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Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

Back Stage's staff is always trying to come up with fresh editorial concepts and, above all, present helpful, actionable information for actors and other performing artists. With that in mind, we present our first-ever List Issue, which, as the title suggests, is all things lists. From how to court an agent to common mistakes actors make when signing contracts to a casting director's recommended monologues, I think we've come up with a real winner this week.

As for my own Top 10 list, here are the qualities that I think make for a successful actor, from my perspective of 15-plus years interviewing, editing stories about, and getting to know actors:

1. Talent. Luck aside, you've got to have talent. Talent can come naturally, but more often it comes by way of training and experience, in particular stage experience.

2. The ability and passion to go deeper with the material. You think Anthony Hopkins just wings it? I don't think so. As he's told me, he gets as familiar with the script as he possibly can, so that by the time he shows up on set, he knows it backward and forward and can concentrate on his performance and interaction with his fellow actors.

3. The yearning to take risks, even if that means failing. I saw David Strathairn in a real stinker Off-Broadway years ago. He played a psychopath. Good for him for stretching his acting muscles and playing a character different from those we'd seen him as until then, even if the play was not good.

4. Curiosity.

5. A thick skin. I find that many of my favorite actors admit that they suck at auditions. That doesn't mean you should, but just know that even the best have faced their share of rejection and disappointment.

6. Treats others with respect. Act like a professional whenever you're in a work situation, show up on time, know your lines, and don't pick on the poor assistant director. He or she may be the next Spielberg.

7. Is in it for the long haul. Did you know that Mark Ruffalo came very close to quitting acting after 10 frustrating years of pursuing his craft in L.A. theater but hung on long enough to get a fateful call to be in a staged reading of a Kenneth Lonergan play? Lonergan went on to collaborate with Ruffalo on a number of acclaimed plays in New York and later wrote the lead role in "You Can Count on Me" with the actor in mind.

8. Studies great performances. My latest tip is from actor Chris Messina, who recently blew audiences away in "Away We Go": "You must see Dustin Hoffman in 'Straight Time.' " Actually, I've never seen it. I was only 9 years old when it came out, and I'm still catching up on the great films of the '70s. Needless to say, the film is now added to the top of my Netflix queue.

9. A sense of humor. God love George Clooney. Don't get me wrong, Clooney is a terrific actor, but I think one of the reasons that everyone enjoys working with him, and that he's gotten as far as he has, is that he's self-deprecating and goes out of his way to make others laugh. More recently, I heard from an actor in "Doubt" that Meryl Streep is hilarious off-camera.

10. Empathy. I was recently turned on to this concept by talent manager Jon Rubenstein, who in his spare time writes a blog on this topic ( Whether wanting to help a fellow actor or presenting a side of the human condition that may be extremely dark, such as Sean Penn does in "Dead Man Walking," actors need to find ways to connect with others.

Got a list you wish to share? Send it to us! Or let us know if there are other lists you think we should tackle, as I hope to add more of them to Back Stage in the future.

Jamie Painter Young
National Editor-in-Chief

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