It's easy to start a new year fresh, but it's better, and more instructive, to start it with a rock-solid overview of what you've already done (or not done) in the previous year. The best way to ensure a kick-ass new year is to look over everything you've accomplished, learned or tried in the 12 months prior. Ready for your end-of-year to-do list? Read on... (Note: most of these exercises should be done using the brain-dump method: sit down with some time, some quiet and your writing implement of choice (pen and paper, computer text file, etc.) and let the ideas flow, unedited. It'll give you the broadest view of your acting landscape, which you can go back over with a highlighter or editing tools to extract the most critical data.)
1. What have you learned about acting in the past year?
You're in class, right? Or working non-stop? Or both?
Take some time and make a list of everything you learned last year in your classes and the jobs you booked. You can note specific skills you've picked up, the Meisner Technique, a particular dialect, the ability to summon emotion on cue, or more general lessons you've learned, like the importance of getting off-book quickly, of being well-rested, etc.
Don't forget to look at your so-called failures! Write down the scene you blew, the cue you missed, the job you got fired from. This is not about racking up a feel-good list, but about getting a clear and accurate picture of the learning you've gathered.
2. What have you learned about auditioning?
Every audition is an opportunity, and not just to get that particular job: it's your chance to better understand how you present yourself to the people who hire you.
Sit down with last year's calendar and go over it month by month, week by week or, if you're one of the lucky few, day by day.
Think about each single audition:
- THE BROAD, SWEEPING, BLACK & WHITE STUFF, like whether you got the callback or the job (or whether everyone in the room recoiled in obvious horror and you haven't seen that casting director since)
- THE SMALLER, STILL CONSEQUENTIAL STUFF, like whether you blew an opportunity because you got there late, dressed inappropriately, forgot to spit your gum out before going into the room; or on the positive side, whether you had a good exchange with a session runner that boosted your spirits before and after the audition
Some of the "why"s are going to be ringingly obvious, which is why I included them here. Some may be less obvious; you can go over those in your fine-toothed-comb review later.
For example, if arriving late was an issue, perhaps parking was the culprit. Maybe you didn't leave yourself enough time to find a spot, or it may have been that you didn't have enough quarters to park and had to park farther away, which made you late. Or with the session runner, you may recall on your second pass that you mentioned a show you'd seen her in, which made her feel good, which made her treat you a little better (hey, we're all human!).
Again, the point is to do the sweep first, then get granular with it on the second pass.
3. How have you gotten out of your own way?
I sat in on a wonderful post-show Q&A with Frank Langella, multiple Tony Award-winning actor and star of the movie Frost/Nixon, in which he shared what he felt was a signal piece of advice he'd gotten as a young actor. It's a long and bawdy story, but the short of it was that he learned that wanting a job too much was getting in the way of his having it.
All of us are our own worst enemies sometimes. What's smart is to proactively work at fixing our tendencies to self-sabotage.
There's the heavy stuff to consider. Did you:
- start seeing mental health care professional to treat your depression?
- join a 12-step or other support group?
- begin an exercise program or start a diet for health reasons?
- initiate a plan to become financially responsible?
And there's the lighter stuff, too. Did you:
- finally get headshots that look like you (and start carrying them everywhere?)
- start reading a ridiculously helpful column and follow some of its suggestions?
- hire a coach for a particular acting issue?
- get in a class to learn a skill needed to move forward?
- sign up for Facebook, get your website in order or implement some other part of your marketing plan?
Feel free to create other lists about stuff that's more specifically important to you, like:
- how many people you added to your network (and kept in touch with)
- setting an office workspace for yourself
- accomplishing a particular athletic or personal goal outside of acting (it may be connected somehow)
- how many books or plays you read
- how many plays and movies you saw
Once you've gotten your lists made, i.e., have all the "what"s, you can go back again and dig deeper for the "why"s, the "how"s, and the "what the hell?!"s. This will help you to formulate a plan of action for the stuff you need to do next year - from the major (find a non-crazy roommate so I don't fear for my life and can get a good night's sleep) to the minor (make a calendar appointment with myself once weekly to get parking quarters at the bank).
For extra fun and to keep you honest, consider buddying up and doing this with a friend, or even a small group. I've been hosting a semi-regular, highly-informal (read: wine-added) women's circle for a few years now, and regularly schedule a date with an accountability partner (or three, individually) to help facilitate certain parts of my goal-setting process. It's amazing how a promise made to someone else can help keep you on the straight and narrow.
I'd love it if you'd share any great insights gained this past year with me, especially if this column helped you somehow. It'll help me to improve the column for next year, so we can all just keep on getting more awesome, dammit.
Thanks, and see you next year!