Those of you who know me personally know how ridiculously tight my family is – I basically hit the jackpot with the people I was born to belong to. My siblings aren’t only my best friends, but they are damn cool people too.
My baby sister is chalk full of talent and I’ve asked her to write me a little piece about staying focused and driven in an industry that can easily take the wind out of your sails. (Plus, she’s also a total babe.)
Doing What You Love (and Remembering Why You Do It)
I’m an actress. The first question people always ask is, “Oh! What have you been in?” A valid question; how can one claim to be an actor without having done reputable work in the field? During my time in the industry I’ve been lucky enough to work on some exciting projects, ranging from a list of embarrassing Barbie commercials as a kid to more recent roles in features and TV series – and I am forever auditioning. But the work I do is not defined by the number of lines on my resume.
I won’t bother to explain why I love to act; that is a novel unto itself. Suffice it to say that acting is my passion, a craft that makes me feel truly present. So, after four years of university and trying to decide what to do with my life, I ditched the corporate path for a schedule of auditioning and intensive acting classes.
I got my degree in Commerce at a highly competitive business school – almost all of my friends are well on their way to lucrative careers in accounting and investment banking. I envy their security, but I’ve never leveled with the tone of superiority old acquaintances adopt when they ask me where I’m working now and I say, “I’m acting!” I feel incredibly blessed to have found what I’m passionate about, and to have the luxury of pursuing it as a career.
But “acting” is not synonymous with “working”– working actors are fortunate to make a living doing what they love. It is a long road that requires persistence and a continuous study of craft. To me, it’s worth it; I enjoy story, character research and performance so much that the work is enough. But after hearing “What have you been in?” so many times, it’s easy to start focusing on the resume.
Since getting back into the audition circuit seriously in the fall of 2012, I’ve had a fairly gratifying year and a half. With each booking and shortlisting, I felt I was on the road to my perceived success – I fed on these little triumphs like a drug. I started living for calls and emails from my agent, waiting for positive feedback to validate me.
Last pilot season, I put many auditions on tape for major network pilots. I got a callback for one that was hilariously well written, and became prematurely attached to the project when I read the full script. Going in, I felt prepared and excited. In the waiting room I ran into an old friend who, while I was in college and on hiatus from acting, had been living in LA and built a pretty impressive resume for herself. When she finished her audition, they asked her to stick around, and one of the casting directors pulled her aside to discuss availability to screen test. Before going in for my callback, I’d mentally psyched myself out with the feeling I wasn’t worthy for the part.
Evidently, my audition was a disaster. In one scene my character used a sock puppet to taunt her younger brother, and it got stuck to my bracelet clasp; for the rest of the scene I had a pink ladybug sock dangling from my wrist. My work became distracted and contrived; my old habit of nervous speed talking kicked in. I became painfully self-aware, and somewhere amidst an inarticulate line I stepped outside myself and was struck with a liberating realization: I was trying way too hard.
The downward spiral ceased. I relaxed into the character, who was in fact supposed to be funny, and suddenly the ladybug sock became a hilarious prop. I had the director and producers laughing at all the right moments; for 5 minutes, I got to entertain a room full of people who appreciated my craft. I was having fun.
I had marched in that room trying to prove something, and failed in my misguided efforts. I’d neglected to recognize the great experience that exists with every audition: I got to explore a new role, experiment with comedy, and perform in front of prominent casting directors who would also consider me for other roles. Simply, I needed to be grateful for the opportunity.
The reality is that with every audition, there are a thousand factors out of my control. I can’t control how the reader reads, how the script is written, how well I fit aesthetically with the established cast members. I can’t control whether they want someone with a bigger resume, or even whether I get nervous. I can only do my research, prepare to the best of my ability, and humbly offer my version of the character to serve the story. That is all I’m responsible for. Focusing on factors that have nothing to do with me, or approaching each audition as a desperate job interview, directs energy to all the wrong places.
It’s not about keeping your standards low; setting goals and working hard to achieve them is important. But it’s not everything. I was putting so much emphasis on booking that the business began to take over the art; the result was more important than the experience. I had to ask myself, why am I doing this? Because I love it. Focusing on paychecks or ego-serving feedback doesn’t reflect that.
That day I discovered what I feel is the key to fulfillment in acting… or in any vocation. Find your passion, and have the courage to pursue it. But don’t let the echelons you create for yourself dictate your gratification. If you are doing what you love, then the process and pure enjoyment of your work should be what fulfills you – everything else is just a bonus.
Give her a follow @Lanie_McAuley