Your Acting Career: Tips for Staying (Mostly) Sane When You’re in This for the Long Haul – Part II

(continued – Part 1)

Staying Sane

Find things from which to draw your self-worth

4. Have a “life” outside this life

Yes, I understand how blasphemous this sounds – especially to younger actors. (I spent junior high proudly walking around in a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Acting is Life, the Rest is Just Details.”  So I get it!) But when all you do is focus on nothing but career, day in and day out, it’s pretty easy to lose your sense of perspective…and that can easily lead you down the unpleasant path of increased stress, decreased productivity, and eventual burnout. So, instead, get out sometimes! Take your next free day and go do something completely unrelated to acting/theatre/film/work in any way. Take a mini road trip, enroll in a pottery making class, visit the zoo, go on a hike, serve at a soup kitchen… And speaking of the last thing in particular: volunteering is a phenomenal thing for actors. Of course, it’s a great thing for anyone to do, and I really think that everyone should, but the reason I mention it here is that I think the act of taking time to volunteer, as an actor, serves several purposes: You get reminders of perspective. (Sure, auditions and performances are stressful…but if you’re going home every night to a safe dwelling with a bed and some sort of food, you’ve got more than a lot of others have and that’s worth remembering.) You get to meet people you might otherwise not. (Making new friends outside of the entertainment industry is good; it’s another reminder that the world is big and diverse.)  You also get the chance to observe, hear stories from, and share experiences of people from all walks of life…which is a tremendous resource for populating your memory banks with endless character traits and ideas from which you may later draw, in your acting.  Lastly, volunteering makes you feel good about yourself! Which leads us to:

 

5. Find things (apart from this career) from which to draw your self-worth

When pursuing acting as a career, dry spells in work aren’t just possible or probable; they’re inevitable and every actor has experienced them. Audition after audition goes by without a win (or maybe you can’t find enough good auditions at all).  Your phone fails to ring.  Your bank account may be looking a little lean. It’s enough to make a person wonder if they’ll ever work again. This type of self doubt is inherent in the industry we’re in and if you’re basing your self-esteem or self-worth entirely on how well your career is going, you’re in for a very bumpy ride. The fact is, with an enormous portion of these things existing outside of your control, not getting cast in a particular role may not have anything to do with your talent. Not getting cast in the last 20 auditions you went out for (and never heard back on) may still not have anything to do with your talent. In most cases, you’ll never know how or why certain casting decisions were made. So, as difficult as this may be to actually implement, it is vitally important that you learn to separate yourself from the parts of your career that are out of your hands. While you’re at it, figure out how to love and respect yourself for the things that do matter: your kind spirit, giving nature, innate curiosity, wit and intelligence, love of helping others, and on and on…you get the idea!

 

6. Throw out normal ideas of logic/sequence

Lastly, if you’re going to devote your life to pursuing a career in an industry as unforgivingly mercurial and fickle as this one, you absolutely must find a way to relinquish all your ideas of what is “fair”, “logical”, etc. This is a tough pill to swallow, but the fact is that Hollywood is not a meritocracy. The role does not automatically go to the actor with the most talent, or the actor with the best training, or the one who’s put in the most preparation and hard work. The actor who gave the best audition reading may (unknowingly) be out of the running immediately, simply because the casting director looks at him and is reminded of her ex-husband. The actor with impeccable training may be too short, too blonde, too fair/dark/freckled/not freckled enough. The actor with amazing credits and contacts may, through no fault of his own, just look “wrong” when placed alongside the lead actress. Then the role winds up being offered to an actor who was never at the auditions in the first place. Will any of this seem fair? Hell no! But it is exactly what you’re up against when you decide to make acting your profession.

In addition to the apparent-senselessness of casting decisions, many actors are dismayed to find out how little logic seems to exist in the trajectory of their career path. For most other careers, there is some sort of coherent, predictable progression in your professional journey: you start out as A, work really hard to get to B, do a good enough job and you’ll achieve a corner office at C, etc.  In acting? Ha! Yes, you know that working on bit parts in indie films will almost certainly come before any chance of seeing your name appear on the billboard for a multimillion dollar studio feature but all the stuff in between those two extremes is quite a bit more blurry. One lead role does not automatically guarantee possession of the next lead role…or any role at all, for that matter. You might work steadily for a full year, assume that you’ve got it made and now know how your career will be going, and then find yourself out of work for the next 3 years. The only thing you can ever know in this profession for sure, is that nothing is for sure.

But hey! If you’ve been touched by that singular force that commands actors to want – no, need – to act, then all of this is simply the price we solemnly pay for the love of the art…for the privilege of joining all actors before us, the world over, in pursuit of our noble craft. And really: what good is a perfectly sane actor anyway?

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. www.elizabethsekora.com.