Dreams Don't Happen; Plans Do
By Colleen Wainwright | the communicatrix

Why some people get there faster than others.

In between writing about acting for you lovely people, I get emails. After the thank-you emails (and thank you for those!), the most common email I get is “How do I get from where I am now (e.g. agentless, unknown, broke) to where I want to go (e.g. well-represented, famous, wealthy)?

In a word? Focus.

A dream of being an actor, even a plan to be an actor, is not enough. You must have a clear vision of the type of career you want for yourself, and then you must map out a plan and pursue it with laser-like focus. You already sense that it won't be easy, but with a little effort, you can make it simpler.

So how do you go from a dream to a plan?

Let's use the real-life example of a reader who wrote in with the following question:

At the moment, I have no agent. So I spend most of the day submitting myself, and the rest of the day I try to squeeze in singing, acting, piano, guitar classes, etc. I know it is unrealistic to accomplish too much in one day.

How do you recommend building a schedule for an actor who wishes to become a triple threat?

1. Determine the single most important destination

In this case, the actor's stated end goal is to become a “triple-threat”, which I take to mean singer/dancer/actor.

However, if this is the case, spending time agent-hunting, especially most of the day, is not only a second goal, but is in direct conflict with the main goal.

The reality is that the circumstances when it's wise to focus the bulk of your energy on finding an agent are few and very specific: when you're starting out, the only time you should do it is when you have something extraordinary for the market: beauty+youth+fresh face (i.e. unique and with a short shelf life); exceptional talent/skill that's been proven in another market; some big, fat award/honor/etc. that's just happened.

Secondly, while the goal of “become a triple-threat” is actionable and seems reasonable, it's lacking a critical component: the “why” factor.

Unless you just want to be a triple-threat for the hell of it (and if so, I envy you your copious free time), you must identify why you want to be a triple-threat: that destination is your real goal, and will affect how you prioritize everything else.

Is your real goal to make yourself the most marketable Broadway actor? Road actor? Is it to ensure the longest possible career span? Is it because you want to play certain specific roles?

Spend some time digging to find that gold. (Hint: you can brainstorm with lists to do it!)

2. Sketch out in broad strokes what you need to reach the destination

If you are already a singer, you need to work on acting and dancing. If you're an actor-singer, then dancing is what you need. And so on.

If you're not sure where your strengths lie, or if you're just starting out, the first thing on your list will be “research”, and you have to map that out, too. A sample list for this kind of research might be:

  • Identify/consult with teachers/experts in the three disciplines
  • Identify/consult with practioners of the three disciplines
  • Brainstorm role models
  • Do Google search on career paths
  • Etc.

You may find yourself going back to the research phase often. Don't scrimp on this step; the time you spend up front dramatically affects the usefulness of your map.

(Speaking of useful, note that everything I'm using in every list item is actionable, and written as a verb. Forcing yourself to write out your lists with verbs keeps the lists active and do-able, rather than static and difficult to approach.)

3. Turn your detailed list into an actual schedule

Let's say our girl has determined that singing is her strength, she's a passable actor, and she sucks eggs at dancing.

She's also done some digging and figured out that her ultimate goal is being a working actress in musical theater.

Furthermore, she's done enough research that's told her while there are jobs out there for singers who can act, there are far more jobs for singer-dancers (I'm totally making this up, by the way, but from the bios I read in the Young Frankenstein: The Musical program a couple of weeks ago, it seems a fair bet).

She can now take whatever percentage of her discretionary time and income she's willing to commit and map out a plan to get her dancing skills up to snuff. Armed with nothing more than a pencil and some sort of calendar, she can then block off the time allotted (or needed) for each thing, starting with the most critical and working backwards.

Her initial, broad strokes to-do list might include:

  • Dance class
  • Rehearsal time
  • Travel time to/from rehearsal
  • Strength training/stretching
  • Attend performances of musical theater
  • Volunteer to assist choreographer

You can work with whatever time chunks you're comfortable with, but for me, looking at a three-month period first, then slicing it into months, weeks and days works best.

Of course, she still wants to keep up her acting and singing chops and, presumably, have some sort of life. These things should be in the mix, just way smaller slices, proportionately.

A great tool for determining your focus and slicing it into workable categories is Ginny Ditzler's planning tool, Best Year Yet. You can read about it on her website; there's also a book available in paperback. Another great book on goals is Brian Tracy's book, Goals! How to Get Everything You Want Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible. Written for civilians, it's a little dry, but the exercises are terrific for brainstorming your plans.

Whatever method you use for getting there, the main thing is to pick one distant point to focus on. And then channel your actions, thoughts and feelings into one concentrated stream, “laser-like focus”, until you get there.

Got a question? Something you want me to write about? Please email me colleen AT communicatrix DOT com, I'd love to hear from you!

Colleen Wainwright is an L.A.-based writer-performer-etc. who started calling herself "the communicatrix" when she hit three hyphens. In addition to her monthly column for LA Casting, she also shares insights on effecting personal growth via her blog, communicatrix.com, and tips for becoming a smarter communicator in her free, monthly newsletter, communicatrix | focuses.