If my experience of being an acting coach for many years has taught me anything, it’s these ten things:
1. The Business isn’t Fair
Most of you don’t need to be told this, but we all need to learn it. Things happen in the acting profession that aren’t fair. Dumb, talentless people get cast all the time. The director that loved your audition doesn’t call. You’re not what they’re looking for. The critics hated you. You didn’t get into the Drama School you believe you were destined for. The project fell through. Your scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Swallow it, and move on.
2. There’s Always Someone Better Than You (Even You)
Even at the height of your fame in the acting business, there’s someone out there who is better than you. You will meet actors that are far more talented, better looking, and luckier than you. You can’t do anything about that, so leave it behind and stop whining. But you will also find actors that are harder working, better trained, and better prepared. That was a choice they made. You can make that choice too.
3. The Director is Usually an Idiot
This is hard for me to say, I’m a trained and practicing director too. But most directors are idiots. Not even most, I’ve used the word usually. But I’ll tell you why. I think they don’t understand acting, not one bit (I think actors don’t understand acting either, but that’s not the topic here). Directors generally don’t know how to prepare a script for directing. They have an intellectual understanding of the play, or they have a highly complex view of the play, but they have no idea how to communicate that to an actor. You will spend your career interpreting what they say into something useful that you can do. The good ones, the non-idiots, will help you with this. The bad ones, well you’re on your own.
4. The Playwright’s Words are Law
The writer writes the script, you learn it and perform it. That’s your job. You think you could write a better script? Maybe you could! But that’s not your job right now. Instead, perform the playwright’s script, as it is written and then go home and write your better one. And then look across the table, or the rehearsal room, at the actors who know they can do it better than you, and become a better actor for it. I don’t care how bad you think the play is, you have to make it work, it’s your job. Construction workers may hate the architect’s plans, but they don’t start trying to adjust the structure as they build it.
5. Be Prepared
There are 1000 reasons why you didn’t prepare properly for the audition, didn’t arrive on time, didn’t learn your lines yet. The casting director, the agent and the director couldn’t care less for any of them. Prepare, prepare thoroughly, and if you can’t, if you like to wing it, give up now. You’re no use to yourself as an actor or the acting profession.
6. Those that Give Up Never Make It
People give up acting as a career because it’s hard. These are the people that never make it. They talk of having stability and money and all the stuff they later come to loathe, because they wanted to act. It’s simple. Don’t give up, and you’ll become the actor that you want to be - give up, and you never will.
7. There is No Perfect Audition Monologue
You will search, but you will not find it until you’re already performing the monologue and grow to love it. Pick something your age and gender and something from the last 30 years. The rest is just hard graft. Listen to me talk about Finding a Good Monologue.
8. Actors Don’t Articulate Well About Acting
I confess I love reading the biographies of actors. I love to hear their stories, but I also love to read them struggle to articulate about acting. I’m not being cruel. I’m just fascinated that the very best actors have such a level of unconscious competence, and they are so incredibly competent that they have no idea how they’re doing it.
9. 90% of Actor Training is Nonsense
I’m not saying this to be controversial, but I have the belief that most actor training is useless, it creates fake work, something that feels like creative work but wouldn’t help you act the scene in a million years. So pay attention to the 10%.
10. You Need to Get Out of Your Own Way
You are your own worst enemy as an actor most of the time. From the voice in your head, to your laziness, your failure to properly prepare and many many other examples of getting in your own way, particularly on stage. Make it simple, make it truthful, take a breath, and from now on, get out of your own way.
Mark Westbrook is a professional acting coach based in Glasgow, Scotland.