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Business of Acting

Turning Pro

Acting school is a fundamentally important tool to help you become an artist. However, a professional is defined as "one who follows an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain." Acting classes are great at teaching you how to succeed in the "show" of showbiz. But much of what they teach does not help with, or in some cases actually hinders, an actor's success in the "biz" part.

As an artist, it may seem foreign and disconcerting to you to have to make the cold and calculating decisions necessary to garner commercial success. To have the best shot at achieving your goals in the entertainment industry, consider the power of having two identities or characters. In addition to the creative self, you wield a secret weapon: a second self that can put aside the creative and focus on business decisions.

The great Konstantin Stanislavsky said, "Do not try to push your way to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards, but do your utmost to find entry into the world of beauty." Stanislavsky was certainly a genius when it came to the craft of acting. However, you cannot rely solely on your talent. You must constantly push, market, schmooze, cajole, and fight to be noticed. In consulting with a number of agents and managers for this article, I heard the constant refrain that many actors are not aggressive and consistent in marketing themselves to the entertainment community. This marketing encompasses everything from having a strong presence in social media to soliciting casting directors and finagling your way into the "right" parties and other places where you can develop relationships with producers, directors, agents, managers, and other actors.

Stella Adler once stated, "One way we can enliven the imagination is to push it toward the illogical. We're not scientists. We don't always have to make the logical, reasonable leap." Adler's position makes perfect sense when applied to acting, but it can be quite harmful when navigating the economic side of your profession. In business, you must be ruthlessly scientific and logical in your decision making. Reason is your single best tool in deciding which representative to sign with, evaluating the economic impact of the contract you are about to enter into, or choosing which area of entertainment you are going to devote your precious marketing resources toward. Of course, instinct is always important, both onstage and off. But relying solely on your gut feelings without taking a cold, hard look at the facts can often lead to disaster.

Lee Strasberg said, "Acting is the most personal of our crafts. The makeup of a human being—his physical, mental, and emotional habits—influence his acting to a much greater extent than commonly recognized." Looking inside and understanding what makes you tick is crucial to excelling as a performer. However, the business of show business demands that you be able to get out of your own head, empathize and sympathize with those around you, and generally understand what inspires them. What motivates the agent you are trying to get in front of? What is the recent track record of the theater producer you are auditioning for? What are the sensibilities of the director your friend is introducing you to?

In addition to understanding the people who have influence over your success, you also need to go bigger and study the entertainment business as a whole. Read entertainment trade publications. Follow box office results, television ratings, bestseller lists, and innovations in entertainment technology. Without understanding the economics of your business, how can you effectively market yourself to that business?

It may seem like blasphemy, but to be a professional as well as an artist, consider being open to putting aside certain acting-school dogma when maneuvering in the business of show. Besides, when you become rich and famous, you will be able to finance, produce, and star in that little Off-Broadway play that means the world to you artistically.

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