By: Jess Canty
It has been great meeting with now most of you to discuss your goals for 2019 and I look forward to the meetings that are scheduled for the weeks to come.
One thing that has been surprising to me in meeting with many of you is learning about the structure of the classes you are taking - and to learn that in many of them you are working on material from plays - I will get back to this in a moment.
I often complain about the end of my time at UCLA's Theater School and how they did not prepare us - at least when I graduated - for the transition to being a working artist in Los Angeles. How the film school was right next door and yet there was little cross-over between the two. How there was no class on the business of acting in LA (which is based in TV and Film). Nothing about managers, agents, lawyers, casting directors, networking. Not even a peep about the breakdowns, what they were and how they worked.
I was complaining about this to my brother's very smart girlfriend, who also happened to go to UCLA with me, and she said "but they were training us for theater, we went to theater school."
TON OF BRICKS HITTING ME
She is 100% right. They were training us to be theater actors. To work in the theater. Not in film and not in TV. Says it right there on my degree. B.A. in Theater.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. We are watching a bunch of athletes in a stadium. But we are watching football athletes. Yes, still athletes but those who have trained and specialized in football. Not soccer, not baseball, not downhill skiing. Football.
Is Lindsey Vonn as badass as Tom Brady? I'd say so. But can he ski down a hill going 100MPH with G-forces so strong they threaten to tear your knees apart? Or can she release a throw in an average of 2.5 seconds from the snap with a line of men rushing at her trying to know her down, get up and do it all over again and over and over? No.
And not because they aren't badass athletes.
Because they didn't train for it.
So, what are you training for?
If you want your career break-in to be on TV you need to train to be a TV Actor. TV is generally written by a group of writers. Stories arc over seasons not a few hours. Your character's change, if there is one at all, is a slow burn. More likely you are playing a stock role that does the same thing week after week in a different situation. This is true in TV Comedy and TV Drama - it is writing for TV and therefore the acting for TV is its own animal. Want proof? I once heard feedback for a client from a CD that said "he's just not a three-camera animal at the moment." So not only was this CD talking about TV, but about ONE PARTICULAR KIND OF TV ACTING! Ooof.
If you want to be in film you need to train to be a film actor. Film is a director's medium. It is about their vision above all else. As a film actor you are there to serve the director and that vision. That is the job. The screenwriter is the lowest on the totem pole in film. The writing is secondary. Four pages of dialogue can be wiped away in the editing room with one look between the two leads. In film your face is your tool. Are you a film actor?
If you want to be in theater you need to train to be a theater actor. You need to project, use your entire body in your performance. You may need to dance and sing. There is no cut when you are on stage. In the theater, the writer is god. You cannot change a word because every word is meticulously thought over and chosen. It is their medium. Semi-colons matter (100 points for whoever gets that reference).
If you want to be an improv actor you need to train to be an improv actor. You need to learn how to listen so deeply you can react immediately. Your job is to lift and support the other performers on stage with you in the hopes they will support you. In improv the actor is the writer. You write the one-time story with your reactions to what is given. You channel whatever comes without judgement of what will come out of your mouth. You say yes, and.
In each of these worlds, of course, you are still an actor. Just like Lindsey and Tom are both athletes. But if you want to play in the Super Bowl, why are you practicing by strapping on a pair of skis and flying down a hill?
Train for the game you want to play.
Respect the game you want to play by learning its ins and outs. Become an expert at the game you want to play before you go try another sport.
In your classes, talk to your coaches and teachers. If they keep assigning you plays and you want to be a TV actor you may be in the wrong class, or at the very least need to have a conversation with them about working material that is in-line with your goals. Remember, you are paying them. If you aren't getting skills that will lead to booking work what are you paying for?
Am I saying you should never work a scene from Tennessee Williams? No. But 90% of what you should be working should be written by Dan Fogelman, Chuck Lorre and Shonda Rhimes. By Ryan Murphy. By Greg Berlanti. By Tina Fey.
Is it fun to work on scenes from All In The Family? I bet it is. But you are trying to be a professional, which means getting paid for this work.
Does Le Bron play basketball with high-top converse, knee socks and short-shorts? Of course not. Why? Because the game has changed since 1972. And so has TV Writing and so has Film and so has Theater.
Does Tom Brady go skiing in the off-season? Maybe. And I bet he is great at it. He may even learn something about how to read the field from how to read the mountain he is skiing down. But is it 90% of his training? Absolutely not.
Should you know a bit about each of these forms of acting? Yes of course you should. Do you ultimately want to be able to switch from improv to theater to film to TV? Absolutely. If you are lucky and hard-working enough to have a long career that offers these choices that is amazing! But get great at your sport first. Be the Tom Brady of single-cam comedy before you try to win a Tony. And don't forget, most EGOTs are not actors.
Train for the game you want to play.