The time in between acting gigs can be a gift from the universe if you look at it as an opportunity to hone your craft. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says one must log approximately 10,000 hours of practice in order to excel at anything, be it blacksmithing, performing surgery, or acting. Of course, there are other variables at play, like natural talent, and how one practices. But it’s clear that the more you do something, the better you get at it.
It may sound daunting to rack up that many hours, but people who do, do so because they love what they do. They do not approach their practice with dread, or out of a sense of slavish obligation. They find ways to make their practice enjoyable. Not always, but most of the time.
Begin with the thing you love most. Do you love the interplay between actors when exploring great text? Take a class. Or gather some friends together to meet in each other’s apartments to workshop scenes. Do you love to sing? Find a teacher or a coach, or just work on your own. There are many apps and tools available to access sheet music and accompaniment like youtube and Music Notes.
Start a play reading group. Read a play a week, or a play a month, whatever feels do-able. Group members hold each other accountable, and provide a forum for discussion.
Go see live theatre. Get comp tickets by ushering. Hang out afterwards and congratulate the actors. It’s good karma and you’re building your network too.
Now is the perfect time to take inventory of your skills and assets. What’s working well? What could use some revising? Make a voiceover demo or reel. Build or re-vise your web site. Learn a new dialect. Is it time for a new headshot? Fresh resources will give you a renewed sense of vitality and purpose.
As long as you’re working on your craft, keeping it sharp, building skill, it doesn’t matter how formal or informal your practice is. What matters is that you do it consistently. And you’re more likely to do something you love, rather than something you think you “should” do.
Incrementalism is a powerful engine. Mastery of any craft doesn’t happen overnight.
Steady, consistent practice that is sustainable over the long haul, will get you where you want to go. Look for small daily practices you will do to keep your craft at the ready, and to reinforce your identity as an actor. Meditate. Create a mantra and repeat it to yourself several times a day. Visualize living your perfect life. Take care of your health. Are you exercising? Find something you love to do and do it four or more days a week. Will a round of therapy benefit you? Now’s the perfect time to take care of your mental and emotional well-being.
In the inevitable fallow periods of our business, it’s easy to lose our sense of identity as an actor. “If I’m not working, how can I call myself an actor?” Claim that identity each and every day. Breathe it into your heart, first thing every morning. Then choose practices that feed your soul, build your craft, and signify to yourself and the world that you are indeed, at your core, an actor, for life.
I’d love to hear how you keep your acting chops honed. Feel free to leave a comment below.