Boy, this sucks.
Nothing like spending years and plenty of money training to do a job (or pursue a dream) only to have that job (dream) disappear on you in a matter of days.
I try not to make blanket statements but I feel ok making this one: every actor is wondering just what the hell we are supposed to do now. With everything shut down, it feels like there’s nothing to work toward. In the short term, we have no immediate outlet for our efforts.
But acting has always been a long game. We only get where we want to go by stringing together small victories along the way. I’m talking about the grind. The familiar work of rehearsing, submitting, auditioning, studying, relationship-building, and all the other things we do? That grind has to be remade, with an eye on how to put yourself in the best position to absolutely slay the business when it comes back.
So here are my ten commandments of being a quarantined actor.
1. Thou Shalt Not Panic
Look, this is temporary. No one can tell us when life will get back to a new normal, but we know it will. Instead of dwelling on all you’ve lost, pick one thing from this list you can stick with and do as if your career depends on it. I tweeted a video made by Commander Chris Hadfield, astronaut and really smart person, about this very subject. This list represents the last step in his plan: take action. Your first task is to watch this video.
2. Thou Shalt Isolate Physically, But Not Digitally
Even though we are now required to avoid others, we still need feedback from people to thrive. There’s no shortage of ways to do this remotely, but the quality of the connection is important. We all know actors who have a negative outlook even on a good day. You don’t need that. Instead of seeking validation about how horrible things are, look for a partner who can hold you accountable. I would love nothing more than to hear about actors pairing off and comparing notes on which item from this list they’ve chosen to make a priority.
3. Thou Shalt Develop A Self-Tape Setup
No one knows exactly how casting will work when the business comes back, but I am 100% sure self-taping is going to play a HUGE role. That means you need a way to produce a good looking, good sounding audition that meets industry standards EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It should be reliable and repeatable, and you should be able to submit on short notice. There are a myriad of ways to screw this up. I’m working on a proper self-tape guide, but in the meantime read this. I can’t overstate the importance of learning how to self-tape. Every actor needs to make self-taping as automatic as the rest of their audition prep.
4. Thou Shalt Explore New Areas of the Business
Did you know that voice actors are not as impacted by the current downturn as everyone else? Do you know why? Because voice talent mostly work from home, and have for about a decade. If you’ve thought about getting into VO, or improv, or ear prompter, or any of the ways actors make money actually acting, now is the time to do a deep dive. There’s no shortage of free or low-cost information out there about every area of the business. Take this time to learn as much as you can. This can literally change the trajectory of your career, as it did mine. I started off as a voice over guy but moved into on-camera acting after an agent suggested I try it.
5. Thou Shalt Read
A lot. Here are some suggestions to keep you occupied for a while. Acting In Chicago by me, Self Management for Actors, by Bonnie Gillespie, Audition by Michael Shurtleff, The Actor’s Life, by Jenna Fischer, The Voice Over Startup Guide, by me, Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck, Confessions of a Casting Director, by Jen Rudin, An Agent Tells All, by Tony Martinez, How to Audition On Camera, by Sharon Bialy.
6. Thou Shalt Network Without Making Anyone Cringe
In normal times, we talk a lot about ways to remain top-of-mind with people who are your partners in your careers: agents, CD’s, directors and clients. But current times require a different approach. You want to stay in touch, but you must do it in a respectful way. Ask if they’re staying healthy, offer up a useful tip, tag them in a funny post. Stick with the method you’ve always used to connect with them, but do it minimally and make them the focus, not you. Actors with a work history can reach out to agents, managers, directors, and clients. Students can reach out to teachers. If you can’t think of anyone else, say hello to me. I’m around. Related note: This is not the time to find a new agent. They don’t have work for the people they already rep, so they’re not likely to be interested in adding new actors.
7. Thou Shalt Perfect Your Memorization Skills
I’ll be the first to admit I am not a great memorizer. But I also know that I could be if I just worked at it. If you’re like me and hate trying to memorize under pressure, this is perhaps the only pressure-free time period we’re ever going to have. There are plenty of techniques out there. I find this one and this one interesting. I tried this one and it didn’t really work for me. But it might for you! Set goals and do the work to meet them.
8. Thou Shalt Educate Yourself For Free
This goes along with Commandment 4. Literally every acting school, from independent locals to major educational institutions are putting out free content for actors. They have to! It’s marketing for them but could be very impactful for you. Don’t limit your search to schools close to you, think about ones in New York, LA, Atlanta, Toronto, and other acting markets. If you’ve always wanted to take a class but never had the time or funds to do so, now’s your chance. You have no excuse not to take advantage of this.
9. Thou Shalt Make A Show Bible
I’m stealing this from Bonnie Gillespie’s book, mentioned above. Her advice is aimed at TV actors, but it can easily be applied to any part of the business: broadway, regional theatre, improv, whatever. Here’s the idea: Make a list of shows that have a high concentration of roles you can easily book. List the title, casting director and writers/producers, but don’t stop there. The magic in this stems from the links you uncover. Pick one of your shows and look at its most recent episode. Pick a role that’s in your wheelhouse. Find the name of the actor who plays the role and look them up to find their agent. That agent obviously has enough pull with the show’s CD to get their people seen, so that’s an agent who might make sense for you. When the business comes back, you’ll know just who to reach out to.
10. Thou Shalt Find – and Perfect – New Audition Material
Eventually, there is going to be a flood of new auditions, and you want to be ready for them. Whether that means choosing a new monologue, audition song, or scene, you absolutely can work on those now with the coaches you already know and trust. Yeah this might cost you something, but if you’re really strapped, it doesn’t have to. Zoom with a friend or colleague. Get input from an assistant director who has a good eye or ear. There are no shortage of people willing to share their opinion and expertise during these times. Reach out, perform, listen, practice, repeat. Just like in real life.