Opportunity lies all around us in life, but it can sometimes be buried under a mountain of distractions. A knowledgeable local guide, an old map, or just some strange intuitive pull will do the trick to get your treasure hunt started. And for actors, these tools may take the form of an inspiring book, an experienced and knowledgeable mentor, or merely an insatiable personal curiosity.
Regardless of the way in which one divines the location of potential riches, people more willingly and pleasurably move forward with the promise of future reward than by perpetually fleeing anticipated pain and suffering. A tempting carrot-on-a-stick is better than being beaten on the rear end with that same stick. Be sure though, that the treasure is real and not fool’s gold, like fame, notoriety, or popularity.
So with the motivation of seeking genuine personal enrichment, I propose five productive goals an actor might pursue in order to guide him or her beyond the distractions to the real gold in them there hills:
1. Affect people. We cannot help but affect people, but whether we do this in a productive way or a destructive way is what should concern us.
You are an artist. You have the capacity to change lives in both subtle and profound ways. You see things that others don’t, and in a way they could never see without your assistance. To squander your art on facile, self-serving, and shallow ego-stroking would be an incredible waste to the world, but will also never make you truly happy.
2. Feel deeply. You got into acting because of the way it makes you feel. Admit it. Though you may dig around for a big agent, lots of money, or universal accolades, all digging will be ultimately unsatisfying unless it produces the wonderful feelings that come with just diving into the skin of a character.
Peter Brook wrote in his book, “The Empty Space”: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” You can act anywhere, anytime. All you need is someone to play with and someone to watch.
Be sure to keep your eye on this prize as you toil away with the pick and shovel each day.
3. Communicate effectively. Many of the world’s issues come down to failure to communicate. Lust for power, yes. Lack of respect, yes. Deepening inequality, yes. But failure on the part of individuals, political parties, and entire countries to effectively relay to one another why these things are important to them in the first place is a big reason for the communication breakdown.
As an actor you will often feel misunderstood, rejected, untalented, and unattractive—even lonely though in a crowded room. The communication you boast in your acting can often be missing from your life, which in turn—like the serpent biting its own tail—affects your ability to land work as an actor. In any room full of people talking there may only be a couple genuinely communicating. Strive to be one of them, and the riches will reveal themselves to you in good time.
4. Learn constantly. Allow me to sound like your grandfather here for a moment. When I was your age…I wrote my university essays on a typewriter and did my research in a dusty old library with old leather-bound books. Eventually I was gifted a second-hand electric typewriter, but there was still no such thing as the World Wide Web.
Jump forward well over 20 years and you can find anything the Internet. I went to university because there was no other way of learning, but I’m not sure today that I would have needed it. Everything I could have dreamed of learning and discovering is online, with content growing exponentially each day.
Dig your way past the fool’s gold of celebrity gossip, chip off the cubic zirconia of ab-sculpting videos, and be sure to skirt around the sinkholes of negativity, and you will find that there is a vein of true gold and jewels so rich you’ll wonder how you never noticed it under your feet all this time.
5. Act often. I know it sounds obvious, but your love of just getting together with others to act can easily be buried beneath the detritus of fame, notoriety, and wealth. If these are goals an actor pursues, it is no wonder so many return home at the end of each day empty-handed and disenchanted. You love to act, so act. It’s right there in front of you.
If Brook could take an empty space in the 60s and call it a stage, then you can take a smartphone today, record in 4K resolution and upload the results to hundreds of millions of viewers online—or even find yourself screened at Sundance Film Festival!
Become an expert goal digger. Dig through the distractions covering what you love and seek the real treasure, because it’s there. It always was.