Act Smart!: Kayaking, music and the truly successful actor

I’ve written before about the importance of expanding your vision so that you can gather information and knowledge from a wide variety of resources. My theory, stolen from my former acting teacher, Cameron Thor, is that lessons are everywhere, but you’re too focused on your narrow slice of acceptable, ACTOR-y sources to see them.

In a stroke of great luck, I came across a brilliant example of such a lesson crafted for non-actors that actors can benefit from greatly if they’re smart enough to do the translation. It’s short (only five lessons), served up entertainingly (because it’s for musicians, from a very funny former promoter), and easy to use as an example so you can start learning to do the translating yourself.

First, watch this video. Like I said, it’s short and funny and the subject, Martin Atkins, has a groovy accent.

Okay, ready? Let’s look at the Five Top Tips for Independent Musicians to see how they apply to the independently-minded, SMART actor:

1. If you can sustain, you can succeed

Brilliant first tip, and a key one to get through your noggin. Because the first thing an artist needs to do is keep himself in the game. The longer you’re in, the better your chance of succeeding. This matters whether you’re a male character actor with a lifetime of parts or a bee-yoo-tee-full actress with a short window to break in. Even if you break in, you need to stay in (unless you’re cool with a one-hit wonder type of career).

Practically speaking, this means stuff like:

  • Keep your overhead low: if you run out of dough, you’re out of the game. Learn how to keep body and soul together on the cheap. And if you do get lucky and book a Class A Network spot or end up #4 on that sitcom call sheet, for the love of all that’s holy, do NOT live up to your new means; give yourself a tiny raise, then sock the rest away for a rainy day.
  • Keep your instrument in great shape: if your body or your brain breaks down, it’s game over. Do what you must to stay physically and mentally healthy.
  • Build up your experience slowly and steadily: or, as Atkins says, “succeed 60 miles away before you drive 2600 miles away.” He’s talking about tours, I’m talking about working the hell out of your local market before you head out to Los Angeles or New York (or Atlanta or Miami or whatever “big market” means to you).

2. Have more than one shirt

For bands, Atkins means literally to produce two t-shirts so that you increase the chances that someone will buy your band t-shirt, not so that you’ll necessarily make more money (although that’s nice) but so that more people see your name. Merch is about money, but it’s also about spreading the word, or, getting paid (or breaking even) having other people spread the word.

For actors, this means having multiple ways for people to spread the word of you. Are you on Twitter or Facebook (or both, which it’s really easy to be)? Do you have a website and a business card and picture/resume? Do you send great postcards? Are you uploading great videos to YouTube? Are you bookmarking terrific articles for other actors on delicious or StumbleUpon? Are you getting out and meeting other actors?

You can’t just have a picture and resume and agent anymore. You have to be your own marketer. That’s what the past 2.5+ years of this column are all about. Read up on back issues for more ideas. Don’t be lazy! Don’t settle for “just okay.”

3. Don’t be an asshole.

I hope this one is self evident, but if it’s not, clean up your act.

Be nice…to everyone. Even if they are not nice to you, be polite (and then remove yourself as quickly as you can).

Be on time, or better yet, be early, always.

Wear what the costume people pick for you. Don’t argue with the D.P. about lighting. Be generous with your fellow actors. Err on the side of personal awesomeness.

4. Get to a show early.

Thought this was about getting there early, like I mentioned above? Well, it is. But it’s also about being there extra early. It’s about spending extra time going the extra mile.

Like Atkins says, it’s about not just getting there in time to rehearse your set, but to practice the setup and the teardown. Learning to consolidate your equipment. It’s about always being better, and always looking for ways to be better that might not be obvious.

In fact, they’re almost never obvious, but they always matter. I can still remember the two other people who were there an extra hour early to prep for each show of a particularly difficult play I was in. I will always recommend them for roles first.

People remember people who are extraordinary. Be extraordinary in all the usual ways, then find others. You will create legions of unexpected fans in your wake. You may not even know that they are your fans, but they will evangelize your personal awesomeness without your knowing, and it will circle back to help you. It’s karma.

5. Golden Rule: You need more than one album.

For actors, this means one thing: Always. Be. Working. The career fairy may tap you on the head with her magic wand, but don’t bet on it. Bet on lots and lots of your face out there, getting seen. And not at parties, but in film and TV and on stage and the Internet. (Okay, you can go to parties and networking events, too. But only after you’ve gotten your work done, and never at the expense of work. Contrary to popular belief, the career fairy does not hang out at industry watering holes.)

There are great, rich lessons for actors everywhere you look. So look. Think. Read with a critical eye. Ferret out the best books and blogs about marketing and performance and networking and apply the knowledge to improve your own business: being the best, most employable actor you can be.

*******

Want more? Check out the acting resources page. It’s got links out to all kinds of good actor resources, plus information on how to sign up to get on the list for upcoming workshops.

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