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Secret Agent Man

Stuck in the In-Between

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Stuck in the In-Between
One of the most difficult things about being an actor is that you rarely get to act. Actors spend the majority of their time preparing for the moment when they can perform or auditioning for those who can grant them that moment. This is what makes acting so addictive. When you're finally performing, on stage or in front of a camera, it feels like you're doing what you were born to do, and you never want that feeling to end. Then the downtime hits you. The saddest person in the world is an actor who just wrapped a job and is suddenly faced with nothing to do. That's when the monsters come out from under the bed. You start to ask yourself, "Now what? Is anyone ever going to hire me again? Am I done?"

Case in point: An actor friend just finished an eight-week run in a well-reviewed play. This was an Equity waiver production, so he didn't make a dime, but it was a challenging role and the house was always packed. As an actor, he got more out of doing this play than his last paying gig, which was one small scene on a network show. I was there for the closing-night party, and I could almost see the dark clouds forming over his head. "Now what? Is anyone ever going to hire me again? Am I done?"

Depression can knock the wind out of you. It can sap your strength and prevent you from moving forward. If you want to succeed in this business, you have to keep yourself creatively happy, especially when you're stuck in the In-Between. So here are a few ideas I've picked up over the years that should help keep you sane:

1) Stay in class. Nothing will keep you sane like spending creative time with people who can totally relate to what you're going through. And if you're bored with scene study and audition technique, try something new, such as an improv class or a Shakespeare workshop.

2) Have weekly readings. Get a group of actors together and agree to meet once a week to read a play. You should all take turns picking the material and hosting the readings. Everyone can bring some munchies and beverages. When you're done, have a discussion about the play.

3) Set up a movie night. This is the same as No. 2, but instead of reading a play, I want you and your friends to get together and watch a film none of you has ever seen. Be creative with your choices. Try a silent classic or some really bad B-movies. The last time I hosted one of these, we all watched "Blacula," the African-American version of "Dracula." There's nothing like really bad acting to make you feel like the greatest actor in the world!

4) Go watch others act. Most actors don't see enough theater. So pick a famous play you've never seen performed or an original piece you know nothing about. Either way, no one you know should be involved with the production. Now go watch the show, alone or with a friend. Keep your critical mind focused on the acting, not the story. What, if anything, would you do differently?

5) Perform in public. Let's find out how good you really are. Create a fleshed-out character with a name and backstory. Then test that character in public with complete strangers. For example, show up at a huge corporation for a job interview. Research the company online for a name you can use. Act hurt that no one's expecting you. The world is your stage.

Those are my top five. Now go add some of your own. And remember, there's no getting around it: Downtime sucks. But if you make an effort to stay creative, being stuck in the In-Between won't be so bad.

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