The Actor And Darwin’s Finches

If you remember your high school biology class, you remember Charles Darwin’s finches. On a visit to the Galapagos Islands, he noticed all the finches were similar, but the size and shapes of their beaks varied greatly.

Some beaks allowed the birds to eat seeds or leaves, others were more suited to a diet of insects or flowers. Thing is, each of these birds were descendants of one original species which migrated to the islands millions of years ago. That species adapted and found more ways to survive by developing different types of beaks.

Today, some of those newer finch species have either lived or died depending on which beak shape was best to consume the most available food, just as Darwin predicted.

I think actors have to be like those finches.

Actors can have tunnel vision. That’s part of why many struggle to earn a consistent living wage. They want to do lots of theater, or land a sweet TV gig, or only want to work in film.

It’s good to have goals, but you need to buy time to make your goals a reality. You’ve got to be willing to try some other things on the way to achieving them. Most of us are going to accomplish our goals inch by inch, day by day.

You do that through being adaptable.

The importance of taking small daily steps to nurture your skillset can’t be overstated. Those finches didn’t change overnight. It took literally millions of years and untold generations before nature got it right. And nature is still learning.

Are you still learning? Whatever stage your acting career is in, there is always an opportunity to try something new. Take an improv class, a VO workshop or a screenwriting seminar. Look into working trade shows. Grab your phone and make a short with a friend. Just get out and make something.

I hear some of you. “But Chris, I don’t want to do any of those things, I just want to act. I don’t really see myself as a voice over person, I really don’t want to do corporate videos.”

Yeah. Doing stuff that might not appeal to you sucks.

But you know what sucks more? Starving. Not being able to pay rent. Getting collection calls because you’re behind on your student loans. Wouldn’t you rather try something new in the world of acting than go through those other things?

People can be stubborn. For some, stubbornness is a badge of honor, something to brag about. “I’m stubborn. Once I decide something, you can’t change my mind.”

Well, ok. But stubbornness can kill hopes and dreams. It makes you think that you’re walking in the right direction, when all you’re really doing is walking in circles.

Those finches who didn’t adapt to their surroundings? They’re gone. I don’t want that for you, I want you to be in this business as long as you want to be.

So stop thinking about taking that class, or writing that script, or asking your agent about VO and start doing those things. They can only help you.