You’ve gotten new headshots that reflect the most recent you. You’ve polished your resume with your latest projects. You’ve even touched base with your agent on how else to market yourself. All that and still no jobs. What’s going on? Has the zombie apocalypse finally happened? And can we turn that into a new movie?
It’s tough going through an acting dry spell and actors generally react to that in three different ways.
Which of these 3 actor types are you when faced with a dry spell?
You could even be a combination of these three types. Whatever your default type is though, I want you to make a promise to yourself now to never be The Pessimist again.
Yes, right now – it’s okay, I’ll wait.
Because there’s just no point in wasting your energy as The Pessimist. You ask one question of why and suddenly, you find yourself staring down the dark familiar path of self-doubt. You know every gnarled root and tangled undergrowth on that path. You also know what lies at the end of that path: nothing. Okay, there’s misery as well, but it’s still nothing because it doesn’t actually lead to anything concrete. And it certainly won’t change the casting director’s decision. The only thing you can change is yourself. So completely skip over being The Pessimist. Don’t even go there. Now you’re left with the options of The Realist or The Optimist. Or…how about a hybrid of both?
I know it’s very tempting to dive straight into bulking up your savings to tide you over the audition-frenzy times. The problem is that while your bank account balance will improve, your growth as an actor won’t. Thankfully, there’s a happy medium where you don’t have to sacrifice one goal for the other.
Basic survival for actors
Starting off as The Realist, here’s where you have to take a hard look at what your monthly spending is like. Make a list of all the big-ticket items you have to shell out for each month. These include major expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and debt repayment. Look back as well at your bank account and credit card transactions in the last few months for any monthly expenses you absolutely can’t do without. Add them all up and tack on an extra amount to put towards your savings. The total is how much income you need to make every month. Now all you have to do is pick up just enough shifts to meet that income. You can reserve the rest of your time for being The Optimist.
If you find that you’ll have to work practically 24/7 to meet that income though, that’s when you’ve got to really buckle down into The Realist character. Review your expenses again and this time, scrutinize all the small transactions that you make each month. A good question I like to ask is: “Will I look death in the face if I cut this out of my spending habits?” If the answer is no, it gets cut – ruthlessly. You can also start getting creative with your major expenses like saving on heating bills or saving on food costs.
This exercise sets you up for a better personal finance future, of course. But that’s a vague goal that’s not usually very exciting to us actors. No, the goal here is to not work any more than you have to at your survival job so that you have more time to be The Optimist. Less expenses means less work hours needed means more time for self-growth.
Time for self-growth – that’s the key here. If you keep that at the top of your mind, you won’t even get bummed out about not booking any roles lately. Think back to your previous busy season. As you ran around from your survival job to auditions to projects, you probably didn’t have any time for self-growth, right? But now you do. So embrace the dry spell! This is your golden opportunity to focus on yourself.
What does self-growth mean for an actor?
Practicing and improving your acting skills is an obvious one. It’s the bread and butter of your acting career, after all. You can’t go very far without knowing how to listen and respond in character.
Self-growth also involves rounding out your life experience, the source of all your acting choices. The richer and more varied your life experience is, the more depth your characters will have.
So what you can do to expand your acting skills and life experience?
Sign up for acting classes
Learning should be something you push yourself to do every day; if you set your mind to it, you can actually teach yourself anything. The same goes for acting. There are so many different ways to build a character that you can always discover new techniques from both the teacher and your classmates. The key is to go in there with an open mind and be willing to try something you’ve never done before. You’re bound to pick up a thing or two to tweak your acting process.
Study your favourite movies
Yes, study. Well, you can enjoy them, too, while you’re at it. And since they’re your favourite movies, you wouldn’t mind re-watching them for the hundredth time! What I mean by “study” though is replaying over and over again the scenes in each movie that made it your favourite. Look carefully at how every actor moves, talks, and shifts his/her facial expressions. The revelations you glean from this study will give ideas on how to play certain scenes in the future.
Study live theatre plays
With plays, you’d look for the same acting subtleties as studying movies. You’d also be able to pick up on how different actors project their voices and use the stage space. You just don’t get to rewind the scene, unfortunately, so give it your full attention!
It does wonders in stimulating your imagination. In turn, you’ll expand your palette of character choices and even your vocabulary of action words.
Read biographies about your favourite actors
Whenever you’re stuck on making a decision, it often helps to ask yourself what your role model would do. The biographies of your favourite actors may give you insight on the lessons they’ve learned in the industry. So the day you’re at a similar crossroads in your acting career, the answer may already be staring you in the face right on those pages.
You can make your stories as long or short as you want. They don’t even have to be literary works of art. By writing your own stories, you put into practice new words and speech patterns you’ve learned until you start to develop your own voice. It’ll also make it easier to create character backstories if that’s your way in to a role. Remember, too, that you don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike before you can write. You just need to have a solid productivity system in place.
Drop in on improv workshops
Improv is a very useful skill for all actors. That is what’s going to save you if you ever dry up on stage or if the director wants you to “try something different”. There’s no better way to develop improv skills than diving right in.
Film something fun with friends
It can be a scene, parody or a short. Maybe even something you’d just written! The important thing is to have fun with it. It’s a creative outlet that keeps your acting chops sharp and generates new material for your demo reel. And if the project turns into something brilliant, submit it to film festivals! You just never know.
Take up a hobby
Besides being able to boast an extra special skill on your C.V., a new hobby will be more fuel for your creativity. Plus, you get to meet new people outside of the acting community, which may lead to exciting opportunities you’ve never considered. Remember to also showcase your works-in-progress throughout your hobby-learning. As Nat Eliason wrote in the article I linked to earlier about teaching yourself anything: “School trains students to be afraid of the judgment of their work from being graded all the time, but if you can get over that latent fear and start sharing what you’re working on with the community around your skill, you’ll advance much faster and make useful connections along the way.”
Update promotional material
As you do these activities, they’ll no doubt provide fresh content to update your promotional material (e.g. C.V., headshots, demo reels, social media profiles, websites, etc.). So make sure to take every chance to keep them up-to-date. No one can show the world what you’re capable of better than you.
Work on a side-business idea
If you have a side-business idea – perhaps around the new hobby you just mastered? – then definitely find the time to make it happen. Not only can it potentially grow into another income stream (always a good thing for actors with variable income!), but it’ll also yield a wide swathe of life experience that comes with running your own business.
Spend time with your loved ones
These are the most important people in your life. They love you for who you are and have absolute faith in whatever you have your heart set on. Ideally, you’d find a way every day to nurture these relationships. If you feel like you haven’t been spending time with one another as much as you’d like though, now’s your chance. It’s amazing how far they’d go to lift you up from the lowest of lows. All you have to do is be there with them and be there for them in their time of need. Cherish that. You know those deep connections we always seek when we’re acting? This is it – and it’s real.
Dry spells are the magic you need for a future you want
These self-growth activities are the ingredients that will make dry spells work for you. What you’ll start to notice is by the end of each spell, you’ve not only become a stronger actor, but you’ve also become a better version of yourself. The effect multiplies with each dry spell and it gets easier every time.
When all is said and done, it’s about shoring up your self-confidence again so that you can fearlessly pursue your acting career. The moment your self-confidence power is at its height is the moment to go out there and start networking. That magic will invariably rub off on people and they’ll start to wonder what it’ll take to offer you a role on their next project.
Especially that zombie apocalypse movie.
What are your survival tips to get through acting dry spells? What would be your words of advice to your past self to overcome your own doubts?