What Does it Mean to Be an Actor?
Actors have a special function in society. As an actor, you are part of a grand storytelling tradition that dates back to early humankind. Storytellers entertain, educate, and inspire our world to become a better place. The stories we tell teach empathy, expand horizons, and help us understand different points of view. We mirror life so that the world can see itself and gain new perspectives. In making audiences laugh, cry, and feel deeply, we heal with laughter, love, and the recognition that others also suffer and rejoice.
The structure of a good acting career is comparable to the structure of a good play, television episode or movie.
Act One – Understanding the Discipline
The Importance of Acting Training
Acting is an artform. Like all artforms, it is refined by a high level of technique and discernment. It is not something you can learn in a week, or even a year for that matter. It takes time.
Training and education are key. The building blocks start with the premise that we are physically and vocally trained and ready to perform at any given moment. You must know your skillset so intimately that you are prepared for the challenges that working in the industry bring.
Stanislavski and Method Acting
One of the most important early steps you should take is comprehending the “Method.” Often misunderstood, often confused, the Stanislavski System stands at the centre of American approaches to the craft of acting. For ease of explanation, the Method is the Americanised branding of the “Stanislavski System.” Konstantin Stanislavski envisioned a new kind of acting performance—a subtle and intricate display of true human behaviour that would infuse the character and make the audience see them as an authentic being. It is personal work that is deeply connected from the individual actor to the truth of the characters’ experience within the script.
The success of the Method changed the style of acting. For the first time, audiences saw actors truly crying, truly laughing, and truly working from their wonderful, vulnerable souls. The success also meant there would be many different adaptations of the essential teachings. Never forget that most modern acting techniques are branches of the Stanislavski tree.
If you’re going to be the best artist you can be, you need to know the history and evolution of your field. Eventually, with training and practice, you can master the method to the point that you create your own branch of the tree.
Act Two – Growing into the Craft
Know The Actor’s Job
Being an actor means knowing the job.
It is not your job to:
Receive good feedback.
Start deep friendships.
Prove you’ve done your homework.
Show your homework.
Convince people how uniquely talented you are.
What is your job? Be the character. That’s it.
Go into the audition room. Be a pro. Be considerate. Connect with the reader or your fellow actor and be the character, living truthfully in the moment, off-book, not acting, not lying, or performing. Don’t get caught acting. Show them who you will be on set. That’s your job.
If you do that, you will be good, you will be funny, you will be sexy and charming. You’ll receive validation and positive feedback and approval. You might even get a callback or, even better, book the job. The industry looks to hire actors who understand how the system works, who don’t need to be taken care of or babied, and who know that their job isn’t to be a “good actor” but simply to be the character.
The ‘Champion’ Mindset of the Actor
This industry can be particularly challenging, which makes it easy to adopt a “victim” mindset. I see this every day as I coach actors at the Archibald Studio in Los Angeles. I battle this tendency toward self-pity with a simple but powerful dictum: make everything make you better. If you can use every difficulty as an opportunity for self-betterment, you change your mindset from victim to champion.
There is nothing more boring in show business than dealing with a victim. Victims are desperate for approval and comfort. There’s nothing attractive about being a victim, nothing interesting or funny or inspiring. Never go on set or into an audition being a victim.
A quality artist is a champion. Work diligently, maintain the integrity of your art, and maintain your quality. I promise you will rise.
Act Three – Finding Success
An Actor’s Formula for Success
Here’s my formula for success as an actor:
Discipline + Time = Integrity
Integrity + Perseverance = Quality
Quality + Opportunity = Success
Give yourself time. It takes time to build an empire. Don’t rush into this like a fool. You are an entrepreneur in a large business. This business has many layers that take time to learn. This business hires quality artists. Don’t think that it can be done overnight. Every “overnight success” has actually been in the works for years.
A young actor who doesn’t understand this process is naive. I want you to be smart and savvy. Be disciplined in your practice. Be disciplined at the gym. Be disciplined at class. Do your homework.
Treat Acting Like a Business
Being an actor means being an entrepreneur of integrity. You need to be the best businessperson you can be. You own a business, which provides a service called acting, in a marketplace called the Entertainment Industry. Because many other entrepreneurs provide the same service, you must make certain that yours is the best it can be.
Understand the casting process, contracts, business relationships with agents and managers, unions, crisis management, and how to have good meetings. Recognise that you are the boss of the company. Run it with integrity and treat others how you want to be treated!
Don’t judge others. Don’t waste time in jealousy. Don’t be a baby. Don’t let your ego overrun your common sense. And perhaps, most importantly, do not be seduced by the trappings of fame or the desire for celebrity. It isn’t what you imagine it to be. It is a very big deal to give up your privacy. Don’t take that lightly. The only good I’ve ever really seen coming from fame is the ability to help others and do philanthropic work.
Grow your business acumen. Seek inspiration from the other art forms. Do the deep work of defining what success means to you.
Show business is the Wild West. Nobody actually knows how it all works or what’s going to be a hit or who’s going to make it big as an actor. What we do know is that a life lived as an artist dedicated to the quality and integrity of the art form is a life that will reward you. You will achieve far more than you thought you could, perhaps in ways you never thought you would.
Being an actor means respecting yourself and being kind to others. Work hard but give yourself the grace to let your journey be whatever it is. There’s tremendous value in a life lived in the pursuit of artistic excellence. The storytelling journey is the goal!
By guest writer Craig Archibald.
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