On Friday I attended an all day conference hosted by the film actors' union here in Toronto, ACTRA. I had signed up for one panel discussion and a workshop, both on the subject of auditioning.
Now I know a fair bit about auditioning, having taken courses on the subject, and also heck just plain auditioned a fair bit. I feel quite confident about the activity, and even enjoy doing them. So I didn't really learn anything new. But I was quite pleased to discover, or at least be reminded of, that even the most successful of actors still go through periods of no work, and yes, still have to audition. Sitting listening to these actors speak, I also felt like I belonged, like I hadn't made the wrong choice to pursue acting, despite the insecurity one can sometimes feel from all the rejection.
So I am very glad I went, and there were one or two small things I hadn't known about the process that were also quite interesting to hear about.
Then, later that day, I was on one of my usual writing forums at home and a thread was started discussing the nature of query letters. It had less to do with the typical, "How does one write a query letter" and more to do with "Why do we follow a certain formula when writing query letters". It was far more philosophical than practical, in other words. Many people weighed in with excellent advice, but I couldn't help but feel we were all overthinking the issue a bit much.
Having just been at that acting conference discussing auditions, and having had one yesterday, and also having also gone through the querying process myself, and being rejected by all but one agency, I decided that I wanted to post my thoughts on the process.
The fact is, there is simply no magic potion that will get you an agent (acting or literary) or get you the work (acting or literary). You can follow all the guidelines down to the letter and not hear a peep from anyone, and meanwhile some person you know will do everything "wrong" and become a huge success.
There is simply no tried tested and true method.
So what on earth are we supposed to do? It's maddening reading the stories from successful authors or actors on how they got to where they are today, because each story is different. We can drive ourselves to distraction trying to extrapolate that one universal thread of truth found within each tale of glory.
Yes, there are certain things you can do that will be unlikely to be frowned on. Show up on time to the audition, be polite, put in the work ahead of time, memorise your lines. Write a grammatically correct query letter. Double check the spelling, especially of the agent/editor's name. Make your story sound exciting and fresh.
And above all, in both cases, be yourself.
Myself which is so confused as to what myself should do or what myself should be that myself is just that blithering crazy person in the corner? Is that the myself to whom you are referring?
It ain't easy my friends. It ain't easy.
But I am afraid the "myself" factor . . . that's the key.
So this is what I have gleaned. Partially from my success in the writing world, and partially in my . . . not as great success (yet) . . . in the acting world.
In the end, dude, you have to find what works for you.
Listen to the advice. Listen to all of it. Read the stories, watch the interviews, be a sponge and absorb it all. Hmm . . . wrong metaphor. Don't be a sponge, be a sieve. Let the information pass through you, let it register, and then catch the larger bits that make the most sense to you. Those bits that work for your personality. That honours who you are. Steal the good stuff, and let the other stuff just go away.
It'll take a few tries to find what suits you best. And, while you're trying, people who don't like the method you chose will try to convince you to do something else. They could be right, they could be wrong. Just let it pass through you and see if anything remains.
But don't look for the magic potion. It doesn't exist. It would be nice if it did. But it doesn't. There simply is no one way, no one path, to achieving our dreams. It's what makes each of our journeys special. Would you really want to walk down a path with everyone else? It would be crowded, and you wouldn't be able to see anything except the other people around you. What about the sights man, what about the sights?!
Look, this whole acting/writing thing is really hard. And what sucks even more is that the kind of people who tend to be drawn to the arts tend to be more emotional, more empathetic, tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves more obviously than the average Joe. So not only do we have a really tough road ahead of us, we feel the pain all the more acutely (not meaning to diss other people and other jobs. Again, sweeping generalisation here.).
But don't let all the white noise confuse you. You can only do what works for you, not what worked for someone else. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut. Be open to advice, but protect your heart.
Advice in the arts tends to be very impractical. You try taking a voice class. Seriously. "There is a fire in your belly and the smoke is slowly moving up your throat . . . " You learn everything by friggin' metaphor. And the reason you learn everything by friggin' metaphor is because the teacher is trying so darn hard to find one universal way to teach an entire class something very personal, something that you can't see, something visceral. You've got to give them serious props, that is so not easy.
Anyway, advice in the arts is impractical. It is the best someone can do at the moment. And so, this is very important, one must learn not to look at the words, but rather to look at the spirit of the advice. Really that's a good idea in general I think. Don't get wrapped up in the technicalities.
Just remember to be practical. Be professional. Be thoughtful.