In September, I started a new beginner’s acting class, which I hold three times a year – September, January, and April.
I love this class, filled with all kinds of interesting people, from all walks of life. Many (most) are pursuing acting and want to get solid, professional training. Others want to “test the waters” and see if they have talent, or perhaps have been away from acting for a while and feel rusty. Often I get an actor’s spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, who wants to understand the process and see what actors do and go through. Or, maybe a writer or director wanting to better understand and speak the language of acting. Sometimes it’s a sales person, lawyer, or someone who simply wants to be more expressive in their own life, come out of their shell, and explore themselves. It’s a great opportunity to explore acting, get in touch with your emotions, and discover your creative side.
I bring this up because every time I have this class, after several weeks, I inevitably get asked the same questions: “Do I have talent? Do you see any potential? Should I do this or am I crazy?” Every time. I feel for them, as I asked the same questions when I started.
Asking that question is like watching a young baseball player who pitches a game, gets some good base hits, then afterwards asks, “Do you think I can make it to the majors?” The answer his coach would say is, “If you practice, and dedicate yourself, maybe. It’s too early to tell.” It’s no different with acting.
I worked on a movie when I first arrived in LA. It was a small part but I got to work for a full day with a major star at the time. (I won’t mention her name; I believe she has retired.) It was she and I on the set with the director, her manager, and the crew. I spent the entire day with them, having lunch, on breaks between shots, etc. Of course, at the end of the day, I asked those same questions to the manager and director. Her manager used to be a professional baseball player and this is what he told me:
“Making it in this business is all about having the four D’s. Talent of course is one thing, but not everything. Most importantly, you need to have the four D’s. Dedication. Drive. Discipline. And Determination.” I didn’t like that. It sounded too much like my high school football coach when I came in last running sprints.
But, he was right, and that is what it takes. Dedication – making an acting career your mission, your purpose. This is who you are and what you do. Your choices in life support this, as this is your life priority. Drive (or desire) – you need to want and love this more than anything else, and nothing is going to stop you. Part of desire is the love of acting. You won’t desire it or be driven if you don’t love and respect the craft. Discipline – take the required actions and follow through on them. Training, working, research, networking. Like a professional athlete, practice, work out, practice, work out, practice, and work out. Determination – you are determined to succeed, so when you stumble and have failures, you pick up and keep going. Failure and rejection don’t destroy you. You also need to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your dream.
When any actor who audits or comes to my class asks me, I usually answer the question this way: “This is what I see at this moment in time.” Then I give them an evaluation and professional opinion of their work. Then I add, “Where it goes from here is up to you. How hard are you willing to do the work of digging into your emotions, vulnerability, flexing your acting muscles, studying the technique of script analysis, and then applying it?” Finally, I encourage them to get another opinion, and to never give a single person’s opinion too much power.
You see, everyone has some talent. Where it is in relation to being fully expressed, and how it lives in your instrument, is your work. Dedication, drive, discipline and determination are the variables. How free, accessible, and honed is your talent? Because that is where the money is.