Act Smart!: Show up “having had”

Why the simple instruction sometimes given out with a call time can be a great way to look at your career—maybe even your life!

One of the things I loved about working commercials on either side of the camera was the food. From the humble breakfast burrito to the lunch mixed-grill, meals were usually delicious and always plentiful, made-to-order, and free—well, to me, anyway.

Toward the end of my acting career, though, my call time occasionally came with an instruction to arrive on set “having-had”—i.e., to show up fed, watered, and ready to work. This still meant there would be an hour or so in hair-and-makeup—I had hair then, and I’ve always needed makeup—and it was always possible to sweet-talk someone into bringing an apple or a bowl of oatmeal to you in the chair. But I am a big one for following instructions to the letter, plus I had some pretty severe dietary restrictions in the last few years I worked; I made sure to eat something that would agree with me, and would tide me over to the next set mealtime, which I tried to imagine would be the furthest legal time away from my call.

While it was far less fun cooking and cleaning up after myself in my humble apartment than it was being fêted on set, I noticed that when I showed up on a having-had day, I felt like a trooper, not just “talent.” The set seemed a little more like a place where people were getting work done, and a little less like a magical kingdom where I got to be princess for the day.

I’ve thought a lot about the having-had concept and how it applies to other facets of a working life. Self-sufficiency—the ability of the mature person to get their needs met without disrupting the group—is not only a useful skill, but an elegant one. On a practical level, it reduces your chances of aggravating other people, but it also builds self-discipline, creates orderly thinking, and fosters appreciation.

For example, take auditions. If you’ve been going out on calls for any length of time, you’ve run into That Guy (or That Gal). Whether they present as blowhard, glad-hander, or crumbling rat’s nest of incompetence and anxiety, they’re annoying, disruptive, and take up far more than their fair share of the waiting room. Pretty much everyone sighs with relief when they’re called into the audition room, even if things are backed up, because it means at least a moment of peace to collect oneself before one’s own name is called.

Enumerating the myriad issues that turn a normal human being into a pariah is beyond the scope of this humble piece, but in my experience, they boil down to some basic need not being met: the need to be seen/heard, the need for love, the need for validation, and so on. While you can put your crazy to epic, even noble use as an actor, you need to have your crazy sorted out first.

But there are simpler, more superficial things that we also do well to take care of before arriving at an audition. Preparation is an obvious one—knowing the sides, having some familiarity with any references made in the script or the breakdown, and so on. It’s also not a bad idea to show up with your basic physical needs met; yes, there will be times when you couldn’t get to a bathroom first, or eat, or what have you, but try. I’ve heard it said that a good way to think about your audition is that it begins the moment you step out of your car (or off the subway, or park your bike). You never know who’s seeing you be a hot mess in the parking lot, or cursing your way down the street, but as the client who’s seen some of you, I know it happens.

When you start thinking about it, it’s easy to see how taking care of your basic needs on your own time and dime is a far saner way to do business, show up for relationships, and execute the to-do lists of life. If you’re creating your own projects and fulfilling your own artistic needs, you will have a better working relationship with your representatives. If you’re acknowledging your own personal accomplishments, you become more agreeable in your day job, if you have one, and in your professional acting jobs, as you get them: you show up on stage to work, not to get applause. If you do your homework, you get far more both out of classes and teachers, who—believe me—will be delighted to answer your higher-level, more interesting questions. And if you show up to things having done elective, outside reading (or projects, or internships), you become available at an even higher level, with more opportunities to learn, grow, and enjoy.

Don’t be a dummy actor, doing the minimum amount to get away with calling yourself one. You’re not just annoying the people around you; you’re cheating them out of your best work—work that could change the world, if only a tiny part of it. And most importantly, you’re cheating yourself out of a far more interesting, far more delightful life.

* * *

BOOK OF THE MONTH: One good way to show up “having-had” is financially: economic desperation is not exactly a theatrical aphrodisiac. I’ve read many, many books on getting right with money, both starchy and ostensibly for creatives; of all of these, the slim, simple The Law of Divine Compensation, by Course in Miracles teacher Marianne Williamson, is my favorite so far. It clearly lays out where blocks around money tend to crop up, and gives equally clear directions on how to start working with those blocks. That said, it is of an unabashedly spiritual bent; read the sample pages on Amazon or check it out in one of our few remaining bookstores before deciding whether it speaks to you.

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