How Actors Can Stay Sharp During Downtimes

By Michael Kary

an actor reading a script

Many people are finding themselves with lots of extra time on their hands. For an actor, these times without work are nothing new, but how they conduct themselves in the vocational deserts mark the differences between a professional actor and a hobbyist. The professional understands what Chris Pratt meant in his interview with Kevin Pollack when he said, “If you’re waiting, you’re not creating.” In this case, the question remains, “How do I make the most of these in-between times?” Read more for some tips for actors on keeping their abilities honed when work is slow.

Plan Your Work

Understand that there is a difference between a plan and an intention. An intention is like a wish. It is anchored in guilt or pride, so its roots aren’t deep. A plan, however, comes from a heart of discipline. It has a clear goal in mind, and it works like a roadmap to get you from where you are to a different place. You may ask, “How do I make a plan for a goal when the industry doesn’t even know what is coming next?” This is the question of a hobbyist, someone waiting for instructions before they act.

A professional, however, knows they aren’t at the mercy of the industry; rather, they are the industry. They know they don’t need an invitation to make something; they can just do it. This becomes their goal. They can put together fresh audition pieces, develop a one-person show, or create a manifesto for a new theatre company. Once they have a goal, they break it down into how many hours it will take, then schedule those hours into their work week. Once that is complete, they are ready for phase two.

Go to Work

One of the biggest reasons work doesn’t get done in the down times is that some actors don’t appreciate the value of going to work. Instead, they try to do what they can from home, not realizing that home is full of distractions and comfort. They may set about researching some new plays, only to find that incoming emails keep throwing them off course. They might try to get in shape, but end up catching up on Netflix. They’ll sit down to write, but projects around the house can start to demand attention.

If this cycle continues, a professional actor could become a hobbyist. To prevent this, the professional should find a way to go to work. Whether that means going to different location, like a gym, a park, or a theatrical space, or simply carving out a specific place in the home, it is important that the space be dedicated to work and free from distractions. An actor can also set specific work hours so they know when they’re at work and when they’re at play. The places and times for work will all depend on what each actor has chosen to do.

Know Your Work

An actor is a microcosm for a business. They are the CEO, the marketing director, the courier and the product. All of these people have different jobs with differing levels of urgency, depending on the situation. It is important to understand what an actor’s true job is, so these responsibilities can all function as a single unit.

First and foremost, an actor’s job is to be seen. An actor can be seen in performance, auditions, in social and professional settings and through the creation of new content. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for what an actor can do in the down times to make sure they are seen in the best light possible. It is useful to compartmentalize the work into three major categories: the body, the mind, and the business.

The Body

Physical exercise is key to maintaining an actor’s brand. They can concentrate on their build, but there are other physical disciplines (yoga, tai chi, martial arts) that are great for keeping them flexible. Other special skills can be honed during times when work is less available. Pick up juggling, card work, close-up magic or an instrument. A professional should look at the shows planned for the next season and choose which skills will give them the edge by the time auditions come up.

The voice is an integral part of the actor’s tool bag, and unless an actor works in musical theatre, it often gets overlooked. It takes more than just talking to keep the voice in shape. Vocal exercises that target range and power are simple and effective for keeping sharp when auditions come around again.

The Mind

Hand in hand with the voice is the ability to cold read in an audition. One of the best ways to practice cold reads is to read aloud, preferably to another human. Kids are a great resource, and with so many social media and video chatting platforms, actors can connect with the kids in their lives with some fun online reading sessions.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to constantly read scripts, keeping current and going deep. A professional actor should put a new play in their library every week. Some may also join friends for a weekly reading session over video call. Reading plays will provide new audition material, new roles to pursue and new playwrights to follow.

In addition, if an actor cannot find anything exciting to do next season, it’s up to them to create that content. They can designate time each week solely for brainstorming, prewriting and composing new material. With so many streaming services and video hosting websites available, the chances of getting the material seen are higher than they have ever been.

The Business

Sending letters is a great way to maintain your business connections. A letter can be a very welcome addition to someone’s day, whether sent to mentors, producers, directors, casting directors or agents. A professional actor can ask for advice, encourage or update other industry professionals when new work is complete. An actor may even reach out to a role model or hero just to say hello and end up making a lifelong connection.

Another helpful activity is keeping up with trade magazines like Variety or Backstage, which can be used to see what is coming in the future. Through this research, a professional can find out what book rights have been purchased or which studios have hired which directors. The trades are also full of short-term job notices and auditions.

A smart actor will also devote a small portion of the week to making goals and dreaming big. Through this, the short-term goals discussed above will surface and allow for new plans to be made. These are the times when they should ask themselves:

  • Where will I be at the end of the year?
  • What personal progress do I want to make?
  • Where am I being taken, and do I want to change the direction?

There are many things an actor can be doing to keep in shape, current and competitive, setting the professionals apart from the hobbyist. During times of change, ask, “Am I waiting, or am I creating?”

If you wish to pursue a rewarding career in acting, consider a program from Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Drama, or explore our other performing arts programs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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