Jerry was working on a scene from a TV pilot in one of my acting classes. In the scene, he was about to tell his wife he had met another woman. But when Jerry entered he was calm and casual, not intense, as one would expect at a moment of confrontation. I stopped the scene before a word was said.
I knew Jerry was suffering from a Work-In-Progress (WIP) Attitude. What a WIP attitude simply means is that you consider you have time to develop slowly, and there is no pressure to do it now. After all there is another chance at the scene in this class or another class next week. Your current scene becomes less important because you have time.
Jerry is not alone. Since many actors adopt WIP attitudes to make themselves feel comfortable and not pressured.
The reason a WIP attitude is common is that it puts an actor at ease. It’s taking an indulgent position where you allow yourself some leeway. “I may not have it yet, but I’m working on it. I’ll get it next time."
Each scene presented at anytime must be a committed work, woven with all your vulnerability, doubts, thoughts, and intention.
An acting workshop or a rehearsal period is a process. A necessary process, but the process will only result in the best result when a WIP attitude isn't present. If an actor approaches any rehearsal or class with less than 100 percent commitment, they create a chip or a fault in the process.
As a result, breakthroughs might not happen. Insights will be lost. Discovery and reinvention will not result. Those faults will then add up making the ultimate performance less than it should be.
Sure this puts pressure on you to commit and to continually take risks, but we all feel pressure in this profession. By taking risks and challenging yourself, you will realize how important every scene is when you are working on your craft. This is good pressure, and you should start facing that pressure now.
Auditions are live or die. Casting people don’t want to watch some actor presenting an uncommitted WIP audition. So why not challenge your commitment in class or rehearsals? Casting isn’t looking for someone who is working towards the role. They want a committed actor who is alive in every moment of the character.
After one of my challenging critiques, Susan who was supposed to be a mean boss in the scene, stood up and said, as she often did, “I want to do it again now. I’ve got it now.” To which I said, “I’m glad you’re ready now. You need to find how to get ready and committed without me pushing you and without you doing a practice run first. See you next week.”
My interest wasn’t to punish her for her WIP attitude but to get her to discover that she can’t wait for outside motivation or to first see the reviews from her field test.
There is a one very important work-in-progress aspect to your acting, and that is your career. You don’t know where it will end up, but you know what you want. And each step you take in evolving your career begins with committed work.
If you really want to go after your career, decide now that you are going to risk parting ways what is comfortable to you. No more “work in progress.”
Bill Howey has been an acting teacher and coach for 30 years. Many of his clients have gone onto successful careers in the business. He conducts scene study workshops and offers private acting coaching at his studio in Burbank, California. He began his professional acting career at the Cleveland Play House. He also appeared on television and in film. Bill produced live TV in Australia and has produced and directed independent films. His book, The Actor’s Menu is available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit to www.billhowey.com.