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Many successful actors say when they found theater arts they found a haven.
When you first see Crash’sThandie Newton, it is easy to assume with her stately exotic beauty, talent, and successful career that she always had it easy.However, Newton describes the painful experience of growing up in two distinct cultures and never feeling like she belonged. Challenged with issues of identity, she was able to find peace by “plugging into” various character roles, and being in the moment when she joined the theater.
At 17 years of age, Al Pacino was bored and unmotivated in school, even to the point of flunking most of his classes. But Pacino found a haven in school plays, and this sanctuary compelled him to commit to acting classes and pursue auditions despite dropping out of school. His newfound passion helped sustain him through a period of depression and poverty. In the midst of all the turmoil of his early life, the peace he found onstage proved to be a strong foundation for his prolific acting career—one of the most successful in cinema history.
In theater, it’s not only safe but actually required for the players to fully embrace and freely express human vulnerabilities—those which the world often expects people to mask or numb. Actors must deeply expose their emotional framework without shame or judgment through the vehicle of another person’s point of view or character.
Brene Brown–who studies human connection, including our ability to empathize, belong, and love—calls vulnerability the birthplace of belonging, love, joy, and creativity.
Expressing vulnerability is critical for human connection. This is the heart of theater arts.
Watch Brown speak about her inspirational findings about vulnerabilityhere.
Last year, a survey found that the top three career aspirations for 5-11 year olds in Britain were sports star, pop star and actor—as compared with teacher, banker and doctor 25 years prior. And according to the Pew Research Center in 2006, 51% of Generation Nexters (ages 18-25) say they rate becoming famous as highly valued. This reflects an increase up from Gen X’s 29% (ages 26-40). Gen Nexters were shaped in a culture with personal computers, cell phones, the internet, and personal profiles on social networking sites. While the majority of them agree that such technological tools help them to make and maintain friendships, they agree such tools make people lazier. In the entertainment industry, a general concern is the growing sense that actors are drawn to the field primarily for celebrity status, and less so for personal development and to hone the rich craft of the theater. How many times have you marveled at the beauty of a leading lady but were decidedly disappointed by her acting performance? How many reality TV show participants rely heavily on a shockingly bad attitude and seem to be placed in the plot to traumatize the others on the set and increase ratings? Personalities like Richard Heene (aka Balloon Boy dad) and Steve-O keep us chatting or laughing amongst friends and colleagues for days. To deny there is a welcome place for these characters in our culture is simply untrue. But according to a study at the University of Rochester, researchers found that subjects motivated by external goals like praise and recognition revealed lower emotional well-being than those with internal goals like personal growth or physical health. Likewise, psychologists have linked fame seeking with feelings of abandonment and rejection. And, as more and more people are ready for the limo to drop them off at the red carpet after taking one acting class, the numbers are stacked against them. Many are bound to face disappointments as far as achieving stardom. So instead, learn to manage expectations, commit to the true art of acting, and realize how capable you really are.
Don’t ever underestimate the importance of what you do. Yes, there are people who work for the Red Cross and feed starving children, others risk their lives to protect and serve the general public, some work tirelessly to cure cancer, and some care for the elderly. To be sure, these are all noble and beautiful careers, and we are forever in these caregivers’ debt. But consider what the arts have meant to you over your lifetime.
Think of the comedies that had you laughing your butt off at the darkest times in your journey. Or the dramas that had you dabbing tears on the way out of a darkened theater. Or the stage plays that had you riveted and mesmerized from beginning to end. I’m certain you’ll agree these are tremendously important moments in life. We’ve all been uplifted and inspired by movies, plays, paintings, and music and there is true value in the arts.
Art has always been the refuge of those in need whether the need be for inspiration or catharsis or comfort or joy. Art fulfills so many needs. You, as an actor, have the power to influence people’s lives in profound and unique ways. So, make no mistake, being an actor is a noble cause. Be sure to treat it as such.
The average American spends about five hours a day watching TV. As we know, to keep up with this kind of media appetite, an ongoing stream of talent is needed. But, as a whole, what kind of roles are presenting themselves these days and why? Media trendsetter Lauren Zalaznick, who is credited with revamping the Bravo Network with shows like Project Runnway and Top Chef, looked into the value system of popular TV over the last 50 years. Using the top 10 Nielson rated shows to research America’s “social conscience,” she discovered just how political and economic factors influence our viewing habits. Every time there is a spike in unemployment rates, programs with fantasy and imaginative themes rise along with it. It’s no surprise we don’t want to watch shows about people struggling financially when we ourselves are feeling down as a whole. So, Archie Bunker was kicked off the networks in the late 1970’s when unemployment really started peeking, and was replaced with Dallas and Fantasy Island—shows featuring lavish lifestyles. And during the past 20 years, there has been a decline in the popularity of 1990’s sitcoms like Friends, Seinfeld, and Cheers. These humorous, comforting shows thrived when the economy was going strong. But in 2001, humor takes a back seat to programs featuring themes of judgment like Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, and American Idol in which people are given power to vote people off. This coincides with the 911 attacks, a presidential election decided by the supreme court, and anthrax scares. With unemployment so high these days, the affluence of Jersey Shore and Keeping Up with the Kardashians is looking good to American audiences. So, it’s not just what producers are seeking, it’s what we as a television audience are responding to. For more information, see Lauren speak at http://www.ted.com/talks/lauren_zalaznick.html.
There are times you might ask yourself, “Who are those people on the couch when I enter the audition room for a callback? What’s their agenda, and how do they make decisions?” Understandably, the mystery of the situation can be somewhat unnerving. So, let’s simplify this thing. At any given time there will be a director, producer, production company personnel, and ad agency executives. Have you ever seen Hell’s Kitchen? Well, one might describe it as too many cooks in the kitchen. Each faction has his or her own agenda and the muckity-mucks to whom he or she must answer. Consequently, you often have conflicting needs and points of view. The ad agency wants a star to sell their product, the production company wants someone they haven’t seen before, the director wants the best actor for his reel, and the casting director wants whomever he or she recommended. And there’s most likely a time constraint–not to mention personal favorites and petty prejudices (yes, we are all human). The bottom line is there are many different reasons why you are picked or rejected for a commercial spot. So don’t sweat it—you’re there because they’re strongly considering you for the role, and clearly you’re doing something right!
An increasing number of casting directors are using Casting Frontier for all their casting needs. That’s because CF is the new industry standard. Casting Frontier’s latest shining achievement is their Director Mobile Pack, which consists of two amazing revolutionary apps: Director on the Go, and iSession Mobile. Both were developed specifically for Apple’siPhone and iPad 2. Now casting directors are able to conduct their entire workflow from the palms of their hands anywhere, anytime. Director on the Go allows casting directors to create and post breakdowns, schedule castings, and track workflow. iSession Moblile allows casting directors to download schedules, search the database for specific talent, scan actor ID barcodes, and even to capture and upload auditions—all from an iPhone of iPad! To learn more about this amazing technology, please visit http://www.castingfrontier.com/industry
When you think of Kate Winslet, do you instantly think Titanic? Mildred Pierce? You likely don’t think Sugar Puffs cereal commercial. But that’s how Kate got her start at the age of 12 in the United Kingdom. And as Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons was coming up as an actor, he played a man raised by wolves in a 2003 Quiznos spot. Whether you rejoiced when your favorite actor won an Emmy last night or went to bed sadly disappointed your hopeful lost out, the Emmy’s serve as a reminder to all aspiring actors that anything is possible if you invest in yourself and keep crafting your talent. Other famous actors who started in commercials include Lindsay Lohan who appeared in over 60 commercials including Jell-O. John Travolta sang he was stuck on Band Aids while rinsing in the shower, Wesley Snipes strutted confidently in Levis, Keanu Reeves was required to drink about 6 Coca Colas during multiple takes on location, and Dakota Fanning spilled pudding on her pink dress in a Tide ad. With this kind of track record, it’s clear commercials can be a good way to hone your craft, become comfortable in front of the camera, and procure much needed exposure—not to mention some extra dough. It’s no secret national commercials pay very well. You can see more actors in commercials at http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/33080
You’ll hear a lot of people say of the entertainment industry how difficult it is to break into the business, how far fetched it is to become a star, and that only a small percentage of actors are really working. And you know? In many ways, they’re right! That’s why you have to live and breathe your acting career. Make no mistake, many, many opportunities are waiting to be seized: commercials, webisodes, independent films, real people roles, and let’s not underestimate the invaluable knowledge and experience theater cultivates. Concentrate on the opportunities that present themselves to you. If a friend invites you to be a part of his or her student film, while it may not win an Oscar, it could prove to be a highlight in your growing reel. And remember, when those opportunities are not making themselves known at any given moment, you can create your own projects. When you keep working, are continually refining your skills, and networking becomes a matter of habit, you open yourself up to all those opportunities that can make your dreams come true.