Hugh O'Gorman, an excellent actor and even more excellent professor at Cal State Long Beach told me about this book - “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard. This is required reading for Hugh's acting students. I’m in love with it. It’s a rather short, simple book (176 pages) but covers so much territory related to how we feel about what we do and how to be “successful.” It basically says that one needs to practice something for at least five years in order to master it. Five years. Some if not most folks will give up if they are not making a living at something for that long, especially young actors pursuing acting full-time. This is a shame. Being a successful actor requires practice and patience, just as it is with athletes, musicians, painters, filmmakers, writers, etc.
“The master of any game is the master of practice.” Although acting is not really a ‘game’ (or is it?) but rather an art form, the same rules apply. You practice your game or your art not for any reward but because you LOVE it, and you must practice every day. The old adage “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game?” Well that also applies to what we do. Mastery is staying on the path always, with consistency and discipline. That is how you will improve. You must love it so much that you will stick with it no matter what – during the times when you are getting to paid to act and during the (possibly) months and years when you are doing it for free . . .or maybe even paying to do so, as in taking classes.
“Masters” do not get impatient with the notion of “making it.” They just practice what they love, day in and day out, whether they are “feeling it” or not. I contend that you will more likely make it when you completely give up the notion of making it. Besides, what is making it? Your first job on a Network TV show? Your first pilot? Your first series? Your first hit series? Your first feature film role? Or do you need to see your name “above the title” in order to feel that you really made it? It never ends and it will never be enough if your goal is simply to BE SUCCESSFUL. To Make It. To prove to your Dad, once and for all, that you are worthy despite the fact you chose acting over sports as your primary focus.
Auditioning for Network and cable TV shows and feature films is not the practice of acting, it’s more like the final exam. If you “pass,” then you will get a callback. If you practice every day and do the work and prepare with all your heart and soul, than you will more likely get a callback and hopefully book a job. But you cannot book a job without putting in your time with the boring stuff. It’s kind of like a musician practicing his scales. Tedious, yes, but simply must be done, no question. If your only opportunity to act is prepping and doing an audition, then your head is not in the right place.
So how can actors practice every day? If you’re not in rehearsals for a play, performing in a show, or booked on a TV show or film, what is an actor to do? Here are some ideas, gathered with the help of my Audition Class students . . . .
1) always be enrolled in a class of some sort – acting, improv, voice, movement, etc.
2) go over old scenes from classes and try to improve on how you did them the first time
3) write your own monologues and work on them
4) find a monologue from a full-length play and work on that
5) video tape yourself doing a monologue
6) create an actor support group and read scenes and plays together – video tape the scenes
7) make a vlog
Watch TV shows, netflix, and at least one film in a movie theater a week.
Or any number of other things, including yoga, meditation, therapy. Actors not only have to be Masters of Acting, you have to be the Master of Yourself and of Humanity, really. You help us poor souls reaffirm our humanity, our very existence, for God’s sake. Why else do we care so much about you?
And if you can make money at what you practice every day, well, then you are truly blessed.