Actors as Producers: Beware of Tunnel Vision
Beware of tunnel vision
For the most part, “good acting training” means an incredibly narrow focus on just that, the “craft of acting”. The conservatory itself (the “standard” for all training) emphasizes long days and a rigorous exploration of text analysis, movement dynamics, improvisation, voice and speech and the like.
When I was at conservatory, my deans were vehemently against my producing anything outside of our regular curriculum. Understandably, the concern being our workload was already so heavy. Nothing was to take me away from my actor training.
The only way to be a “real” artist, actor or otherwise, is to completely dedicate yourself entirely to your particular craft; in our case, acting. This narrow, all-consuming purpose, we are told, is the only way we can make it in this business.
Wouldn’t this be ideal? However, it only works for about 1% of the hundreds of thousands of us in this business. Many of us don’t have the connections or funds, and therefore the opportunities needed to be able to give ourselves over entirely to acting alone. And in the meantime we have bills to pay and time we need to manage.
Therefore, it is not enough to be an interpretative artist. Just as all actors are entrepreneurs, all actors must be producers first.
The truth sets us free
Publicly, we lead with our primary artistic focus (acting), but we want to encourage a fundamental shift in our overall thinking about our roles within our careers and consider the benefits of viewing actors as producers.
Creating content: One of the most upsetting stories I can recall was an actor friend who had an interview with her dream agency. She had a budding theater career, but had never done TV / Film. They said they heard fantastic things about her but she didn’t have a reel, and were therefore hesitant about working with her because they didn’t know how she was on camera. She was very upset, “I guess I’ll just have to wait till I get cast in something…whenever that happens.” It didn’t cross her mind to produce her own reel! When we view ourselves as actors only, we are putting the responsibility and accountability into the hands of fate and circumstance. Feel like you are getting typecast? Produce a short that shows off another side of you. Do you need something to invite potential CDs and agents to? Produce a concert or a play. When we begin to accept that this is part of our job and begin to do it, the more proactive we will become! Work begets work.
Build your cred: Some people are afraid that if they produce they won’t be taken seriously as actors. If they have to make their own work, that must mean no one else wants them…that they’re “desperate”. Sure, there may be some privileged and therefore ignorant souls out there who may judge like this, but for the most part I have noticed that there is a real respect in our community for the people who create opportunities for themselves and others. It’s difficult to find real doers, people who, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, are “in the arena…marred by dust and sweat and blood…striving valiantly…who come up short again and again.” Being someone who can mount projects, meet deadlines, organize and inspire people will position you as more valuable to your peers. If you are also a talented and skillful actor, you only make yourself more appealing as a potential collaborator. To say nothing of the fact that those haters are just jealous. Really.
Practice: As mentioned above, self produced work gets your product out there and frees you from the vicious loop of needing to book work to book more, but it has an even bigger benefit. The producer of any project has to make the connections, find the collaborators, set the goals, deliver on the deadlines and consistently hold themselves and their collaborators accountable. We also encourage you to view your career as one big creative project, and you are the lead producer. Practicing strategy implementation, monitoring effectiveness in relation to your goals, problem solving and improving as necessary are key skills for any entrepreneur. So, practice on a project and you will be able to do it with your career! The difference between running a successful kickstarter for your short film and acquiring fantastic representation are superficial, but the key principles are the same.
The time I took to create my own opportunities at school teed me up for a sustainable career in ways my combat class couldn’t. Producing allowed me to gain a better perspective about what my responsibilities really were.
We encourage you to do some journaling this week. If you saw yourself as a producer first and not as an actor, what actions would you take today? How would your goals shift? What skills would you have to learn? What beliefs would you have to espouse? How would you change for the better?
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