Marketing genius and fearless leader Seth Godin wants you to change the world by owning your art. Will 2013 be the year you're finally ready to do it? When I moved to Hollywood in 1992, it was already disappearing. But most of us didn't know it yet, so we did the things we thought we had to, in order to chase the life we thought we wanted.
Most of my own so-called acting life was spent chasing projects, not generating them. Dutifully, I scoured the performer rags each week—hard-copy, naturally—for opportunities to submit: to producers, to directors (student and other), to theater companies, to anyone with any kind of a possible gig, paid or unpaid.
The rest of my time was devoted to learning everything I could about acting and show business. I took classes and workshops, read voraciously and widely within my narrow subject of interest, and paid to do theater. Did you note that, Dear Reader? I paid to do unpaid theater work. Only briefly! Still, I paid to help someone else make their art, rather than plowing my energy into creating my own.
Of course, as late as the early 21st century, this is how most of us knew that things worked; those who went out and made their own art were real mavericks. But if you've been keeping up with this column—or if you've just been awake and breathing—you've probably noticed that the landscape has changed dramatically, pun intended, especially over the past five years. The means of production and distribution are available to anyone for a stunningly small investment of capital, and a slightly greater investment of time. And the flip side, of course, is that the same digital explosion that made this possible has also flattened the old machine: even if you want them, there are fewer jobs, and they pay less. Oh, and more people are chasing them.
So if you know that there is satisfaction to be had in making your own art—and, okay, possibly even dollars and/or fame—why aren't you doing it? Why aren't you producing a webseries with your friends, bitter or not? Or creating an acting podcast, or a comedy podcast? Or any kind of video or audio, or even website or newsletter? (And no, your purely promotional one doesn't count—promotion can be clever, but it's never art.)
I believe it boils down to one of three reasons: you're either lazy, afraid, or both.
If you're lazy, you think the world should be coming to you. It should ferret out you and your greatness, even though you've done nothing to showcase it but get some new head shots and upload them to Casting Networks. You probably suffer from Unidentified Limo Syndrome and other fairy tales of short cuts and wish fulfillment. You also are probably off throwing pennies into fountains and anxiously scanning your horoscope, so let's move to Possibility #2: you are afraid.
The fear can come in many forms, but usually, it's fear failing: of getting it wrong, of looking stupid, or of no one looking at all. And in a way, you are not incorrect; if you try something new, especially making art of any kind, you are almost guaranteed to get it fail, probably multiple times. I know; I have. Arguably, I've yet to succeed—at least, by the standards I set for myself back in 1992 (which involved money and love in equal quantities of millions). But by feeling the fear and doing it anyway—an autobiographical stage show, a blog, a massive fundraising project—I ended up with, if nothing else, a knowledge of production, a lot of writing experience, and beloved by a handful of aspiring teen writers and their mentors.
In his latest and, in my opinion, greatest-ever book, The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin delivers an extended pep talk to the aspiring artist. He lays out enough history so that you'll really (finally) understand that no one is coming to rescue you; you must save yourself, and you must do it by creating art. And by "art", he means anything you can create from the truth of your experience and the gift of your skills, not just acting, but acting is most definitely included, and as an actual example here and there. It's a lightning-fast read, but so rich with gems that I'm reading it far more slowly than I do most books, and marking it up considerably:
As he says late into the book, mostly, he is there to inspire and persuade you; so-called shortcuts and how-tos, he leaves to others. He knows well enough that there is no formula for making real art. But he does include a couple of tactics for helping you to get past the inevitable fear that will arise as you begin to face the resistance, and make art, including one I've recommended multiple times: start a mastermind, or accountability, group. Nothing will get you off the dime like the horrible feeling of wasting good people's time by not doing your work. (Note: this only works if you select good people!)
Like many successful artists who are generous with information, he also stresses the importance of establishing good habits that not only will help you accomplish great things, but keep you sane and productive when the sh*t hits the fan. Which, for actors, is pretty much nonstop.
In short, The Icarus Deception will remind you of why you wanted to become an actor, and fire you up for creating work for yourself: your own work, from your own heart. If you're looking for an inspiring kickoff to a new year, it's a gift that will keep on giving.