Breaking into the industry and standing out can be difficult for aspiring and early-career actors, artists, and performers. However, developing an artistic persona can be advantageous if you approach it with an open mind and take the process seriously.
“A Star is Born” Courtesy Warner Bros.
An artistic persona is a created personality an artist embraces—usually, but not always, different from their real personality—for career and performance purposes. Crafting an artistic persona is different from accepting a role or simply adopting a stage name. Your artistic persona goes beyond what you’re called; it’s how the audience perceives you and the art you create.
Adopting an artistic persona can give you the confidence to take bigger and bolder risks if you want to shake things up as a performer or need a little help advancing from ordinary to extraordinary in your career. Your persona is informed by the exceptional skills or talents you’d like to showcase or by amplifying a chosen trait.
Examples of artistic personas:
- For her breakthrough acting role in 2018’s “A Star Is Born,” Stefani Germanotta chose to be billed as Lady Gaga, the avant-garde pop-star persona under which she’s won 13 Grammys. “I’ve always been Gaga,” Germanotta told Rolling Stone. “It’s just that all the years of schooling and being in a Catholic environment and living in a place where we were kind of told what was the right way to be, I suppressed all those eccentricities about myself so I could fit in. Once I was free, I was able to be myself. I pulled her out of me, and I found that all of the things about myself that I so desperately tried to suppress for so many years were the very things that all my art and music friends thought were so lovely about me, so I embraced them.”
- Singer and actor Beyoncé Knowles used the persona Sasha Fierce early in her career to overcome her performance anxiety. “I have someone else that takes over when it's time for me to work and when I'm onstage, this alter-ego that I've created kind of protects me and who I really am,” she said while promoting her third studio album, “I Am… Sasha Fierce.” After the album’s release, she no longer uses the persona.
- Actor and comedian Nora Lum, who recently appeared in the MCU’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” is better known (and credited) as Awkwafina. Lum told Into the Gloss her real personality in college was the “quiet and more passive” version of herself; by contrast, Awkwafina is “the girl who’s high on sleepover energy, running around and dunking ice cream cones in her eyes.”
An artistic persona does not always require a name change. The more important thing is building and broadcasting a public-facing identity that’s tied to your art and audience expectations. For example, Tom Hanks’ reputation as one of the kindest men in Hollywood is synonymous with viewers empathizing with his characters (which can be effectively subverted in darker roles such as “Road to Perdition” and “Cloud Atlas”).
Creating a persona can help you stand out. Your well-defined artistic persona can be a lodestar, guiding you as you choose roles and make career decisions. It can help create boundaries around what you’re willing to do as an artist and how you want to be portrayed.
An artistic persona can:
- Protect the privacy of your friends, family, and yourself
- Help you feel more confident
- Create separation between your art and your personal life—you can choose the parts of yourself you’re comfortable sharing
- Help fight imposter syndrome—if a goal seems out of reach, let your artistic persona fake it until you make it
- Let your audience know what to expect from the kind of art you take part in
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A persona is not an alias or a gimmick—it’s an identity you perform. Talent and stamina must back it up. “Truly great actors have the bravery to bring their personalities to everything they do,” says acting coach Joseph Pearlman. “The personality of the actor is 90% of the performance. Personas are things people can hide behind. [A persona] doesn’t convey the infinite beauty and depth of a person’s soul and personality.”
Possible cons of sticking to an artistic persona include:
- Your persona can distract from who you really are as a performer.
- A persona can limit the range of roles you’re offered and lead to typecasting.
- Finding a persona that works might take more than one try, with each attempt costing time and energy.
- A persona can get you stuck in a career path—if you find success with one reputation, it can be difficult to pivot to something else you find interesting.
- If your persona is too far from who you are as a person, sustaining it for the long term could be difficult.
Choose something authentic about yourself or a talent that you want to amplify.
Leaning on who you are at your core helps you create a persona based on a part of yourself that you’re already comfortable with. “Hidden beneath the surface lies a reservoir of emotions and complexities that, when unveiled, have the power to captivate and move us,” Pearlman says. “Let us acknowledge the actors who courageously peel back their masks, baring their vulnerable selves and enabling us to witness the sheer brilliance of their true being.”
Observe others, and then try out the styles you want to emulate.
Attend performances in person and online, as well as inside and outside your preferred genre. See what makes certain artists stand out, and don’t be afraid to use those traits as inspiration for your own persona. Do those who use personas come across as authentic or exaggerated? What appeals to you? Weave the information you’ve gathered into your persona.
Inhabit the persona and create a fully developed character.
When in character, you should take up residence in your artistic persona, using your whole body and senses. Practice the persona by yourself before taking it public. Notice how the persona interacts and how it differs from you in your everyday life. Fashion, style, makeup, and props can help you stand out.
Don’t quit too soon.
Once you’re comfortable taking a new persona to the outside world, start with your trusted friends and get feedback before moving on to small audiences and public venues. If one persona doesn't work, don’t be afraid to try another one. Exploring different options will help you grow as a performer.
Be strategic and careful about how you share your artistic persona.
The artistic persona you develop can benefit from an online presence. Actor, singer, and music educator Abby C. Smith says: “I think all artists, in the age of social media saturation, are very aware that how we are perceived online can affect our careers in positive and negative ways. And that perception can change very quickly. So I think most artists try to come off as likable.”
Tips and strategies to promote your artistic persona online:
- Create social media handles for your artistic persona that differ from your regular accounts.
- Post behind-the-scenes content such as backstage happenings, performances, rehearsals, or events.
- Curate your content and only post what serves the artistic persona.
- If you choose to engage online, consider who can see your content and what they might assume about you. “Socials can also signal to people how much you’re working and in demand,” says Smith.