Get Unstuck: 3 Tips for a Next-Level Acting Career

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A lot of actors are stuck in the same old, same old routine—they’re angry, frustrated and intensely unhappy that their careers aren’t advancing to the next leve.

So how do you get out of the muck and move on? First, recognize the problem and then let go of what’s not working. Get advice—if you go it alone, you’ll make a lot of mistakes—and don’t take yourself so seriously.

Quick story.

When I was a student at Oxford, England, one of the fun things to do with a slew of classmates was to go punting on the river. The Cherwell, a river that runs through Oxford, is narrow and shallow but muddy. It’s very safe if you’re with 5 or 6 friends having a picnic and drinking tons of ale in a small, flat-bottomed boat. And the really fun part is the actual punting.

“Would you like a boatsman to come along and punt for you, Miss?“

“Oh, no!” I said. “I can manage.”

Punting seems simple. While standing in the boat you stick the 14’ pole into the water, find bottom and propel the boat forward down the river. The trick is to keep your balance while lifting the pole out of the muddy bottom, wait, and then stick it back in the mud and pull out again. Easy, if you have your wits about you and are paying attention. But if you’re a few sheets to the wind on local brew and everyone’s laughing at some outrageous comical impression, the inevitable happens.

“Let go, Gwyn, let go!” they warned, laughing at my predicament.

“No, I can do this!” I was concentrating, taking my job as the boat’s punter seriously, pulling furiously on the stick. If I let go, how would we get back to shore? But the pole was definitely stuck in the mud. And I was stubbornly holding on, fighting gravity and mud while the boat kept moving forward.


It was over in a nano-second. Still holding the pole, I flipped into the river to the amazement and hilarity of everyone—fellow boat mates and all the other punters on the river who love to point out the obvious.

“Yank overboard!”

“Woman defeated by pole!”

“Save the American from drowning!”

“Ooh! It’s a slime creature!”

They all had their fun yelling in Oscar Wilde accents, while I was in muddy water up to my neck, my hair covered in mud, and far more embarrassed than in danger of drowning.

Then of course, two guys in the boat tried to pull me back in until they—splash!—fell in. It was an like a scene from Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Shoes that were lost in the mud were retrieved by friendly jocks stripped to boxer shorts that displayed huge British flags—so chivalrous, the British!

Then, further humiliation-—you have to walk covered in mud down High Street back to your college while shopkeepers come out to gawk and politely ask, “Fall in, Miss?“

And at a formal dinner later, I was presented with the Pole Award—let’s just say it’s not exactly an Oscar—creating more hilarity and a standing ovation for… idiocy.

Oxford is a great institution of learning and there are three lessons you can learn from my punting experience.

1. Let go of the pole.
Don’t get stuck doing what obviously will bring you down into the muck of a mediocre career. Better to move forward in the boat than falling in and struggling to get out of the muddy river. Waste of time. Very messy. Total humiliation.

2. Don’t go it alone.
Get advice and assistance—not necessarily from Oxfordian jocks and boatmen. Hire a knowledgeable coach. Good advice will save you a ton of (splash!) bad incidents: falling into the wrong project, getting stuck and staying unemployed. A coach makes you accountable, creates a marketing plan, helps you present yourself professionally and steers you to reputable agents. That’s when your career takes off, down the river smoothly.

3. Accept mistakes lightheartedly.
Laugh at your failures—they’re a path to success. Don’t be so serious and intense. Your career should be FUN. And amid all your hilarious adventures you’ll become a happier actor. Happy actors work—a lot.

Ready to let go of the pole and take your career to the next level? Check out our theater audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Gwyn Gilliss
Having been selected by over 100 east and west coast agents, managers, and casting directors as the “foremost marketing coach for actors,” Gwyn has also had a successful acting career in all medias. She studied at Carnegie Mellon, and was an Emmy Award-nominated Daytime/Primetime TV actress with over a dozen contract and recurring roles. Favorites include: “All My Children” (ABC),“The Lucy Arnaz Show” (CBS), and “Woman of Valor” (NBC, Emmy Award).