Keeping Your Head in the Game
By Luke McMahon
We can talk until the cows come home about process when preparing for a role, however, perhaps a much more interesting investigation is exploring your method when you’re not working. For many of us, this is a far more common circumstance – when nothing is happening, what do you do to keep positive? How do you keep active and make sure you’re always at the top of your game? This is how to be an actor, when you’re not ‘working’.
The process is much more challenging than just delving into some character work. The feeling of becoming stagnant can be crippling for your confidence, so it’s important to keep moving and growing. This is achievable by some very simple and basic choices. There is no need to pay an arm and a leg for every new intense four-day workshop that visits town – just some day-to-day tips to maintain a positive and creatively active mindset.
If I have a choice of reading a script or watching any HBO series, I choose HBO. Mostly because I’m lazy, but also because it’s not TV, it’s HBO. However, once the new episode is out of the way – I try to read as much as I can. Screenplays can be a hard slog – they’re not meant for reading, they’re a guided vision. However, the more screenplays you read, the easier and clearer they become. By reading screenplays you not only get involved with the filmmaking process (going from script to final product is an invaluable insight) – your understanding of on-screen dialogue and action expands allowing you to be more specific and deeper with your choices. The more scripts you read – the simpler the dialogue becomes, and clarity is a huge factor in the audition room.
You can’t always inspire yourself, so take a load off and let someone else do it. Plays, novels, articles (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)– whatever it is, just keep reading. Letting fiction, stories, characters, relationships, settings, history etc. occupy your mind is so incredibly beneficial for your creativity. No need to think about your own ability as a performer while reading, take yourself out of the equation and lose yourself – you’ve only got one shot, so do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime… yo.
We don’t have control over a lot of things in this industry – so those factors that we can help should be prioritised. The film industry is superficial – if you’re aiming to get into a position in which we can reverse this frequent motion of art taking a back seat to glamour – you’re going to have to play the game first. Yeah – being fit helps, but fitness isn’t always about having a flat stomach and a toned bum – it’s extremely beneficial for your own perspective of your body. If you are mentally comfortable with how your body feels and looks, it erases any of those self-conscious thoughts that the camera loves to pick out.
Physical health can clear any blockages that may be in the way of your specific and powerful acting choices. I’m not saying we all have to get down to 2% body fat like Bruce Lee (legend), we also don’t have to start clocking up 12km a day on the treadmill. But do something. Whatever it is that gets the heartbeat up and breaks you into a sweat will help shed any physical and mental doubts you carry. Fruit and veggies help too.
Does your creative flair stop at performing? I highly doubt it. Keep squeezing your creative juices and expand your reach. Not only does travelling down alternate creative avenues help enormously with networking and building an expansive skill set – it can all be brought back into performance. Every new idea, method or culture we explore opens up new and exciting possibilities and choices when on stage or screen. If you keep doing what you’re already good at you will promote a stagnant, predictable and monotonous performance. We must keep challenging ourselves in new facets and creative industries to keep moving forward and questioning our choices.
Put aside some time every week to actively widen your creative stance. Music – learn, play, write, sing. Sign up to weekly Salsa lessons at the local pub. Check out some open-mic comedy gigs. Write, paint, build, garden – all these are creative endeavours. You’re an artist – don’t pigeonhole yourself to just one form.
It’s far too easy and mentally crippling to stare at your phone all day waiting for your agent to call and offer you a role. It also never happens. Get the ball rolling yourself and create your own work. Whether it’s a solo effort or a collaboration – write your own material and perform it. Whether you’re touring the Fringe circuit, entering Flickerfest or performing a one-night only cabaret show in the granny flat of your Aunt’s house in North Ryde – creative initiative is a very promising attribute. People notice it. The scale of your production is irrelevant, because you always build up from there; you just need to listen to Shia LeBouf and DO IT.
Next time you call your agent, instead of asking them if they’ve lost your phone number, try pitching them something – ‘I’m working on something at the moment, I’m thinking of entering fringe or possibly turning it into a 12-part web-series.’ Their answer will be something like… ‘That sounds awesome, keep me posted’, and inevitably followed by ‘we missed out on that role.’
Not everything is out of your hands so why predict the future, when you can create it.