Before reading this unsolicited advice that I am dishing out, please read this MASSIVE disclaimer: I have no idea what I am talking about. Really. No idea. Any close family or friend of mine would legitimately laugh out loud at the idea of me giving someone advice, and I would totally understand. It’s preposterous to think that I, of all people, should be giving advice to anyone about anything.
That being said, I do fit an incredibly unique niche. I am an actor (at least, I have a Masters in Acting). I am a very proud and loud West Virginian. I have been to different acting schools and lived in a big market city before. I have friends who are actors--actors ranging from only knowing a 1-minute monologue to featuring in big movies you have definitely seen. I have watched/heard/attended countless seminars/interviews/classes on the art/craft/business of acting. So, whether it be from my own experience or that of someone else’s, here are some tips for actors and entertainment folk from one early-career-Appalachian.
Things I Wish I Knew Back When
1. It Is Going To Take Time, Probably A Long Time.
Last week, I was on the phone with a friend I met in the Netherlands, and he was asking me questions about acting, my going to acting school, and how one may get work as an actor. I tried to explain to him that it may take 7-10 years for me to start getting consistent work as an actor. He was shocked. “Really? That long?” I asked him what job he wants, and he said he wants to become a deputy ambassador in Europe for the United States. Since he’s 22, I asked him if, at 29 or 30, he thought he would have that job. “Hell no,” he responded. Same thing for actors.
If you think that you are going to be able to get any kind of paid work as an actor, even on a small scale, after a few months, I don’t want to say you are wrong, but you are wrong. Even after a few years, it would be a dream come true. Like most professions, to get where you want to be professionally is going to take years and years of work. Even child actors have to put in years of work before they make it on the Disney Channel. Of course, there are stories of those being “discovered,” but even in those instances, there are at least 3 years of nothing before something gets going.
Although I was very aware the chances of making a living as an actor were virtually zero and that it would take a while even if it was possible, I didn’t realize we were talking about a decade or more. Take that into consideration when it comes to deciding to go to school, get another job, live in a new city, etc.
2. Talent matters a lot! It also doesn’t matter at all!
Talent is the most important part of the art of acting, I really believe that! However, “talent” comes with many caveats. Talent is hella subjective; some people would argue that John Cena is a better actor that Bradley Cooper, and they would be right! Talent is also, in many ways, ubiquitous. Finding someone who can portray emotions, do an accent, tap dance, sing opera, and juggle can be found in most BFA acting programs. What we like as an audience is other things. Looks, confidence, energy, and uniqueness is as an important factor in what makes someone “talented” or not.
Also, talent is not that important. Or maybe better said, talent HAS to be coupled with other things. Hard work is obviously very important. Putting yourself out there and being able to fail consistently for a long time is important. Being able to network and meet people is important. Simply showing up prepared and on time is important. So many things are super important to becoming a successful actor outside of whatever we think “talent” is. In my opinion, talent factors only (at most) 35% into becoming a successful actor.
3. Learn how to audition
To audition well, you have to know how to act; there’s no getting around that. That being said, the two are different skills. In 2020 and beyond, fewer and fewer casting directors will do in-person auditions, and more and more will do self-tapes. How to self-tape well is something that no college and very few acting classes will ever teach you. You need to learn how to self-tape well; it is an art in itself. If you can do a self-tape well, getting your foot in the door will be a lot easier.
4. Learn about the other elements of film/theatre
I have learned much more about acting by directing than I have in 7 years of acting class. While directing, I learned what actors should and should not do in auditions, rehearsal, and performance. So if you want to act, you need to direct; and if you want to direct, you need to act. If you haven’t yet, write a play. If you don’t want to write, at least read a book about screenwriting and/or dramatic writing. It will open your eyes to how writers write dialogue, create characters, and approach plot. Build a set, hold a boom mic, help with crafty, learn how to light a face with no shadow; all of this will give you a better insight into the business.
5. Use West Virginia-ness and your uniqueness to your advantage
You have heard the quotes of “be yourself” and “don’t change for anybody” and stuff like that. It is super important, but there is a reason why. It is because when it comes to acting, authenticity is key. Thus, although it may not happen often, if they are casting a West Virginian with a slight twang and you ARE a West Virginian with a slight twang, that role might as well be yours! Again, it might be rare, but there is no point in changing yourself because when it does happen, you will fit the role better than a new key in a well-oiled-lock.
Man, I should really listen to my own advice! I need to be more patient; I’m not. I need to become a better auditioner and self-taper. I should write more and create my own work. I should stop trying to fit into other people’s molds and be confident in who I am. So take this advice like with a grain--no, a pound--of salt.
There is a lot more to say and a lot more to learn, but here are some tips to get you on your way. I hope that you can add to this list and one day share advice with another West Virginian over a pepperoni roll, a Mountain Dew, or some Tudors.
Contact Afsheen Misaghi