Why You Didn’t Make It – Acting Failures

Whenever I hear actors talking, their focus centers on the business aspects of the job. How do I get an agent? How do I get auditions? How do I get into the union? Seldom does the conversation turn to the skills and techniques required of the craft. For instance, how does one create the internalizations of a particular emotion, thought or intention? How does one memorize a scene or a long speech? In portraying characters, how does one generate believable gestures, movements, and blocking? All of these questions seldom come up and if they do, they receive only cursory attention.
The lack of attention to craft is the main reason most actors fail. They see acting as striving to get work when they should strive to do brilliant work. Only then will a successful life-long career be possible. This lack of focus on craft is only one of the reasons actors don’t make it in this industry.
Schools and instructors spend a great deal of time focusing on performing. This is what brings students into classes and workshops and soon it becomes addictive. Being able to perform and receive accolades is the drug of choice, one that is widely exploited by the teaching community. It’s what keeps students enrolled and brings them back for another fix again and again.
While the student puts up scene after scene, the accumulation of skills and techniques is deplorable when compared to the cost, time, and effort expended. If there were an evaluation of scene workshops, one would likely find that the cost per technique learned and perfected to be astronomical. Yet choosing such a poor investment never comes up, as one does not question the direction of the herd. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. It’s wrong because it’s not effective and the likely hood of it leading to a productive career is questionable.
What would be the right path, one that covers a multiple of goals? First off, you should realize that agents and casting directors look for people who can do brilliant work. If you do brilliant work, you become a valued commodity that attracts industry attention. You get work because you are capable of doing a professional job. Thus, in your training, you should strive toward this professional standard. Instead of being result oriented, i.e., getting an agent, getting into the union, concentrate on the process of acting and the things that markedly improve your abilities. Concentrate on the goals over which you have control, namely the accumulation of acting skills and techniques.
The second phase is becoming aware of the skills and techniques used by professional actors. In my article, “As an Acting Student, What Should I be Learning?” I talk about analyzing acclaimed performances by award-winning actors. By doing so, one will find that certain elements dominate the craft. For instance, internalization, the ability to portray the thoughts and feelings of the character is evident in all great performances. Learning this key technique is paramount to ones success.
Next is the ability to express simple behaviors, behaviors such as awareness, reflections, realizations, and expectations. This category also includes the reversal, a promising endeavor that turns sour. A great number of these behaviors have to do with creating believable facial expressions and doing segues from one expression to another. To be believable, these expressions need to be grounded in the intentions and emotions of the character; and mindful and felt by the actor.
Dialogue delivery is another area where professional standards are pursued. In great acting, dialogue delivery helps to portray the thoughts and feelings of the character. It pauses to consider, it stumbles with indecision, when excited it moves quickly, it shouts out in anger, and it finds contrast and variety in the character’s changing moods. Another aspect is timing, the length of time it takes for the audience to become fully engaged in the setup of the joke, or the time it takes to stretch suspense to its breaking point.
Good memorization skills are imperative for the professional actor. Without them, the actor is overwhelmed by the dialogue and thus pays little attention to key dramatic choices such as the character’s intention and emotion. Association, organization, reinforcement, and applying one’s learning aptitude are the major memory considerations.
Very few actors actually apply and practice memorization skills. Most use repetition, repeating lines over and over to retain the dialogue. This is a time-consuming method and is not always reliable. Instead, by applying outrageous associations and reinforcing them with script notes and a tape-recorded partner, one becomes more effective. Then one is able to concentrate on the choices that generate great performances.
One dilemma facing beginners is they don’t know what they don’t know. They have no idea of the many skills and techniques necessary for this profession. I’ve mentioned a few in this article and others can be found by researching my writings on acting. Great actors are innovators and they find creative ways to solve dramatic problems. They’ve found what works and you can use their performances as learning exercises. The recorded performances of acclaimed and award-winning actors contain a wealth of knowledge. Much can be learned by analyzing the acting and reproducing various techniques within a short scene. Doing so with numerous actors, you will eventually develop an instinctive set of behaviors. You will also discover that your understanding of this craft will expand rapidly.
One major reason for not making it is a shortsighted mindset. It is not enough to know the principles of good acting one must also be able to implement them to perfection. Knowing them is not enough. One must excel both in know-how and its application. Many actors feel they can get by with half-hearted efforts. Such efforts limit their growth as well as their reputation. Another assumption is that once you reach professional status you don’t need to train anymore. Great actors continue the learning process. They become better at creating authentic characters with clarity and purpose.
Another reason for failing is placing all your efforts in one method or school of acting. This usually results in a narrow approach to acting and limits one means of solving dramatic problems. There are many approaches to acting and they use things such as sense memory, analytical analysis, past situations, mimicking, and improvisation. To become a consummate professional, one might have to employ all these methods at one time or other. By exploring and discovering other venues, one can greatly expand ones expressive powers.
Most actors invest their time and efforts poorly. They receive little in the way of training that will prepare them for professional careers. This is because acting schools and workshops are setup to rake in the most revenue at the least possible cost. It’s a business where large classes and limited instruction are the norm. The emphasis is place on scene performance rather than learning useful acting techniques. These scene study workshop are highly profitable with 20 students each paying over $100 for a three-hour class. The majority of the time is given to performing scenes and critiques apply mostly to the individual scenes, not to acting skills. More reasons are covered in my article “Scene Study Workshops Are a Questionable Investment”.
Many actors get their priorities mixed up. Instead of concentrating on know-how they focus on cultivating their image. Pictures and resumes top this list followed by make-up, hairstyles, and body sculpturing. It used to be that the look was more important than one’s talents. However, that has changed. Now through the magic of the digital age, actors are able to submit clips of their performances and these clips indicate ones abilities better than documents. Thus, demo reels have replaced the picture and resume as the key part of a submittal package. They have also made discovery of promising talents easier.
Acting is a very highly competitive vocation. You not only have to measure up to professional standards you also have to be better than your competition. Do you have the experience and track record of a professional? Are you better trained, better prepared than your competition? If you focused your efforts mainly on craft rather than on self-promotion, you have a good chance to land desired roles.
Many actors have a false impression as to what depicts successful actors. Glamour and attractiveness are the common misconceptions. Don’t overlook your uniqueness, that your look, persona, and screen presence have value. Find your own voice and bring parts of yourself to the character. This is what makes your acting authentic and honest. If you have empathy for the characters you are portraying, then you will find the core that makes them both compelling and memorable.
In order to make it, you have to love the process of preparing, rehearsing and acting, not just the performance results. Acting is a lonely profession in that most of your time, especially if you are dedicated, will be spent in isolation researching and improving your craft. Despite this fact, there is real joy in discovering and perfecting techniques that improve your professional standing.

Acting has to do with choices and the ability to make creative ones, ones with clarity and purpose. It also has to do with making effective career choices. By emphasizing craft over promotion, professionalism over connections, you stand a better chance of making it. When you excel as an actor word spreads exponentially and you create a snowball affect, one that results in rewarding roles and a long career.

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