Here it, is part two. If you missed the first instalment, and you’re the sort that likes to do things by the book, you can read it here. I wouldn’t bother; part two is where it’s at…
As it’s taken me a little longer to draw this post to a close than I had anticipated, forgive me if I recap exactly where this has all come from.
Ahead of last weekend’s session at the annual Surviving Actors event in London, I painstakingly read through hundreds of responses to the Honest Actors’ survey to find the things actors most commonly say when asked, ‘If you could go back to the start of your career and offer yourself advice, what would it be?’ . The exact wording of the answers did, of course, vary to a degree, but I was able to see definite thematic links. And so, at the Surviving Actors seminar, myself and episode 11’s Eleanor Matsuura shared the twenty most common themes from all 725 responses received. This is them.
Don’t worry, I’ll also share another handful of the less democratically electable pieces of advice that were in there too. Advice like:
Other shining examples of regret-based advice include: “Do a puppetry course in 2007 before it kicks off…”; “Stay in Manchester, don’t present kid’s TV, start looking for work at 16”; and “Your boyfriend will tell you he understands your career. He doesn’t. And neither will the next one.”
So here they are – the rest of the pearls and nuggets actors wish they’d somehow been able to give their younger selves:
11. Learn to drive
“Learn to drive”; “Learn to drive”; “Learn to drive”; “Learn to drive as soon as you can.”
I do drive. I have never, ever gotten a job because of this. Although I have been hurriedly asked, after being cast, if I had a license. On a related note, until fairly recently, the ‘Additional Skills’ section of my Spotlight CV included ‘basic stunt driving’. Think about that for a second.
Yes, yes. I am an imbecile. Next!
“Exercise”; “Exercise, for heavens sake”; “Exercise”; “Stay in shape”; “Exercise”; “Exercise”; “Go to the gym more.”
Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. For me, this isn’t purely about looking better and being fitter, it’s about feeling better too. One of the things the gym gave me, in the absence of regular acting work, was an all-important daily routine. The sense of daily accomplishment too, seems to do my mood a lot of good.
13. Be more careful with money.
“Live like a pauper, especially when you’re in work”; “Get someone to teach you how to budget properly”; “Save some fucking money”; “Save money on tours!”
The first of these is one of my favourites, but something I struggle with more and more as I get older. I guess I like the drama of a fluctuating income. For me, I’d rather be skint a few months of the year if it means I have a few where my spending is, shall we say, above average. My average that is. I’m guessing, by London standards, that it’s still pretty humble.
But it would be nice to have some savings…
14. Tax is taxing.
“Don’t spend your tax money!”; “Never get behind with your tax liability!”; “Learn accountancy!”; “Look after your money, spend wisely, save money for your taxes – they will find out!”; “PUT A 3RD OF YOUR PAY AWAY! Set up a different account and tell your agent to put a 3rd of your wage in there. Seriously.”
Nowhere else in this list are there so many exclamation marks. That must tell us something about how important this one is to those who shared it. We could all be better at sorting tax. I always mean to do my return in April. I managed to do it in May once. Every other year, it’s been hanging over Christmas like a a fiscal smog. There is no easy answer to this beyond keeping records, processing receipts etc once a month, and trying to get it done as soon after the tax year is over. The advantage to that last one is that you know exactly how much you’ll owe the following January and will have 8 months to find a rich relative.
15. Have a good ‘other’ job.
“Know what it is you’re going to do between jobs when you’re 50”; “Don’t listen to David Mamet: have a lucrative alternative income stream if you want longevity”; “Get a trade. THEN actor training. It would help to have a flexible source of GOOD income”; “Work on the side job, ideally a skill that can generate income and work towards total independence”; “Listen to those who say ‘get a back up plan’. Develop options that can co-exist with an acting ‘career'”, “Learning a skill/trade will help you to earn money during those difficult periods”, “Learn to code”; “Buy a black cab and do ‘The Knowledge'”.
Looking for inspiration? Check out my new weekly feature in The Stage, ‘My Other Job’…
16. Have a life outside of acting.
“Don’t leave your hair/not get tattoos/dress boring to be more castable. You might get cast BECAUSE of them”; “Everything lasts as long as it lasts. Enjoy the audition. Enjoy the work. Enjoy the time off”; “Don’t let your acting career define you and inhibit your ability to live and enjoy your life”; “It’s a passion but also just a job”; “Don’t confuse your worth as a person with your success or lack thereof”; “Remind yourself you are more then just an actor; so working or not cannot define your happiness or success as a person”; “It’s not life or death so stop treating acting like its the air that you breathe”; “Find lots of different ways to be creative and enjoy your life.”
Nearly every one of the podcast interviewees has made some reference to the importance of this. And it’s only been something that I’ve come to fully understand in the past year. Maybe it can’t be rushed. Maybe this is not something you can hear and just ‘get’. But I wish it had worked like that for me.
17. (Don’t) Make friends.
Another debate here: Either it’s, “Surround yourself with people who love you and make you feel good about yourself. Support them through the tough times and they will be there for you too.” or, “It’s called show business, not show friends. Understand the difference”.
I can’t even begin to unpick this. Sorry.
18. Just f*cking network already.
“Most of your work will come from people who use you again or recommend you. So network and get out there”; “Don’t be afraid of networking. Shyness is a waste of time”; “Do it. Network. Just f*cking do it. Talk the talk and smile the smiles”; “It’s not about talent or even hard work. It’s down to luck and who you know. So don’t take it personally”; “It’s all about who you know”; “Befriending the right people is more important than talent or training in the long run. I wish I’d known!”; “Schmoozing can be toxic”.
If true, this makes me sad. The last one is worth holding on to. Put another way, and a way that seemed to land at the session: “Don’t be a dick”. Not all networking is good. But a certain amount is part and parcel of what we do.
19. Don’t expect it to be fair.
“The industry isn’t fair, so don’t get frustrated when it upholds that”; “It’s a very unfair business”; “This industry is not fair in any way, shape or form”; “You won’t be famous, but you’ll realise you never wanted to be any way”; “It’s not like sport. and it’s not fair”; “It’s not fair and don’t be late”; “Don’t get into acting if you have low self-esteem, despise vanity or cling to any notion of fairness, kindness or loyalty.”
Sad face. Resigned face. Who gives a fuck face.
20. It’s going to be okay.
“You are good enough”; “You’ll be alright”; “Chill out”; “Don’t self-implode when the work drops off…”; “Just because you didn’t get that job doesn’t make you a bad actor. It also doesn’t make you a worthless person”; “Trust me, it’ll all be fine, you just be patient and see”; “Chill out. It’ll happen. It’s probably ok to have a cup of tea and donut while you figure it all out”; “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”, “Always look at the positive”; “Never ever give up. If you do you’ll never know how close you came.”; “You’ll be ok”.
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