Nurturing an acting career is a lot like raising a child.
So you drive.
[MOTHERHOOD enters. She is wild, unpredictable, hella loud, and makes time go fast and slow at the same time. Her presence confuses the fuck out of even the smartest people. A collective shudder erupts combined with indescribable happiness upon her entrance. Everything screeches to a halt]
Like I’ve said before, it took a long time for me to accept my career wasn’t going to magically resurrect itself after starting my family. But doing *nothing* felt foreign and only served to exacerbate the guilt I felt. I’m a performer. I’m always performing. Except now the kids are old enough to tell me to STOP DANCING STOP SINGING STOP TALKING LIKE THAT. (dramatic pause) But I can’t.
Raising my babies into decent human beings takes up 95% of my waking hours, so I needed to find easy and quick things I can do to feed the performer inside of me. BONUS if these things take 15 minutes or less and cost nothing.
This list will help you stay connected and challenged throughout your hiatus. If you have a spare moment, try something new that will jolt you out of your comfort zone. On this list of things actors should do are some that take 5 minutes and others that take longer – but break up the task if it takes too much time to devote right now. Some things are directly career-related, while others are just about being alive.
The best thing to remember is that given enough time, small daily changes or habits can lead to huge results. Change is cumulative. Learning is cumulative. Digging a hole is cumulative. The Grand Canyon was created by a river over millions of years.
Likewise, small actions made daily can have a monumental impact on your performance career if you are consistent and patient. Something that, as a parent, I have become very good at.
THING ACTORS SHOULD DO EVERY DAY
2. Read. Read to yourself, read to your kids. Just read. When I read bedtime stories to my kids, I like to imagine turning the book into a play or musical. I have a couple of ideas brewing based on a couple of my personal favorites, so who knows!
3. Make Faces. Oh man, the kids could have fun with you on this one! Practice emoting so you know what your face looks like. I’m reminded of one of my favorite websites of the early 2000s, EmotionEric.com. Lots of ideas to try, there. Plus some less traditional favorites like “Being Born” and “Realizing That Your Hair Just Caught on Fire.”
4. Network. Make Friends. I’ve never been a good “networker” – I’d rather make friends. The best advice I ever heard was from John Mayer during a songwriter’s clinic at Berklee College of Music back in 2004. Someone asked him about how to network in the music industry and he said, “Don’t network. Make friends.” And he went on to explain how you could have the best drummer, best guitarist, best singer, best bassist, and your band would still suck. And that advice has never left me. What matters is chemistry and respect, two things you would only have with your real friends. Now making friends is not easy during this age of COVID, but I’ve joined some relevant groups for actors just to keep up with what’s going on, and I’ve made a couple of friends through that.
5. Vocal Warmup. Can’t sit at a piano? There are tons of them on YouTube. See if the kids will do them with you!
6. Watch a TV show or movie analytically. I’m still learning how to do this, myself but this guide helps break down the process. It explains how to explore the plot, themes, characters, cinematography, score, etc. Right now I’m still practicing analyzing the plot, themes, and characters. Do I need to go further? Not just yet, but someday.
7. Eat right and exercise. Now you might already do this on auto-pilot. As a parent, I try to keep balanced meals in the house, as I’m sure you do, too. For the most part, we do well. As for exercise, I’m either chasing these two fairy princess fireballs up and down the house or pushing their stroller all over town and up a bunch of hills. So maybe you don’t need to *add* this if you’re already on your feet most of the day.
8. Write. Maybe you don’t have time to sit down and write pages and pages of text. But you could write loglines. Sometimes I jot things down in the Notes app on my phone, script ideas, movies that could be musicals, etc. Someday I’ll go back and turn the best ones into scripts, but at least they’re written down somewhere.
9. Try/learn new things. This one takes a little more time but maybe try a new monologue or song. Or for something outside performance, opt for something creative like crochet or drawing.
10. Know yourself. The choices you make in life and onstage are based on your personal opinions. Spend some time getting reacquainted with yourself. I just found out I don’t like red spaghetti sauce. I’ve been eating it for almost 40 years and just realized that I really don’t enjoy it.
11. Keep your social media updated. While this might not fulfill you artistically, it will at least keep you looking alive and relevant. Stick to a schedule if you have to. Once a week. As long as you’re consistent. In all the social media marketing advice and courses I’ve taken, staying consistent is the only consistent point made.
12. Observe people. Something you probably do already without thinking. While you are out running errands or at the grocery store, do a little people watching. Notice how they walk, shop, eat…everyone has their own traits or quirks that make them unapologetically unique. Listen to how they speak and watch how they use their hands. This practice will keep your imagination stocked with “bits” you can use to create interesting and believable characters.
13. Live your life! There is more to life than acting. So much more. Living your life, celebrating all its joys, and enduring its miseries will by its very nature, make you a better actor. I used to say “All the good actors are either old or dead.” This is not a hard and fast rule. I know so many talented young actors, but it can be said that life experience is the greatest education.
14. Drink water. I’m gonna exercise my mom voice right now and tell you to DRINK MORE WATER. Water is good for you! It is good for your brain, it is good for your skin, it keeps you hydrated! You don’t want kidney stones! Drink more water!!!
15. Take care of your skin. Not only will it keep you looking fresh and younger, but a good skincare routine is also a little luxury you can do only for yourself. I do an edited version of the famous Korean skincare regimen with affordable drug store products, which works just fine. A good cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and eye cream is all you really need. Wear sunscreen. Drink water.
17. Watch / listen / study stand-up comedy. Of all things actors should do, this one is probably my favorite. We all love a good story and comedians are master storytellers, and every one of them tells their stories in their own way. The best ones draw you in by creating entire worlds in just a few sentences. Regularly listening to these comics will help you learn how to craft a good story in your own writing and voice.
18. Take care of your feelings. I say this to my 5-year-old a lot, especially when she gets angry, sad, or upset. It’s the easiest way to explain self-care and boundary settings. Walk away from something that makes you feel bad. Stay away from people who fill you with doubt. Take time alone if you need it. When my daughter is upset and tells me all she wants is to be happy, I tell her she needs to finish being sad/angry/upset first. It works for grownups, too.
19. When you watch TV, take note of what characters you would love to play. Don’t do that thing that some actors do and think about how they can play that part better. Think about what draws you to the character already created. What personality traits do they have in common? Do you share these traits?
20. Research the casting directors and showrunners of your favorite shows. This is one of my favorite things to do! A simple IMDB search is all you need to do. I have found that my two favorite shows (The Good Place and Parks & Recreation) were produced by Michael Schur, who also played one of my favorite characters on The Office, Dwight’s cousin Mose. He wasn’t onscreen much and never said a word but omg I laughed every time. I will definitely be keeping an eye open for any future Michael Schur productions. My point is, you like a show for a reason. Perhaps you have a similar artistic voice. One thing that all of these shows have in common is very strong, very memorable characters. So I’m going to look for projects with those types of opportunities for myself because it’s obvious that’s what I enjoy.
22. Volunteer. While it can be difficult to give your time personally during COVID times, you could donate your time virtually! Check out these opportunities on Volunteermatch.org for ways to give back while social distancing. Volunteering helps you step outside of yourself, and exercises your empathy and generosity – two things that absolutely help you become a better actor.
23. Dance in your living room. Loosen up and get wild! Put a family-friendly YouTube dance class on and get the littles involved! Or do a kids class, who cares! What matters is that you’re moving. Not only will this help you stay limber and fit, but you’ll also be spending time with your kids.
24. Watch an inspiring film. When you’re feeling down or unmotivated, sometimes a good movie with an inspiring story helps kick you out of that mood. A few of my favorites are Wild, The Color Purple, and most recently, Over The Moon.
25. Write out your personal definition of success. This one is hard and might take you a while to think about. Remember, the idea of success is relative. One person’s idea of personal success may not the same as yours. What do you want out of your life? What will make you happy?
Small efforts made each day will accumulate into amazing results.
You will improve your work ethic and strengthen your critical observation skills. You will not go stale by the time you feel ready to dive back into the audition circuit.
I hope you use this list of things actors should do to reinvigorate and feed our artistic spirit. Whether your hiatus is planned or unplanned (#pandemic2020), you can still work, even if the work is maintaining and nurturing yourself. You may be an actor, but you are a person first and foremost.
Use this time to keep the fire burning, and when it’s time to go back to work, you’ll be ready.
Ask yourself, “What are three things from this list that I can do today?”