“Hey! You kids get off my lawn!” –some old guy
“Prithee, take thee hence, thou scoundrel, and quit mine pasture!” –some even older guy
The world is a rapidly changing place. It’s hard to even fathom just how radically different things are today from the world of people who grew up even a couple decades ago. And that difference often results in older people grousing about…well, everything.
But the truth is, this is not unique to the modern era. Many people thought electricity was the devil’s tool. Cars were surely just a passing fad. And no doubt some elder caveman poo-pooed the inventor of the wheel as a brash young lunatic who would amount to nothing.
Because let’s face it: when people whine about changing times, first and foremost what they’re actually complaining about is young people. Today the refrain is: they’re all addicted to their phones, they’ve forgotten how to read, their music is terrible, they’re all idiots, etc. etc.
The acting community is not immune to this syndrome. Hang around with a group of older actors long enough and they will eventually come around to “get off my lawn” territory. And while actors are generally more open than most to celebrating the joy, energy and vivaciousness of youth–given the child-like nature of our jobs–the thing is, kids, you really do still have a lot to learn. Here are few tips to help you get started in acting and hopefully avoid some pitfalls that are common to You Kids These Days.
1. Get Back In Line
First of all, congratulations on graduating from your theater program or otherwise getting your start in acting! No doubt you applied yourself and learned a great deal from your classes, from performing in the plays that your school or community theater group put on, and from the student films you were in. Senior year was probably great for getting cast in leading roles and really pushing the limits of your skills. Now however, you’re entering the real world, so you’re going to have to head to the back of the line. Again. Yeah, that sucks, but it’s simple reality. The best way you can look at it is to think of what you’ve accomplished in your university is having laid the groundwork to BEGIN learning. You’re the new guy again, the low man on the totem pole, so try to be a little humble in spite of your awesomeness. You’re still awesome, don’t worry! And you will get cast in lots of things and do wonderful work. But there’s nothing more off-putting than someone who thinks they know it all, and that goes double for a kid who thinks they know it all. So to that end…
2. Take The Bloody Note
While every word spoken by every director and every acting teacher is of course not pure gold, as a young actor you ignore advice and notes at your peril. First of all, it’s bad form. Directors like to work WITH actors, not find themselves forced to struggle AGAINST actors. If you ignore a director’s notes you may well find that the one time they take a chance on you as a budding talent is the last time. What’s more, the truth is that we all have something to learn from everyone around us–especially from people who have more experience in our field. Even if you disagree with the note, try not to get defensive or argue; rather, try to process it and work through it in your mind and on your feet, at that moment and later when you’re on your own. Have a little trust that this mentor might know what the hell they’re talking about for a second. You might find something valuable in there. And of course, if you find yourself getting a note you disagree with…
3. Talk To Me, Baby
O why o why won’t you talk to me?? Millennials, look, I hate to break it to you but you’ve simply got to learn how to converse better. Millennial actors, you’ve GOT to work on this especially. And by talk I mean CONVERSATION, not meaningless babble. If you got a note you don’t agree with, express the reasons why you don’t agree with it, and discuss it. This is a collaborative business; you’ve got to learn to intelligently talk through the work, to offer your own ideas, and to listen when your coach or director explains it. And that means…
4. Shut Up And Listen
I know, that may seem to contradict the note above, but here’s the thing: lots of times when people are silent, they’re not actually listening; they’re simply waiting for their turn to speak, and that’s not the same as listening. That, or they’re staring at their phone–and sorry, but that goes double for millennials. This applies to off-stage life as well as on: learn how to really listen to what’s being said to you and you will have taken a step 90 percent of your peers have yet to master.
5. Leave Your Participation Trophies Behind
So, university shows are great, and community theater shows are great–your friends and family come to see you do what you do, and you are certain to get tons of applause and accolades and congratulations. And there’s nothing wrong with that; building a young actor’s confidence is a key part of educating them. However, I hate to break it to you but playtime is over. No one gets cast in the real world for simply showing up. If you want to get cast in the real world you need to put in real-world work: do the preparation, learn your lines, learn your blocking, learn new skills, read scripts and acting books constantly, and constantly take classes. While we’re on that, “participation trophy” classes are out, not if you want to actually improve your craft and get the skills needed to succeed. If you’re in a class where everyone gets a “Great job!” after every performance and no one ever gets critical notes or ways to improve, then get out of there, because you’re wasting your money. You can go to your grandma’s house to get a cookie and a pat on the head.
After all that, here’s this too: You ARE special. You ARE unique. And you ARE uniquely talented. But if you put up the roadblocks outlined above, no one is going to get a chance to see all of that. You’ve got a long road ahead. Take a step back, take a deep breath, open your mind and your heart and get ready to engage in one of the greatest and most joyful adventures you could hope for: your life as an actor!