Act Smart!: The business of show

Or, eight suggestions from our friends in “real” business we’d do well to adopt.

I love trolling for “civilian” articles and books to see if/how they apply to my life as a working artist. It keeps me sharp, gives me a fresh perspective, and sometimes, when there’s no alignment, makes me laugh.

When I stumbled across this Forbes piece on the 8 challenges a business faces in the current landscape, I was amazed—and a little humbled—to see how applicable these ordinary business lessons were to our business. I guess it’s easy to forget that while performing itself is a kind of alchemy, the supporting structures around it are very mundane.

My suggestion is that you open a browser window with the above linked article and read through it once first, doing your own “translating” as you go, then come back and read my take. Or if you’re reading this on something with a large enough screen, keep two windows open, and go back and forth. Either way, if you approach it with an open mind, you’re likely to pick up a few good new tips, and start to get ideas about how you can find actor-friendly lessons in other “non-actor” material.

1. Integrity

It’s brutal out there. The natural response to that can be to seek out shortcuts, doing whatever it takes to gain a foothold, no matter who you trample in the process. But beware: in addition to poisoning your soul (which, as an actor, is arguably what makes your instrument valuable), karma is a bitch.

2. Cash, Borrowing, and Resource Management

Debt reduces choices, period. Be careful of stealing from Future You to take care of Present You, or both of you may end up back in Mom’s basement, with your dreams on ice. (Besides, remember the rules of gamification: being resourceful is part of the fun, and sharpening your creativity in the area of economy will help you be more creative across the board.)

3. Increased selection and competition

It is very, very easy to get your actor self online. Which means we’re all doing it. Which means you need to be even more strategic about where you spend your time and energy (and money—see item #2!).

4. Marketing and Customer Loyalty

Please don’t confuse “marketing” with “tweeting” or even “hard-copy mailing.” What marketing really means is serving your market. Usually, this is a long game made up of many small and often boring plays: arriving on time, reliably knocking it out of the park at auditions, and so on. Don’t get fancy, just always be awesome.

5. Uncertainty

I asked a friend and talent manager what one thing she wishes her clients would realize. Her answer? “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Don’t panic during downturns. And don’t take every personal career blip as the end of the world. Rock steady, baby. (Oh, yeah: and ALWAYS BE AWESOME.)

6. Regulation

You don’t have to be a news hound or a political junkie, but it’s useful to stay somewhat in touch with the world around you. Even if you do not feel personally affected by changes in U.S. regulations or the global economy, the businesses who hire you know that they are. Besides, this way, when things like the Affordable Care Act do affect you, you’ll know where to go for help in sorting them out.

7. Problem Solving and Risk Management

Change is constant. Cable killed network, the internet is killing cable, and even more examples of rapidly-changing cycles exist in music. But the ability to weather change will serve you always. Accept that everything will change, and fast, for the rest of your lifetime, and learn how to roll with it (or better yet, anticipate it).

8. Finding the right staff

For an actor, it’s at least as important to have a good posse of colleagues as it is to have great representation—maybe more so. Think very carefully about the members of Team You, and don’t forget that part of this game is becoming part of someone else’s team, too.

* * * * *

Book of the Month

Before the Netflix Original Series Orange Is the New Black was the old House of Cards (which itself was the new House of Cards), it was this true-life memoir by Piper Kerman. I’ve always found great value in reading the source material from which series and films were developed. It teaches me about how things do and don’t translate from one medium (written word) to another (screen), which reminds me not to take understanding for granted in any medium. As an actor, it’s also really fun to see what other artists do to bring characters to life, as well as how directors, producers, and casting people “read” roles.  As it’s filled with a host of great characters, Kerman’s memoir is great for all of these things, plus it leaves one feeling very, very grateful for this precious life of freedom. While she clearly learned a great deal from her experience in prison, I’m just as happy getting my lessons on the outside.

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeakerperformer who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. After a bloody epiphany and a few detours into The Suck, she spends most of her time helping people learn how to connect with audiences, large and small.

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