Process. PreGame. Support Network.
Let’s dive in.
Acting at the highest levels is a game of inches, not yards. The smallest difference in the comprehensiveness of your work can set you apart from other actors. We are not competing with each other. We are competing with ourselves, challenging ourselves to create the best art of our lives.
In order to consistently create brilliant, vibrant, specific, organic, compelling art, you need to have these three essential elements in place:
You have to have a clear process for preparing your work for an audition or performance on set; a step by step process to make sure it has been professionally prepared. An example of that can be found in my previous Backstage article series “12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances.”
Many actors I meet do not have a solid process. As a result, they never feel fully prepared. If you don’t have a clear process, how do you know when you’re done? At a certain point, the meal is fully cooked.
Whatever your process is, it needs to result in you knowing exactly how you want to help tell this story through your part of it; a master of both the story and knowledge about the production. Understand the genre, tone, writing style, and adapt your craft accordingly.
You have to figure out what gets your instrument ready to present your work so that you nail it on the first take. You don’t often get a second chance in an audition.
How do you use your time before your performance on the drive to the studio, during your walk from parking to the sign-in sheet, before you sign in, after you sign in, and in the moments before you begin in the room with casting? If you don’t have a strategy and answers to those questions, know that other actors do, and it may partly be why they work more often than you do.
Continuing the cooking analogy: if you cooked the meal yesterday, how are you going to heat it up to serve today?
We’re all different, so you’ll have to experiment with what works for your instrument, but it may be a combination of things like running lines or character thoughts silently or out loud, alone or on the phone with a friend, meditation or relaxation exercises, stretching, vocal warm ups, or listening to music. Once you find a routine that makes you feel ready to present your work as intended, stick to it. It’ll become a comforting part of your work, just like athletes warming up before hitting the field or psyching themselves up before the game. A placebo effect is still an effect.
With an awesome process and pregame ritual, you will know you’re a competent artist, have the resulting confidence, and be ready to overcome any nervousness with your preparation. Your body will know what to do. All that’s left is to have an experience.
The final essential partner to process and pregame is your support network of friends, fellow artists, and loved ones who have your back. For on-camera actors, especially while you’re learning how to act professionally, you need to rehearse with someone else and put yourself on tape as part of your process at least 10, 20, or 30 times, depending on the length of the material.
Rehearsing alone is at best not optimal and at worst totally toxic to your work. Whether in an audition or on set, you will always be reading or performing with others, so it makes no sense to train your body in a vacuum of only your own stimulus. That’s why actors get stuck in a rut and can’t be organic or present. You’ve trained your body and brain to fire the same way every time. Reading with someone else makes sure you’re always getting fresh, new stimulus. Like life.
For the first time in our art form’s history, we have the technology to see our own work. Now everyone has a camera with them at all times. Finally, on-camera actors can record a take of their work, step back, see it, and learn from it to help craft their performance.
Besides beautiful, organic discoveries and behavior born of the moment, you should never be surprised by how your work and story choices are showing up on camera. Audience members of a stage show wouldn’t know that your performance tonight was different than your performance yesterday, but some on-camera scenes can take days to shoot, and your performance needs to cut together sensibly. We need our takes to land in the same general storytelling neighborhood, even with vibrant differences.
Rehearsing and putting yourself on tape alone is problematic and not analogous to the audition experience, so they go together. Build a rehearsal network. If you don’t have someone available to rehearse with you and put yourself on tape at any time, make more friends. It doesn’t always have to be in person. You can do it via Skype, using Call Recorder, a program that lets you record Skype calls. It’s almost as good as in person.
With those 3 essential elements in place, you’ll have every advantage to consistently present the best art of your life. That’s the key to being extraordinary. Be a legend.
I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching all-day on-camera acting business & craft intensives in 18 cities across the nation this year, called “How to be a Working Actor.” The first one is in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 25th at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. For more information, visit my new website at www.shaansharma.com. Get $50 off when you use the discount code: castingfrontier.
Remember, you can’t fail if you never quit.
About Shaan Sharma: Shaan started acting in his home state of Minnesota where he was best known for his passion for protecting aspiring talent from scams and exploitation as producer/director of the Fresh Face Showcase (’03-’06), an annual fashion, modeling, acting, music, and dance event with the mission to spread awareness on how to safely enter the talent business.
Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2007, Shaan has quickly grown into one of the most respected and sought-after educators for on-camera acting craft, acting business knowledge, and career strategy. Very few acting coaches are also a casting professional, working actor, and consistently published writer.