I will often ask our students the following question: What does it take to be successful and to have a career as a professional actor? Often, the answer will be along the lines of: “talent“; “acting skills“; “training“; “a good agent“; “luck“; “knowing the right people“; “going to NIDA“; “being in the right place at the right time“; or dozens of other factors.
Many of these things are important and some are not – it depends on the individual and there is no set path to success. However, they often fail to mention what I believe is the single most important factor when it comes to making a career as an actor and it is this:
In order to be employed (and re-employed) as an actor and develop a sustainable long-term career you need to be able to give directors what they need to do their job well.
Directors – especially in theatre – are the key decision makers when it comes to who gets the jobs and who doesn’t. If you are the type of actor who takes direction well; works hard; turns up on time; does research and preparation without being asked; contributes to the creative process with ideas and suggestions (at appropriate times) OR knows when they are working with a director who DOESN’T want ideas and suggestions and so doesn’t offer them; listens and observes proper rehearsal room etiquette; and a host of other helpful behaviours then directors will want to work with you (and they will probably tell their director colleagues how great you are to work with too!).
If you don’t do these things it doesn’t matter how much ‘talent’ you have; where you trained; who your agent is; or how lucky you are – you won’t get the jobs or – if you do – you will only work with a director once and they will tell all their director friends NOT to employ you in their productions.
Students; amateurs and semi-professionals who find it hard to get acting jobs place way too much emphasis on their ‘talent’ or acting ability and way too little on their ability to work-with and help directors to do their job.
I often observe (or hear) what’s happening in rehearsals from my office which is right next to our rehearsal space. Way too often I hear directors ask students to “please be quiet while I’m speaking” or asking ”why haven’t you learnt your lines by now?” or “why haven’t you looked up the meaning of that word yourself?” or even “please don’t wait for me to tell you what to do - make an offer or use your own judgement“. Whatever the reason for this – fear; inexperience; immaturity; rudeness; self importance or whatever – these students/actors are not helping (in fact they are hindering) the director. When they leave the school and try to enter the workforce as a professional actor, would the director want to employ such actors in their productions? Probably not.
On the other side of the coin, I have seen other students who work hard; listen; take direction well; build positive relationships with their director and peers; demonstrate reliability and punctuality; work hard outside of class on their voice exercises and journals etc who are offered roles in professional productions by the directors they work with at STS after graduation. This has very little to do with talent; luck or anything else mentioned previously and everything to do with the perception that the director has formed about the actor in terms of their ability to help them do their job well.
The most important thing students at STS need to learn is: IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU! In fact, quite the opposite is true. It’s about your ability to be a team player and to help others (especially directors) to look good and to do their job well. Learn this lesson and you will be well on your way to turning your passion (for acting) into a profession!
Mark Matthews – STS Course Director