When I was sixteen, I was pretty sure I was going to be a world-famous poet and also a Broadway actress. Because I was sixteen. A lot of things seem possible when you are sixteen. I also thought I would marry Sean Astin (I had a crush on him in The Goonies, ok? Sheesh, stop being so judgey) and have a bunch of kids and probably also live in a mansion. And I really, really wanted a convertible.
As you can see, all of that has come to fruition. Every. Last. Bit. I am a poet who has been read…um…in the world. I have SEEN a show on Broadway, and at one of the shows I acted like I was more pleased with our seats than I actually was. (In my defense, they were REALLY far away. The people onstage looked like ants. Little singing, dancing ants. But I acted like I was pleased, because I didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings I was with. See? ACTING! On BROADWAY!) I’ve…um…followed Sean Astin on Twitter? And who’s to say we might not still get married someday? (OK, that one I don’t really want, because he seems like a very nice man, but our fire is out. He totally never got tall enough for me. I like tall guys. Sorry, Sean Astin. I’m sorry our love has died. These things happen.) I have two cats who have multiple personalities depending on the day so that’s LIKE having a bunch of kids, kind of, in a very sad, shut-in kind of way. I live in…a place that is near a road that is near another road that is kind of near a mansion. And if I roll down my windows and drive really fast, it’s JUST LIKE A CONVERTIBLE. See? I’m really kind of winning life.
I did very well, acting-wise, in high school. I was not self-aware enough to realize that was because I lived in a very, very small town, and there were very few actors there. When I went to college, in a much bigger town, with people who actually COULD act, and went to high schools with actual acting CLASSES, I realized, huh. I am…not actually very good at this, comparatively. I still act, once in a blue moon. And work backstage, which I learned I was much better at and was also much less stressful. Well, mostly less stressful. Sometimes things catch on fire. No, I’m not kidding. And sometimes the power goes out in the middle of a show. And sometimes actors have a mini-meltdown and you have to talk them down. Or sometimes all of those things happen at ONCE. But not often. Usually you get to read and relax a little, as long as the show’s going well.
I do run into quite a few people – young people, usually – who are very starry-eyed and are planning on moving to New York City to conquer Broadway, or to L.A. to conquer the silver screen. And I don’t want to break their little hearts. I really don’t. But sometimes they leave, then they come back with sad eyes and that is just the worst. Because SO MANY people move to those places to make it big. And there are only so many roles, you know?
So last week, one of my friends posted this, which is a list of very good tips for actors or people who want to be actors or people who THINK they want to be actors. (And also fancy because he spells theater “theatre” like a FANCY FANCY PERSON.) If you have any interest in acting, it is totally worth a read. This guy is intelligent. Without being heartbreaky to all these little actory people. Let’s take a look at some of these tips, shall we? Sure we shall.
“Stealing the show” is not a compliment. The ensemble is more important than your “moments”.
True. Hard to understand when you’re young, though. Because you are VERY “look at ME! Look at ME!” when you’re young. Here’s a tip, though: if you’re a good actor, you can steal the show without stealing the show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a show that hasn’t been very good, but there was one actor in it that was – so I concentrated on that actor. That actor wasn’t attempting to upstage everyone, or doing things that were distracting from the action, but just by being a very good actor, he or she did steal the show. This sometimes even happens in very good shows. In comparison, if someone is ATTEMPTING to steal the show, it just gets annoying, and I stop paying attention to those people. So pay attention to your own paper and stop trying to upstage your fellow actors and you just might steal the show anyway.
You’d be surprised how few people are willing to pay for theatre tickets when they aren’t your friends and family and have no personal connection to you whatsoever.
Sadly, as someone who works in theater, I can tell you that this is the case. Yes, a lot of our audience members are friends and family members of the cast or crew. But the hard part is getting just your everyday human to come to the theater. Because people do not like to attend theater. People go to movies; people go to concerts and sports and such. But theater? LIVE HUMANS PUTTING ON A SHOW? That is CRAZYTALK! I’ve also told everyone I know about shows I’m working on and guess how many come? Probably 4. People just don’t go to theater. If you can think of a way we can change that, you let me know. And NO, nudity is not an answer. We tried that. Still got the same number of audience members. Although one of them did, strangely, bring a magnifying glass and used it in the nude scene. I don’t know, either.
The stage manager always works much harder than you. And technically, you work for him/her, not the other way around.
TRUE AND YES. As someone who has probably stage managed more than anything else she’s done in theater, this is very seriously true. The stage manager works their butt off, and the actors DO work for us. A good stage manager doesn’t make it SEEM like they work for us, but we do tell the actors where to go and when to be there, when and where to put their props, how best to change their clothing…the list goes on and on. And if the actors misbehave, we’re in charge of yelling at them for it. Also, be nice to your stage manager. It can only help you in the long run. Promise.
Directors, casting agents, and producers care as much about how easy you will be to work with as they do about how good you are for the role. If not more so.
I am often in on the casting decisions at my theater. I can tell you that yes, of course we talk about who gave the strongest audition. But we also knock people completely out of the running if a., we’ve worked with them before and they were an utter nightmare, refused to take direction, were rude to the other actors, were a creepy stalker, or one of a million other reasons we might not want to work with them again, or b., we’ve heard they were hard to work with from someone at another theater. Listen, I’m going to give you probably the single most important piece of advice you’ll ever get in theater. Ready? Theater people talk. It’s what we’re known for. We talk, we gossip, we snark. And your reputation is something we talk about. If you’re wonderful to work with – we talk about that. If you’re a terror to work with – we talk about that, too. And you’re going to start getting offered fewer and fewer roles, because your reputation follows you wherever you go. Sometimes for years. You need to safeguard it with your life. Be nice, be polite, take direction, follow rules, make people want to work with you again. It is something you are never going to regret, if you want to act.
There are plenty more on his list, which I highly recommend, if you are at all interested in acting (either professionally or not) you read.
It kind of all boils down to this, which I am stealing, without any embarrassment, from Wil Wheaton: don’t be a dick. If you are a joy to work with, people will want to work with you. So many actors don’t understand this. They show up, they kill it at the audition, they aren’t cast, and they rant to everyone who will listen, “I don’t UNDERSTAND. I was SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYONE WHO WAS THERE. What is WRONG with those people? They just don’t know talent when they see it. That show will fail. I’ll never see a show there again. I’ll tell my FRIENDS to stop seeing shows there. I’m going to email the Artistic Director and demand they tell me why I wasn’t cast. I’m going to email the director. I’m going to post things on their Facebook wall.”
Would you want to work with this person? Because I sure as hell wouldn’t want to. And if another theater asked me about them? I’d tell them the truth. They’re hard to work with. We talk, you see. We want what’s best for our theaters and what’s best for the other theaters in the area. It’s not out of vindictiveness. It’s out of protectiveness. We’ve worked with this person before; this person made our lives a living hell for months. Therefore, we don’t want someone else to be subjected to that.
There. Now you have all the tools you need to be an actor or actress, right? Right. And I’d never DISCOURAGE anyone from moving to the big, bad city to give it a try. I mean, people make it every day. Just…go into it with eyes open. And maybe have a backup plan. A backup plan that does not involve prostituting yourself so you have rent and food money. OK? Cool, cool.
And, sincerely. Don’t be a dick. That’s not only good advice for theater, that’s good advice for life, as well.