When I’m not drawing things or writing things, sometimes I’m pretending to be other people. From the moment I stepped into my first acting class I knew the lessons and techniques I learned would be beneficial to my everyday life. Actors are among the most driven people I’ve ever been around — but if there’s a profession where success and failure (and overcoming that failure) is in your face constantly, it’s in the world of acting.
Quickly, the term “success” is a completely personal metric and often an ever-changing one (and I’m planning another post about this very topic). But for now, let’s agree that everyone wants to be “successful,” ambiguously speaking, no matter what that means to them individually. Whether that means simply making a living at an artistic craft or winning an Oscar; losing 20 pounds or free soloing El Capitan, these acting techniques will be universal and important in helping you get there.
“Talent without work is nothing more than raw unfinished material.”
— Constantin Stanislavski
Stanislavski’s famous book is called An Actor Prepares. Well, that could just as well be “Anyone Who’s Ever Been Successful at Anything Prepares.” You know that feeling of knowing how to do something so well you don’t even need to think? That’s the result of preparation.
Alex Honnold just didn’t walk up to the base of El Capitan without any gear and climb up. He trained for over a year, climbing the mountain over and over (with a rope), memorizing hand and feet placements and choreographing sequences so that he could “climb El Cap in front of an arena full of people if I had to.”
They say (and you know “they” are always right — although in this case, “they” includes Oprah) luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Whether you believe in luck or not, being prepared for when opportunity hits is paramount to reaching your goals. That said…
“If we cannot see the possibility of greatness, how can we dream it?”
— Lee Strasberg
This certainly goes along with preparation. In acting, many theories teach having an overall objective, and then individual scene objectives. Ivanna Chubbuck (from whom I’m taking this, but these ideas permeate through all of acting) says, “Compelling people are always, in one way or another, goal oriented.”
To succeed, you need to be working towards something. Those who don’t have defined goals or objectives are stagnant at best, and flailing aimlessly at worst. (Actually I suppose it’s subjective as to which one is worse… but they’re both bad.) Once you set clearly-defined goals for yourself, you can make decisions based around, and moving toward, those.
Develop tactics for overcoming obstacles.
“Emotions aren’t doable. Actions are doable.”
— Stella Adler
Obstacles create good drama, so as an actor your character faces obstacles in pretty much every scene (and the bigger the better). With a goal in mind, you need to figure out how to overcome what’s standing in your way.
No matter who you are or what you’re doing, you’re going to face obstacles. (I think I may be the first person to ever write that down.) You don’t get a job you want; someone won’t return a phone call; your client sucks… setbacks happen all the time, both big and small. Planning ahead for facing certain obstacles (preparing!) is possible in most scenarios. If you prepare enough, when those inevitable hurdles come, you know what to do.
Regarding the above quote: Things that stand in our way typically illicit an emotional response. That emotional response (whatever it may be) is okay to have, but it doesn’t solve anything. That’s why developing tactics (doable actions) is so important.
“You know it’s all right to be wrong, but it’s not all right not to try.”
— Sanford Meisner
“Open your senses, no matter how painful it may be. Doing so will heighten your sensitivities.”
— Uta Hagen
What does “open” mean? Good question. It’s being present, being vulnerable, listening and taking in every single thing that’s around you. It’s being willing to take the aforementioned risks. An actor who can’t do these things is just a liar. (Granted, some people are excellent liars.) However, this pertains to everything, because a person who can’t be open to opportunities around them is just a robot. (And granted, some people are excellent robots.)
As I mentioned, some say luck is preparation meeting opportunity. We covered preparation. So how do you recognize opportunity when it come a-knockin’? You remain open to it.
“WHY is the most important word in an actor’s vocabulary.”
— Sanford Meisner
Actors don’t just need to learn about acting. They need to learn about life, about human beings, about what makes us all tick. The more an actor knows about his or her character, his world, her family, his job, her favorite color, the more the actor has from which to draw inspiration. That results in more flexibility and a more nuanced performance.
If you want to get practical, knowledge is power. The more you know about your company, your product, the marketplace in which you operate, your boss, your co-workers, the more flexibility you have, the more insight you have, and the more knowledge you have! Why not seek knowledge for it’s own sake?
Question everything. Be curious about everything. This world is a huge, amazing, wildly-eclectic place. I know I quote Elizabeth Gilbert (and this exact quote) with some frequency, but it’s one of my favorites:
“You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it in the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say they lived a rich and splendid life.”
“Don’t bump into the furniture.”
“Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”
— Spencer Tracy
(Though the above quote can likely be traced back to actor and playwright Noel Coward, a 1968 LIFE magazine article included this advice that Spencer Tracy gave Katharine Houghton at the beginning of her career.)
Simply put: Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. I talked about this here, but I think it’s important because, while goal setting and obstacle avoiding and risk taking and remaining open and learning are all important… we can get bogged down.
Preparation is key for an actors success, but at the end of the day, know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture. Having a strong drive to succeed is fantastic, but at the end of the day, show up on time, work hard, and don’t be a dick.
Another way to put this:
Let it go.
“Without letting it go, you can’t help but be in control…and over-intellectualize… You have to feel like anything can happen and anything’s possible.”
— Ivanna Chubbuck
Get out of your head. Trust the work you’ve done and relax.