan.
- Make the action simple and achievable today
- Repeat the action. Prioritise quantity over quality.
Seven Actions For New Actors
#1 Read Shakespeare
I’m a big ol’ Shakespeare nerd, hence why this is point number one. Shakespeare is the best way for actors, new and experienced, to practice deeply. Shakespeare is never surface level practise, it’s never something you can phone in, it’s always a challenge. This is why it’s the best thing for you to start practising today.
Acting Shakespeare, to use a physical analogy, is like a full body workout for the actor. It engages the mind, the voice, the body and the imagination all at once. Every aspect of the actor’s instrument needs to be involved in the task of performing Shakespeare, which is why it’s so damn useful for us to practise it.
Now, one thing I want to make clear is that I do appreciate the challenge Shakespeare’s work presents, in terms of accessibility to the text and our understanding of it. What’s essential for you to know is that it is ok to not immediately understand. Whenever I do Shakespeare, whenever anyone does Shakespeare, we go through an initial stage of prioritising understanding of the story, relationships and words on the page. I don’t think reading or understanding Shakespeare comes naturally to anyone, the experts have just done more practise. So, when you tackle Shakespeare, apply the same method as the pros:
- Understand the words and story. (Dictionary in hand, translate the words and make sure you understand what is happening and being said in a way that is meaningful to you)
- Gently begin bringing the text to life. (Speak the words out loud, move around a bit while you are speaking.)
- Begin to incorporate character. (Mine the text for relatability and character. Begin to physicalise through your character and emphasise the words in a way more in line with the circumstances of the scene)
This is a simple process, and one you should begin today. Acting Shakespeare is a challenge, yes, but that’s no reason not to do it. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why you should do it.
In line with our guiding principles, let’s make this an active and achievable task. Instead of committing to reading the entirety of Shakespeare’s canon by next Thursday afternoon, boil it down. All I want you to do is to read one single soliloquy. Not even a single play, not even a single scene: a single speech from one of Shakespeare’s characters. Oh gosh, but there are so many characters!! Ok, I’ll make the process of choosing really simple for you, too.
Read either this soliloquy from Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2, or this soliloquy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Helena Act 1 Scene 1.
Read the text once in your head, then once out loud, nice and slowly. There, you’ve just gotten a little bit better at acting today. Well done. If reading some Shakespeare has inspired you, pursue that energy and keep going a little further today. If not, that’s ok too! Let’s move on to tip #2.
#2 Get on Camera
Action is the word of the day, so let’s get in front of the camera!
There is nothing between you and practising acting today. You don’t need to wait until you’re in a drama school, you don’t need to wait until you’ve graduated, you don’t need to wait to be told what to do. If you’ve landed on this website and you have an interest in acting, you will possess an intuition about how to act: all you need to do now is to start practising.
Start today by recording yourself doing something on camera. That’s right, just do something. Anything. Tell the camera your name, your favourite type of music and what you had for breakfast. Watch the recording back and see what you notice. This might feel 1000 miles away from acting, but it’s actually an incredibly valuable first step. To be able to act well on camera, we need to be able to know how we behave and act in our everyday lives. Plenty of actors, from Stella Adler to Heath Ledger famously spent a lot of time recording themselves, sometimes acting, sometimes just being themselves. This awareness of who they were and how they came across on camera contributed to their ability to play a particular character or emotion on a film set while the real cameras were rolling.
So, boil it down. The ideal place we want to be is doing a monologue or a scene on camera once or twice a week. This boils down to you standing your phone on a chair and a pile of books, (or a tripod) hitting record and letting the camera see you for 60 seconds or so. Watch the recording, notice how you react to seeing yourself on camera and begin to get curious about what is possible for you while the camera is rolling. This is a simple as anything step which you can achieve today.
#3 Watch Everything
One of the most essential tasks for an actor in the early stages of their career is to begin consuming and absorbing great acting and storytelling. Again, this is a task which you can begin right away, as long as you don’t let the size of the task paralyse you. There is an endless list of films to watch and theatre to see. In fact, it’s impossible to see it all. Maybe if you locked yourself in a room for your entire lifetime you’d be able to watch the majority of good cinema and recorded theatre from around the world, but then you wouldn’t be doing what you love: acting. So, let’s simplify this task and start from the beginning.
You don’t have to watch everything, but just know that everything you do watch will contribute to your craft and ability. There are many directions to go in. Do you watch the great films from the 20th century? How about all the fantastic films from last year? What about all the incredible films made in languages other than your own? What about experimental films, early films or concept films? What about TV shows, web series, filmed theatre, opera, ballet? Woah woah woah. Yes, there’s a lot. So let’s boil it down. I think the simplest place to start to ensure that what you are watching will be worth watching is to look at the Oscars list of best picture winners. You can find it here: Oscars Best Picture List.
Pick a year to start, say, 1980, and watch a film a week until you get to this year. By the end of the year you will have watched a whole bunch of the best films ever made. This practise will expand your understanding of what ‘good acting’ is, and what is possible in the craft of storytelling.
From there, you might like to pick an actor or director whose work speaks to you, and explore laterally to see what else they have made or been a part of.
Actively watching films, rather than passively watching them, is a super easy and effective way to get better at acting. To actively watch something, all you need to do is switch on your awareness of the fact that the film is being manufactured by the filmmakers and actors to make you, the audience, experience something. How are they doing that? How is the actor behaving on the screen? Start asking questions, and over time you will start realising the answers.
#4 Begin Your Self-Education (Start Reading!)
Reading about acting, (or reading about anything, really) is one of the key components of development. There is a wealth of accessible and affordable knowledge right at the fingertips of the new actor, all you need to do is to grab it. So many of us will begin throwing our money in every direction instead of seeking knowledge for ourselves in our own ways. Don’t get me wrong – a good acting teacher is an essential part of the actor’s early development, we’ll definitely talk more about that later on. But for now, as we’ve noticed a few times already in this article, there is no need to wait! The process of learning and developing as an actor can start now, today.
There are heaps of people out there who have written about acting, and plenty of acting books. The amount of books out there can contribute, once again, to our inaction. Paralysis of choice, I believe it’s called. So let’s boil down the task of reading acting books into something devastatingly simple. The lack of effort this task will require from you is astounding – in fact, you won’t even have to leave this website!!!!!
StageMilk has a STACK of articles written about acting books, summarising them and giving you background on why you should read them. We conducted a poll with our readers about which were the top acting books, and the top three results were the following:
- Respect for Acting, Uta Hagen
- An Actor Prepares, Konstantin Stanislavki
- The Actor and the Target, Declan Donnelan
So, great. There you have your choices boiled down to three options. Now, let’s boil down the task of actually reading these books into something achievable today. StageMilk writers have written articles about these three books, which you can find here:
So, your action for today, when it comes to educating yourself, is to read ONE of those three articles. It might take you 10-20 minutes to do this. By doing so you are contributing to your craft, and you may just energise and excite yourself to read more and pick up a copy of the books which inspired the articles. Happy reading!
#5 Begin Training
All the steps you’ve taken up until now in this article are self driven, self motivated tasks. Awesome. Good on you for taking control of your career and development as an actor. Now, let’s outsource our development for a moment by talking about professional actor training.
There are plenty of avenues to begin your professional training as an actor. From drop in classes to full time training, it’s hard to know where to start or which direction is best. Again, rather than falling into choice-paralysis or endlessly motioning towards taking action, let’s make a start with something practical.
Relieve yourself of the obligation of choosing the ‘right’ course for the moment, there will be time for that later. Now, especially if you’re new to acting and only have a few classes under your belt, is the time to select and pursue. Whatever city you are in, there should be an acting academy or institution which will offer a drop in class or a one off class. This is the best place for you to begin your search.
Once you have identified a class that looks interesting, all you need to do today is to make some kind of future commitment to attending that class. That could mean registering your interest via email, putting the class in your calendar or signing up and paying for the class. By doing this you are committing your future self to the task. You are SO much more likely to actually attend an acting class once you’ve paid for it as opposed to the one you’re considering but aren’t sure about.
We can take control of our future actions by taking action today. Find an acting class and book it in! That’s a really significant step for today – in many ways actually attending the class is the easy bit. You’ve done the hard work, and now you get the reward.
This epic article is your go-to guide for finding the best short courses around the globe: Best Short Acting Courses Around the World.
Follow that link, find the city closest to you, choose one of the schools and GO! Your acting training is underway.
#6 Voice Work
‘Acting’, as in pretending to be a character on stage or screen, is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the skills and craft of an actor. There are so many underlying elements to what makes for a good performance: skilled physicality, vast imagination, curiosity, intelligence, courage, improvisation, collaboration, devising and research are a few of these elements. One of the most important, however, is your voice.
If you end up attending a full time drama-school course, you’ll end up spending a LOT of time working on and developing your voice. This doesn’t mean singing, necessarily, but rather strength and malleability of your voice to be able to portray different characters in different spaces for different mediums. The best actors I’ve ever seen can be heard and understood clearly in a full 800 seat theatre whilst only whispering. A good actor’s accents are flawless. A good actor can shout without damaging their vocal cords.
Now that you are aware of the importance of voice work and the inevitability of it being a focus area of your training in the future, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start developing your voice today.
Voice work can take many forms: you might like to practise singing your favourite song or try one of our voice warm ups, or maybe you’d just like to start trying to mimic your favourite accent. Whatever you decide to do today I’m going to leave up to you. Remember: do the action today, make it achievable (even 5 minutes of humming, singing or doing tongue-twisters is good) and then repeat this practise as often as you can. Decide to arrive at your formal training feeling confident about your vocal ability, rather than just starting to learn in an institution. In fact, the same rule goes for all of these action points. By taking your development as an actor into your own hands, you are ensuring you will gain more out of your formal training than you would if you were starting from absolute scratch. Good on you, I wish I had done the same!
This one follows hard on from voice work. Acting is a physical craft. It might not be as athletic or rigorous as playing a sport, but I can guarantee you that the majority of successful actors have command over their body and its abilities, rather than being limited by them.
Any physical practise, whether it’s yoga, running, weight lifting, sport, boxing, dancing, martial arts, horse riding, meditation, you name it, is going to be beneficial for you as an actor. It gets you fit, which helps you feel better both mentally and physically, it increases your capacity and physical confidence, and it’s a healthy long term investment.
So, rather than deciding to be a marathon runner in 3 weeks, take action and go for a 5 minute jog this afternoon. Or stretch for 10 minutes once you’ve finished reading this article. Or sign up to your local mixed netball social club, whatever.
Acting, no matter the role or the medium, requires actors to be in peak physical condition. Being on stage requires the ability to maintain focus and energy for 2-3 hours every night. Acting on screen requires endurance over 10-12 hour working days for weeks on end. If you’re not physically up to the task, your acting will suffer and you will rue the day you didn’t take Jack from StageMilk’s advice and go for that jog!
Conclusion: “Rolling, Camera Set, And…”
Action! You’re off! Maybe you’ve been ticking these actions off the list as you’ve been reading, or maybe you’re about to tackle all of the above in an hour of power. Either way, you’re taking action towards becoming the actor you want to be. So many actors are out there, making plans, imagining all the things they want to do, making motions towards becoming the actor they want to be, but you – you’re actually doing it. Good on you. Keep it up.
Three principles will help you keep your progress consistent and effective: make it achievable, make it consistent, and put it into action.
These are 7 simple tasks or focus areas which you can take action on today. There are so many other things you can do to become a better actor, but even the most powerful action is meaningless if left on the bottom of a to-do list.
The task is not winning an Academy Award next week. The task is getting a little bit better at acting today.
Welcome to the craft of acting! You’ve chosen a wonderful, exciting, challenging, fulfilling and inspiring passion to pursue. There are many actors who have come before you for you to learn from, but it’s up to you to decide how you wish to traverse this environment, and it’s up to you to decide the type of actor you wish to become and the steps you wish to take to get there.
The time is now, go out there and get ’em!
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