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I’m always on the lookout for articles that offer helpful advice. While this article by Alan Norton mainly talks about careers in the technological field, ALL of these points can be applied to a career in the performing arts. I’ve adapted his advice accordingly.
1. Norton’s article says “Put customer satisfaction first.”
For actors, this means “Put audience satisfaction first.” This doesn’t always mean play TO the audience. Dear God, we’ve all shared the stage with an actor who mugs the audience for a reaction rather than forward the story. Sometimes the audience reacts, sometimes it doesn’t. Deal with it. Your job is to tell the story. If you do that with all of your artistic ability, then “audience satisfaction” will come naturally.
2. “Make Expertise Your Specialty”
Make it your mission to be an expert in your field. You are never done training or evolving as a performer. I used to tell my former students “All of the really good actors are either old or dead.” I mean no disrespect to the young and gifted, of course! But older actors have had more time to get better in their craft. Remember, you are only as good as your last performance.
3. “Do More Than Expected”
Rehearsal is like school. You are there to learn your show. The real work happens at home. Sure, you can spend your time just memorizing your lines, get to rehearsal and let the director do all of your work for you (that’s a great way to never to get cast again), OR you can use your time outside of rehearsal to develop a character and relationships within the parameters of the script with the other characters in the story. Spend some time outside of rehearsal going over lines with your fellow cast members and get off book ahead of schedule. Schedule time with the music director to go over your music so that it’s solid. Try different ways to approach your character. The more you bring to the table at rehearsal, the more your director has to work with.
4. Do what you say and say what you can do.
Don’t lie on your resume. Don’t say you can do accents when you can’t. Don’t claim to be a dancer when you are at best a mover. Be realistic with yourself and list only what you do well because when they ask for it, they are going to want you to deliver.
5. Communicate effectively.
Go through the proper communications channels. Never give another actor a note. NEVER. That is the NUMBER ONE sin among actors. If you have a problem with another actor, go to your stage manager or company manager and let them handle it. Years ago, I had a problem with a company member saying offensive things to me offstage. Instead of going through the proper channels to solve the problem, I took matters into my own hands. This person received no reprimand for their behavior, and I looked like a huge b*tch. It took a long time for me to repair the damage to my image caused by this incident.
6. Follow exceptional guiding principles.
Treat your cast well. Respect your director. Respect the crew. Respect yourself. You are on the same team. Be kind to your fans and those who admire your work. Practice humility, have strong integrity, keep your dignity, and most importantly, treat others the way you would like to be treated.
7. Praise your peers, not yourself.
Being an extremely competitive person, this is probably the most difficult one for me to do. I will directly quote Alan Norton here. He says it best: “Respect and acknowledge the talents of your peers. There is nothing more unprofessional and self-serving than telling others how wonderful you are. Professionals are humble and generous in their praise of others.”
Give compliments honestly while being generous. This doesn’t mean just hand out compliments like candy at Halloween. Don’t give a compliment if you don’t mean it, but when you do, give with your whole heart.
8. Share your knowledge.
This one is hard to do because we actors are prideful, vain and insecure creatures deep down. We are competitive. We think if we share what we know, it might give our competition a leg up. If someone else books a job because of your help, then that speaks volumes for the kind of person you are. It might suck if you were up for the same job and didn’t get it, but you have to remember that there are no guarantees in this business regardless of how much or who you know. Hopefully your good deed will not be forgotten. Just keep learning, training, preparing, and listening.
9. Say thank you.
Be grateful for every opportunity given to you. Give and say thanks to those who help you on your journey, whether it’s your dresser, your agent, your parents, your teachers…the cab driver who drives just a few miles over the speed limit to make sure you get to your audition in time…everyone deserves genuine and meaningful gratitude.
10. Keep a smile on your face and the right attitude in your heart.
Sometimes you have a bad day and all you want to do is complain, sulk and lash out. If you’re feeling like crap, someone else has to suffer along with you, right? After all, misery loves company.
However, true professionals don’t take others down with them when they are having a hard time. Yes, it is difficult to be keep a good attitude when it seems the whole world is against you, but don’t feel like you are being “fake” by pretending to be happy when you are not. Instead, be mindful that your attitude directly affects those around you. Try not to allow your bad day to ruin that of someone else.
Never let anyone tell you that you are only a professional when you attain your Equity card. There are plenty of Equity actors who act a fool on and off the stage. There are professional actors who have chosen not to take their card for many reasons. Remember, professionalism in any setting is not only defined by your skill set, but also your reputation and attitude. All professional actors, Equity or not, practice humility, integrity and accountability onstage and off. They treat their fellow company members with respect, regardless of role, position, or Union status.