Act Smart!: 10 more things you can do in 30 minutes

I’m not sure if the staggering success of last month’s column (as judged by the volume of email and new subscriptions to my monthly newsletter) was due to New Year’s Vigor or the fact that I wrote a “list-y” column. People love their lists. So this month, I’m following up with 10 more things you can do to improve your career, that’s stuff YOU can do, not stuff you have to wait for other people to do FOR you. Because I’m all about doing everything that’s under your control, and (please please please) letting go of the rest. Or at the very least, not emailing me about it.

1. 30 minutes analyzing one scene in one movie.

If something catches your eye, go back and watch it in a few passes, looking for different things each time. Look at it like a director would…a writer…a lighting designer. Pull it apart, then put it back together. Film is a language you need to be fluent in.

2. 30 minutes researching movies you need to watch.

Every actor should have a list of movies she needs to see, and should be actively working her way through the list. This includes classics as well as modern stuff, so your acting is grounded in some kind of context. And don’t just watch them to tick them off a list; you need to pay attention to acting, story structure, design, etc. Remember to look for monologue and scene material for yourself, too. If it’s something you’re too young to play now but feel you might grow into, put it on a “someday/maybe” list.

3. 30 minutes memorizing a new monologue.

You need four. FOUR. Two comic, two serious; one of each should be classic and modern. Yes, even if you never audition for theater. You need the practice. My favorite way to memorize is by typing up a copy of the monologue first (writing it out helps wire it into your brain), then walking as you go over it, piece by piece (movement helps cement it, and keeps you from associating standing, or sitting, in a particular part of your room with the lines themselves).

4. 30 minutes practicing one new skill to add to your resume.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be about the résumé; that was my way of sucking you in. But if you’re not growing all the time, if you neglect your skill-building, if you focus only on acting, you will be a stunted, non-dimensional, uninteresting artist. In fact, I’m not sure you can call yourself a real artist if you’re not constantly deepening your skills and broadening your understanding and knowledge. Work on dialects, work on your yoga, work on your recorder-playing.

5. 30 minutes practicing your cold reading skills.

There are all kinds of classes on cold reading; I loved Margie Haber’s technique, and I’m sure there are lots of other great teachers out there. It’s really, really smart to get coached in a technique first, so you don’t develop bad habits. Once you learn any technique, though, you must practice it, or it’s useless. Really. Staying in the habit is half the battle. (For more on great ways to get and keep a good habit, check out Leo Babauta’s New Year’s Challenge.)

6. 30 minutes pulling apart a piece of text.

Script analysis, the process of breaking down a piece of text to understand the meaning behind the words, in the case of dialogue, and the instructions embedded in stage directions, is one of the most significant tools you can have in your actor toolbox. If you haven’t ever taken a scene study class, you need to find a good one that has some proprietary method of breaking down a scene into useful components. And you need to be spending time practicing this on scripts of all kinds. (Hint: sometimes it’s easier to start with characters you wouldn’t play, rather than ones you’re dying to play.) Which brings me to…

7. 30 minutes researching new classes.

You can do it online, via message boards or social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) Triangulate with real-world references and Google. The 30 minutes can include setting up audits of possible classes. The 30 minutes can include brainstorming the kind of skills you think you’ll need to become the kind of actor you want to become. But I’d say you’d want to be thinking ahead regarding edumacating yourself at least one hour per month. Always be learning!

8. 30 minutes reading.

Plays. Screenplays. Books. Essays. Biographies. History. Don’t just read the breakdowns, or even books about acting. (And for the love of all that’s holy, not just celebutrash rags.) Most of the best information you’ll learn about your craft will come at you sideways. To paraphrase my old teacher, Cameron Thor, you might learn more about acting from a book about canoeing than all the pulp in Sam French put together. Read omnivorously and vigorously.

9. 30 minutes analyzing reviews.

This is bound to be controversial, but I learned a lot from it, so here goes: even if you don’t like reading reviews about your own performances, consider reading reviews about other people’s performances. (And films, and books, and plays, etc.) It’s important to read more than one review, which won’t give you a good sample. But reading a few can really illuminate certain things about story, performance, design, all things you should be well-versed in. For example, a cornerstone in my film education was reading all of former New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael’s  reviews. They’re compiled in books, for your reading convenience. She’s a brilliant analyst and writer who has her own blind spots (Brian DePalma being a big one, IMHO.) But you can learn from that, too. Read, people; read…

10. 30 minutes putting yourself on tape.

Video recording has never been cheaper. My friends and I did a little on-again, off-again meetup where we prepped audition material and read it like we would in a casting director’s office. We taped each other, watched the tape, and critiqued. You want to do this with smart people, but you want to do this, especially if you’re not already doing it in a paid classroom situation (which, again, I highly recommend, but I realize that no one is working with unlimited resources.)

Questions, anyone? Here’s the deal…

I love questions about marketing yourself, organizing your time or any other behind-the-scenes stuff that makes the acting engine run that I have not answered already.  I love questions that have me clarify what I’m discussing in the column (hey, even I am not perfect).

I do NOT love questions about how you can get an agent, what you should do with your life or stuff that I have answered already. Also, shorter is better! If you have a question that (a) I have not answered already; (b) might also be helpful to other actors in some way, shape or form; and (c) can be succinctly stated and shared with the class (anonymous is okay), by all means, contact me. If you have ideas for a future column, email me. If you want to tell me how awesome I am, send me an email: colleen AT communicatrix (you know the rest). (Hey, life is rough; praise is nice.) Thanks, and on with the goodies…

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Want more? Almost seven years’ worth of columns on building your acting business are available to read, free. Take me to the archives!