If you’re like me, you love acting and you couldn’t imagine doing any other job, but you aren’t where you feel you could be. In other words, as actors in Los Angeles, we aren’t getting hired enough.
Let’s break down the main aspects that have an impact on our bottom line.
For some of us, not being where we could be revolves around the talent department. Speaking for myself, there are some actors I look up to, and I’m not quite at their level yet. I know I will get there, but I do need more time in class.
For others (again like me), we just can’t seem to hack the business aspect. Its mushy, annoying, and we’d rather focus on our craft because we feel we have more control there. Unfortunately, getting good at business is crucial in Los Angeles, especially for those of us who moved here beyond the age of sixteen because there is so much competition here.
It is so daunting here that I wrote an e-book titled: Get Clever About VO Acting In Los Angeles Part I: The Business Of Acting in which I go over every aspect of the business and how to handle them the L.A. way.
Interestingly, this business part took care of itself in the small city I am from (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). I started acting young, was professional, and people knew me (and what I could do), so maintaining relationships sort of happened on its own there. In Los Angeles, it’s a whole other ballgame.
For others yet (hello again), we have a tendency to quit too early. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quit acting….
Since I have ample experience in all three of these sectors, let’s take a deeper dive into what I call the Acting Triangle. The essential ingredients are at the angled tips and connect to one another.
ACTING CAREER TRIANGLE
Many people in the industry have similar thoughts by the way, so this is nothing new, but it is all about the way information hits you. My goal is always to convey information in a way that will propel you (and me) to take action.
In the voice over sector, getting hired is usually the culmination of training, marketing and patience. But I much prefer Talent, Relationships and Perseverance for tackling acting.
Let’s address each element on the triangle.
What is Acting Talent Anyway?
The dictionary defines talent as: Natural aptitude or skill.
We haven’t even started yet and there’s already a trap waiting for us!
Strictly abiding by this definition is problematic because, taken literally, talent can seem static and innate. This definition is even more problematic because, as humans, we love sensational stories. Such tales inspire and amaze us, and we are drawn to them. For instance, when we refer to talent, we usually think of those who seem to have an extraordinary amount of natural aptitude (say, Michael Jackson). We often ignore the years of training required to develop talent and the skills we need to ride that talent. For more about our skewed tendency towards artists, athletes and geniuses with natural abilities, read Freakonomics.
The point I am trying to make here, is that talent is by no means static or limited. Like intelligence (and any ability really), we can stretch it, grow it, and develop more of it (read Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking book Mindset for more about this important topic). Her book explains that to develop any ability, hard work and persistence are required. Luckily for aspiring actors, acting training is hard work but it can be a lot of fun.
For actors, the equation to grow talent looks like this:
Serious theater training (preferably continuous).
Exposure to auditions (or audition training) on a regular basis.
Performing in front of a live audience on a regular basis.
Here, I would add that having a Growth Mindset is important as well (again, Carol Dweck’s book will help you). If, instead, you strongly believe you have a limited amount of talent (you have a Fixed Mindset), the road ahead will be tough. I should know because I had this mindset until a few years ago, and it really did prevent me from doing the kind of acting I can do so seamlessly today.
With a Fixed Mindset, we are focused on proving our “limited” abilities (to ourselves and others) instead of stretching our talent and acquiring new skills. We are looking for approval. We essentially stop any growth from happening because we aren’t taking any real risks. Why? For the same reason prodigies don’t become masters: taking risks could reveal we don’t have as much talent as we thought. Result? We often quit before we even start getting our hands dirty.
When we work on the equation to grow talent (and combine it to a Growth Mindset) for a many, many years on end, we inevitably come out stronger and more talented at the other end. It is simply inevitable.
Pick a Great School
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I quickly made phone calls to some working actors I knew to find out what schools and teachers they recommended. While I was lucky the referrals I received were good, an even better way to go about it is to audit several classes before making a choice. Read my blog post about finding a good teacher in Los Angeles.
Whatever you do, take your training seriously. You can’t do acting alone and you have to say on top of it. Your competition is staying on top of it. Why give them an edge over you?
Get That Audition Practice
If you need more exposure to auditions, you can:
- Take audition classes;
- Practice with your friends (make it a weekly exercise for better results);
- Participate in casting director workshops;
- Audition for jobs that are open to the general public on:
I personally had to work on this because I can get debilitatingly nervous at auditions. My legs can shake uncontrollably and it’s just no fun knowing I’m not relaxed enough to give as good a performance I know I can give. As a by-product of seeing a therapist, I eventually came to understand that I had developed generalized anxiety(common for actors) and a that I have a tendency for social anxiety. This type of anxiety specifically manifests when performing in front of others. Many people who fear public speaking have social anxiety.
The only cure for this ailment? Exposure. In other words, you’ll need to get yourself in front of an audience, over and over again to get rid of it. The tricky part is that you can’t stop; if you stop exposing yourself the anxiety will likely creep up again.
Here are ways to expose yourself:
- Joining a theater group or class;
- Joining an improv group (train in improv);
- If you like doing stand-up comedy you could go to open mics (or study it);
- Join a Toastmasters group (this is almost free and it’s what I did for a long time).
Whether you pay for these activities or not is irrelevant, so long as you can do them regularly.
Do You Know Who I Am? -Relationships
“If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, take a friend.” African proverb.
Your Contacts Have The Goods
Before thinking you don’t have any, I’d like to point out that whether we realize it or not, when we are out in the world working on shows, auditioning, filming material, and taking classes, we are developing professional relationships with teachers, directors, classmates, peers, casting directors, writers, directors, agents and managers. Many people in this network have the potential to help us get hired.
From now on, keep a list of those people and watch it grow. The next step is to find reasons to reach out to them from time to time.
When To Reach Out To Your Network
Here are a few things you can reach out to your peers about:
- After you book a job through a casting director;
- After you audition for a casting director;
- A show you are in that’s airing or hitting the stage somewhere;
- New footage or project you are working on;
- An industry event you will be attending (if you are attending a premiere, perhaps you’d like to invite someone from your list?);
- An event or video or audio materials relating to a special skill of yours that is complementary to acting (say you do martial arts, are a dancer or a musician);
- An update about your career training (say you are working on a unique skill);
If you manage to reach out regularly, you will stay fresh in the minds of those who can open doors for you (directly or indirectly) for all the right reasons.
Time is a Great Friend
If you start acting professionally in your youth, you will likely find that in a few years’ time, the same people who supported you then, will support you later. This is because we tend to build significant relationships early on in life. This is not exclusive to acting. Some of my biggest clients in the voice over sector have known me since my early twenties and still hire me today. I myself still hire other voice actors I’ve known since then.
If, like me, you get to Los Angeles beyond your teens, you will have to work a little harder to create and maintain a new network. You will have to expose yourself consistently and for long periods. Why? Because in the end, we always go back to what we know, and if you are a part of someone’s circle, you will be what they know. It’s really as simple as that.
Staying Busy Gives You a Reason To Stay Connected
Beyond this, your agent, manager and the few casting directors you meet when you first arrive should always be under the impression that you are perfecting your craft. This doesn’t mean that you need to continually book professional TV or film work, especially if you don’t get that many auditions. You should however be busy performing consistently and let them know you are doing so. When you perform in shows that are open to the public, invite them. When you film new material, send it to them. If you are not doing these things, get busy doing them. This is the best excuse for staying in touch with those who can support you.
Your contacts may not always turn up to your shows and look at your links, but if they see that you are continually active, they will be much more inclined to invest in you long-term. This is especially true if they can witness a growth in you over time.
A Passion for Acting
Keep in mind that casting directors, agents and managers are not that different from you; they’re passionate about acting. They love actors and working with artists who continually push themselves. This not only reassures them that you will be worth calling in for auditions (and that you can do the job if you get it), it makes you worth fighting for. This is why they want to be surrounded with actors who are as excited about acting as they are about finding them and supporting them. They thrive off actors’ successes. Believe it or not, this what gives them a sense of purpose and makes them excited about their jobs.
An Actor in Los Angeles Perseveres
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quit acting and swore I was over it. Not only was I lying to myself, I slowed my own growth to a snail’s pace!
Let’s go back to the dictionary for the definition of perseverance: Persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
Canadian comedian Mike Myers once confided to James Lipton (during an Actors Studio episode) that if he based career decisions on the number of rejections he’d gotten, he would have quit a long time ago.
To make sure you give the Los Angeles market a fair shot, having a five-year plan is what I would call fair. If you are continually focused on the Talent aspect and on the Relationships aspect but don’t stick it out long enough, you will not have persevered, and the triangle will crumble.
If you are hitting a wall, get back to that Mindset book I spoke of earlier and read this blog entry about getting back to Acting basics. Are you sure you are really giving yourself a chance? Or are you just giving up developing an important skill?
Take a Chill Pill
When the going gets tough (if you are human, it will) and you need a break from it all, remember that one of the most effective ways out of mental or emotional slumber is to take action (the root of which is the word act).
For me, that has meant creating a workout routine I can sustain (check), trying to do a handstand without leaning on a wall (I have to get back on that), swinging in the park from time to time (check), beating my husband at Chess (not working out, but I’m not done trying), snowboarding (check), writing (check), directing (check) and producing my own content (check).
To recap, here are some things you can do:
- Start a new hobby;
- Create content;
- Re-connect with loved ones;
- Spend more time outdoors;
- Take a different type of training;
- Go to SAG events and classes;
- Join a support group;
- Get a therapist.
Damn, This Isn’t Working Out
Yes, there is always the possibility that making a living with acting doesn’t work out. Sometimes, even if we do all the right things, things don’t work out. This is not just true of acting. This is true of any field. Name me one profession that guarantees reward. It doesn’t exist. You can be an unemployed electrician just as much as you can be an unemployed actor. Just because we can play music, doesn’t mean we will be a rock star. Why some people appeal to an entire era or culture can’t be entirely dissected and understood. It’s part of the mystery of life.
Just remember that when one door closes, another one opens. But please, don’t close it before at least five years. I would even encourage you to give it ten. That’s what I’m doing.
My name is Lili Wexu, I am a Canadian-American actress. I moved to Los Angeles some years ago and I’ve written a few e-books about acting in Los Angeles to help other actors who are considering re-locating here (or have recently re-located). Feel free to check them out on my website.