When I first came back to acting, after spending an entire career in TV news, I knew I couldn't start where I had left off. (I began with summer stock and dinner theater productions in my early 20s.) But I was already living in New York so it was very easy to merge into the lane of Off-Off-Broadway theater, where anonymous-yet-eager actors toiled for free.
I quickly got a role in New York's longest running Off-Off show, "Line," at the 13th Street Repertory Company Theater. I felt a rush of acceptance and approval and affirmation when I was told I could take over the role of Fleming. "Yes! I'm back!" I thought.
It didn't take me long to realize that "back" really was the right word. "Line" often played before houses of fewer than 10 people, and some nights we had no audience at all. The play had had hundreds of cast members come and go over the years. And although the show had seen Richard Dreyfuss and Chazz Palminteri go on to bigger things from its stage, the far greater percentage, probably about 99.9 percent, apparently never got much traction in their acting career. They are still anonymous and probably not as eager any longer.
Of course, this is not an unusual reality, and "Line" is no less of a jumping-off point than any other. The percentage of actors who fail to achieve their dreams is the same for all Off-Off shows. But I'm mentioning it because here we have an example of a show that's been produced for more than 40-years making it far easier to assess from a historical perspective. And because an actor I worked with in "Line" once said to me, "I know how to go from C actor to B actor, but I'll be damned if I know how to go from B to A."
As a business owner who creates video marketing products for actors for the past four years, I hear this lament often. And it always seems like such a mystery to the actor asking it. "How do they do it? Obscure one moment, in a pilot the next. What's the secret? If I only knew!"
Of course, there is no secret but that hasn't held back the gallons of ink that have been spilled here and elsewhere trying to give insight as to how to get through that golden door. Most of the advice is exactly as good as all the rest, and precisely none of it is the Holy Grail.
But, for the truly curious, an interesting tool is available now to really start to understand how those who've managed to go from B to A actually did it. It can help dispel much of the overhyped and predatory pitches of acting gurus who want to show you how to "get out of your own way so you can succeed." It will help peel away the shroud of mystery of "why her, not me?" which, unanswerable before, always left you vulnerable to believing you were in your own way.
Today we can search the Internet for the paths to glory that others have been on. You can see where they got their start, and exactly what moment they went from C to B and B to A, not only on IMDb, but from a variety of other sources never before available. The Internet is full of interviews, articles, podcasts, blogs, and other real information, right there on your smartphone.
When you reverse engineer someone's successful career path, you can quickly see that it is like a snowflake, amongst all the other snowflakes. (Except, of course, the beneficiaries of the lucky club who got their break by picking the right parents who could open doors for them.) This can be disappointing to those who think they only need to find that one magic formula. But it can be heartening for others who may be starting to think their "problem" in finding the path to acting success is that they are "getting in their own way."
Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of www.ActorIntro.com, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera. After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films. Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”