A few summers ago, I was performing in a tiny black box theater on East 4th Street. My friend Sarah and I poured our hearts into this play, rehearsing for weeks for what we thought was a sure hit. On opening night, there were three people in the audience.
Later that evening, the two of us took a heavy stroll. “What’s the point of all of this?!” I bemoaned. “We put everything we had into that show and nobody cares! Why are we doing this?”
It wasn’t until I hit spiritual rock bottom and began pursuing interests outside of acting—like traveling and serving my community—that I realized how incredibly important the work we do as actors is. The problem was my focus as an actor had been so linear that I’d failed to gain any perspective on the bigger picture.
In time, my mission shifted to helping other actors empower themselves using experiences and insights I had gained over nearly 12 years as an actor, writer, community volunteer, and world traveler. I call these lessons, “The 6 Principles,” and I’m sharing them with you today to hopefully help you come to the same realizations and revelations I did (but a lot sooner).
1. Lifelong learning
For years, I read nothing but plays and scripts. I was a one-dimensional person. In time, I realized the importance of diversifying my knowledge. I read about history, philosophy, psychology, science, finance, and leadership. The more I learned, the more I felt compelled to live a richer life. Acting alone no longer defined me and I refused to equate my self-worth with an IMDB page.
There’s nothing like visiting a foreign country, butI didn’t need my passport to stroll through Prospect Park or spend an afternoon wandering around the botanic gardens. Each place, near or far, offered me a chance to challenge the assumptions I held. But the greatest lesson was the importance of following my curiosity and protecting my inner tourist.
Whether you’re serving food at a homeless shelter or tutoring at an after school program, society works best when we all help each other out a little bit. It was while volunteering that I discovered there would always be someone who has it tougher and that helping people help themselves gives integrity to your ambition. Most importantly, helping challenged communities offered me perspective. Suddenly, not getting a callback for “Law & Order” wasn’t the end of the world.
4. Define success on your own terms
The real superstars in my life were friends with full-time jobs who still found time to sing, write, act, or play. I marveled at how they’d babysit, teach, or wait tables just so they could pursue something they loved. I learned true success is becoming great at something you love to do, and attainment of your goal is not the point but rather who you become in its pursuit. I started to recognize the accomplishments I had overlooked and realized I was already living the dream.
The “perfect part,” was never going to land in my lap—I needed to create it. With action came an awakening to my potential. With the remarkable technology available at my fingertips, I had no excuse to not get started. Today, all you need is a smartphone and an idea. I could get my voice out into the world and it wasn’t about the number of hits or followers I received, but the satisfaction I gained from starting and finishing something important to me.
6. Allow for change
What you want at 20 will be different than what you want at 40. It doesn’t mean you’ve quit a dream, it just means you’ve evolved and what you value most in life has changed. It finally dawned on me that all those years in voice, movement, and acting class had little to do with acting. Instead, we were being taught to take risks, speak our minds, be lifelong learners, and do something kind for someone else. If we were fortunate, we might become great actors along the way. The point was to be open to where life might take us.
Nick Maccarone is an actor, author, and speaker. He has appeared on “Scandal,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Elementary,” and “Unforgettable.” Since releasing his book “To The Prospective Artist: Lessons From An Unknown Actor,” Nick has been invited to speak at universities, conferences, and workshops all across the country. His message revolves around “The 6 Principles” that empower artists and actors to live a life and not just a career. In the future, Nick plans on growing his “To The Prospective Artist” brand to revolutionize how artists live their lives.
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