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So You Want to Be an Actor? Huh. That’s…a bold choice.

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.

Look how cute he was. Look! SO CUTE!

Look how cute he was. Look! SO CUTE!

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.

JUST like this. Only less shiny and much less cool.

JUST like this. Only less shiny and much less cool.

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.

Shh, actors, don't bother the stage manager.

Shh, actors, don’t bother the stage manager.

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.

This is a perfect example of the WRONG type of upstaging. Bad job, Kanye. WAY bad.

This is a perfect example of the WRONG type of upstaging. Bad job, Kanye. WAY bad.

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.

This...isn't too far off, actually.

This…isn’t too far off, actually.

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.

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

14 responses to “So You Want to Be an Actor? Huh. That’s…a bold choice.

  • sj

    I don’t think of Wil Wheaton when someone says don’t be a dick, I think of Pickles from Metalocalypse.

    Also, I kind of don’t get the whole Wil Wheaton adoration? I’m not talking about you, but EVERYONE.

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    • Charleen

      Personally, I think Wil Wheaton gets so much love because he just seems like a regular guy who happens to have this really cool life. I like that he has enough of a sense of humor to play a total jerkass version of himself on BBT (or at least he did at first). Plus, anyone whose motto for life is “don’t be a dick” has the important stuff figured out, I think.

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    • lucysfootball

      I agree with Charlene – I think Wil Wheaton just seems like a really nice, really geeky guy. I like how he geeks out about things he gets to do, and I like how he interacts with and is kind to his fans. I also like his writing – intelligent and well-thought-out. And I like that he suffers from self-doubt, just like the rest of us. I think mostly he seems like a regular guy, but he gets to do really cool things. And he could be a total dick – a lot of child stars went that route – but he’s just nice. And kind. And intelligent. And funny. I think he would be fun to hang out with.

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      • sj

        I’m not saying he’s not a nice guy, but dude’s a terrible actor. I don’t understand why he was famous in the first place, you know?

        Maybe I’m just grumbly because I don’t even have to follow him anywhere since I see everything he tweets in my timeline anyway thanks to the fact that nearly everyone I interact with follows him. It’s annoying, and is probably compounded by the fact that I just don’t care.

        It’s like he’s this geek god and I just never understood why. [shrug]

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        • lucysfootball

          I don’t think he’s terrible. I haven’t seen him in much recently – I think the last thing I saw him on was a guest-spot on “Criminal Minds” a few years ago – but I’ve always enjoyed him in what I’ve seen him in. But that’s ok, we all have different taste in people.

          I think it’s the nice guy thing, mostly. He seems happy to be where he is, and thankful, and grateful. I think that’s why so many people like him so much. I’m coming into this a lot later in the game than others are, though, so it might be something else I’m not aware of.

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  • 35JupiterDrive

    Although I’m not in the theater (I was a teenager, but not a grownup) I’d add there are no small roles. (Which he may have on his list, but I didn’t go read it yet. It’s open in another tab.) When I was part of the slam poetry group we used the local theater company’s theater and then the theater MOVED. And that meant painting the stage and putting seats together. I was the Official Chewing Gum Remover and I have to say, people need to stop putting their gum under their seats, were they raised in a barn? Excuse me. Okay. I have to say, ewwww. But it was also awesome.

    Okay, I just went off and read the rules. So great.

    And now I want to be involved in a theater. Some day, I will live somewhere. And that will be a cool day.

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    • lucysfootball

      SO much gum under the seats. I see it all the time. It amazes me that’s still happening.

      You will live somewhere! Soon! And hopefully somewhere with a theater and they will be so happy to have you!

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  • elaine4queen

    I was asked by a teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up (well, in the next couple of years, since I was about to leave school) and I said ‘actor’ because I knew that was a real job because I had two uncles who were actors. He was very against the idea, so I said ‘Oh well, I’ll be an artist, then’.

    There was also a time when they brought careers advisors in and I said I wanted to be a vet because that was the only animal based job I knew was real, despite the fact that I actually went to the zoo every week at that point (I was friends with a moose). They said I didn’t have enough qualifications but could be a vet’s secretary. That was when I lost interest. It might have been an idea for them to mention that there were, in fact, other jobs involving animals. Why it never ocurred to me that the zoo employees were doing a real job I have no idea.

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    • lucysfootball

      I went through a lot of things. I was going to be a vet, and a pediatrician, and actually started college pre-med, because I wanted a job where I could make the most money. Then I realized I hated both math AND science and gave up on that dream completely. Good thing, too. I’d have been a terrible doctor. Might have been a decent vet, though. I wouldn’t mind fixing animals for a living.

      Guidance counselors are the worst, aren’t they? They never gave me alternatives to being a doctor. That was immediately what they told all the intelligent women in my high school. All the intelligent men? Engineering. They had no creativity with their options at all.

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      • elaine4queen

        As a kid who spent the entire duration of school staring out of the window (We had a programme on tv called Survivors which was a post apocalypse scenario, I know I spent a lot of time thinking about that) I accept that my marks didn’t reflect my intelligence. Nevertheless, looking back I can’t help but think they were spectacularly unimaginative about their careers advice. Particularly when you consider it would have only taken a couple of questions to find out that I wouldn’t have liked cutting animals, and I equally would not have liked running an office. As it happens, I would have also been quite crap at being an actor – not least because memorising lines would have been nigh on impossible for me.

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        • lucysfootball

          You have a lot of intelligence. You have ARTISTIC intelligence. You see the world in a way no one else I know does. Someday I want to sit down with you and do all the talking. I feel like I’d go away worlds richer.

          Too bad, careers people. They didn’t see the diamond they had in front of them, is all.

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          • elaine4queen

            Sometimes I wonder what I would or could have done with my life if, at different junctures, I had had different or better opportunities.

            One of my favourite fantasies involves a choice made by my mother rather than by me. When she decided to leave my dad she took us up to Edinburgh to stay with my auntie – this took my life in one kind of direction. What IF instead of going to Scotland, we’d set up home with my uncles in London? Obvs I could easily have ended up a junkie or something like that, but I got the theatre work I did at Les Mis because my uncle was working backstage there himself. Although I did, in fact, work at the Playhouse in Edinburgh as a teenager dressing for San Francisco Ballet and being an ASM for Scottish Ballet, I think I would have done more, and more interesting theatre work if I’d stayed in London. With my uncles’ connections and knowledge I would probably have ended up backstage in telly or theatre, but more of it, which I think I would have liked.

            As for *if* I had done better at school – I am quite glad I didn’t go to Edinburgh Art School (I didn’t get in) because my Newcastle/Liverpool experience wouldn’t be something I’d be all that willing to trade.

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            • lucysfootball

              I think about such things, too! It’s always amazing to me to think of how little choices could have changed the whole course of my life. Deciding where to go to college, an apartment to live in, whether or not to go to an event or join a group…I’m not saying I’m not happy with how things turned out (I’m overall quite pleased with what I have) but it’s just a favorite thing of mine to think about the what-ifs. It’s the sci-fi lover in me, I think.

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