Things I’ve Learned Since Theatre School

A little over three years ago, I published a post on this site called Things I Wish I Had Been Told in Theatre School. Almost overnight, it went completely viral and, since March 2013, has been read (or at least loaded) over half a million times.

To be clear: one night in March 2013, I had a few glasses of wine, was feeling a little insecure about my career, and made a list of semi-grievances about my time in theatre school as a sort of cathartic exercise.

Apparently, it struck a chord with a great many of you. And seriously, thanks for all the attention. I wish I had monetized the hell out of this thing before I hit “POST”. You might have made me a rich man.

Since that popular post, I have worked, worked for free a lot more often, and discovered  a number of things that I probably couldn’t have been taught while I was in theatre school. The career path of any one actor, I’ve come to realize, is a unique and unpredictable journey, one that can’t be planned or anticipated, and definitely can’t be controlled.

Theatre school is great. But it can’t prepare you for the real thing. And maybe I was a little too hard on it three-ish years ago. Maybe theatre school isn’t supposed to prepare you. Cause five years out of it, I don’t even think it could have if it tried.

So, here in April 2016, having matured immeasurably and intellectually, both an actor and a blogger, I honour you with. Okay, I’ll stop.

In all seriousness, here’s a new list of things I’ve actually learned since leaving theatre school and working in the actual, honest to God, raw, unfiltered, industry.

A part of me hopes you find this post as charming (if not more so) as that last one. But mostly, I hope it offers some guidance and reassurance that you’re not supposed to know everything when you start out on this journey, you’re probably going to doubt it more days than not, and it will be the hardest thing you ever do as long as you’re still breathing. But it’s still worth it.

Here we go…

  1. Your first agent will probably be a hack. But, as long as you don’t fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars to them for head shots, coaching, networking events, and promotional materials, you’ll be okay and, when you eventually part ways, you’ll be able to smell a hustler 10 blocks away. And that’s important.
  2. When you finally get a real agent, you’ll be really excited, but don’t expect a miracle.
  3. Don’t be too hard on your agent. They’re submitting the hell out of you. It’s up to you to be employable, not them.
  4. There are going to be a lot of moments when you question why the hell you’re kicking back 15% of your earnings to your agent who essentially just sent some emails and made some phone calls you could have done yourself. First of all, they did a lot more than that. Secondly, if you saw or heard those communications, you’d know how hard they tried to convince Casting that you’re perfect for that supporting lead and not the eight-line principal they offered you. And thirdly, they’re making pocket lint compared to what you are on this gig and you get treated like a star for the day while they pour over Casting Workbook trying to find you (and him/her) the next job.
  5. Your first trailer on your first real gig is going to be a broom closet with no running water. Resist the urge to Instagram it anyways.
  6. While we’re at it, background performers Instagram every moment of their day on set. You’re a professional actor. Want to look like one? Keep your phone in your pocket and save the photo ops for when you wrap.
  7. The leads are usually nice. But if they’re not, they’re probably just exhausted because they’ve been shooting 14-hour days for three weeks and they have no idea what the date is. Give them a break and don’t take it personally if they don’t treat you like an old friend on your first day.
  8. Learn how to stay energized. Yeah, you were so excited the night before you probably didn’t sleep much but even if your call is 7:00 AM, you probably won’t shoot until 11:00 AM and nobody looks good after a nap. Stay alert, stay safe.
  9. Almost everyone on set is working harder than you, longer than you, and making less money than you. So be nice to them, stay the fuck out of their way, and don’t make their jobs harder.
  10. Don’t change anything that wardrobe, hair, or makeup has done. They get approval from the director. That’s why they’re constantly taking photos of you. It’s not because your amazing.
  11. You’re an actor. Don’t do background.
  12. Feel good about every audition you do where you don’t embarrass yourself. But don’t wait by the phone.
  13. Every once and a while, Casting fucks up, confuses you with another actor, and offers you a part meant for someone else. Be pissed off, but don’t send any angry emails, don’t take it out on your agent, and get over it within a week.
  14. Be friendly as hell as soon as you walk into the casting session, in the audition room, and when you leave, but don’t waste anyone’s time, and don’t milk it.
  15. Ninety-four percent of casting decisions have nothing to do with your audition. Deal with it.
  16. Don’t ever, ever, ever announce you got the part until you’ve signed the contract. It’s just bad karma.
  17. Feel good about your audition and end it there. You’ll either book it or not, and most of the time, not.
  18. Look like you in your head shot.
  19. Don’t post-produce your audition tapes. Just shoot the sides and send.
  20. Until you’re  called for five days or more, you’re just a bit player. So don’t act like you have top billing…if you ever want to have it.

Always be brave and bold.


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