The 4 Pillars of a Joyful Acting Journey

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Let’s say you wished to design and build an amazing building. Just having the skill and talent needed to design it isn’t enough. You also need to create the plan and blueprints so the steps needed to build it are clear and in the right order. But even those two things aren’t enough. You also need the tools and supplies needed to construct the building, and the skilled craftsmen and women to carry out the construction.

All four of those elements: skill, strategy, tools, and community, are essential to doing it at all, let alone doing it right. And even having all those elements working together in perfect harmony doesn’t guarantee everything will go smoothly or work out. We still have to contend with life’s challenges.

It’s no different for actors.

And yet, you and I both know people whose whole plan can be boiled down to this: “I think I’m talented. I just need to be discovered and meet the right industry person who’ll believe in me, and give me a chance, and I’ll finally be on my way to being the star I was born to be.”

We’re surrounded by people who want, hope for, or worse, feel entitled to success without having to work for it. Many of them don’t even know what the work is that needs to be done.

The vast majority of these people will never even get in the game, and even if they do, they won’t have sustained success. They may book a job or two in a year, but not because they know what they’re doing, but because, as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right two times a day.

That approach leaves almost everything to chance. It’s hoping for a happy accident, to win the lottery, or to get struck by lightning. You can never feel secure and confident with a plan based on things you can’t control. That’s why so many “actors” are wigged out and miserable, don’t train, and hate auditioning. That’s why so many give up, hopeless and broken-hearted. I mean, why torture yourself over a dream that’s never going to come true and waste your life away if success is out of your control, right?

Wrong. Please allow me to burn three things into your brain:

You will never be “discovered.”
You can control success.
The pursuit of happiness is happiness itself.

Happiness is not sustained with the attainment of what you seek, but in the passionate seeking of it, for in that seeking life gains purpose. Something once sought but now possessed quickly loses its ability to satisfy because the heart soon longs for something new for which to strive, for a new purpose.

In other words, if you want to make someone truly miserable and bored, give them everything they want the instant they want it. If you want to make someone truly happy, allow them to pursue each of their heart’s new desires.

In so saying, setting yourself up for a clear, sensible, powerful, and passionate pursuit of your acting dream is what will make your journey joyful. Then, the journey itself will bring you happiness, will sustain you through good times and bad, and success will inevitably follow.

You will never feel lost. You will always know why you’re working so hard, what you’re working towards, and your life will always have purpose.

So, here are my four essential pillars that support a joyful acting journey.

Pursuit of Excellence in the Craft
The development of your craft should focus on three things:

1. Establishing good habits and discipline—work ethic.
2. Learning how to act in every medium, genre, tone, and writing style in which you want to work—being a skilled actor.
3. Becoming a masterful storyteller—making compelling choices.

Those three things combine to make you, not a good, not even just a great, but a fucking brilliant actor. Brilliant actors work. Period.

If you’re not a working actor and you’re not in an ongoing class right now, it better be because you’re trying to get stable. There is simply no other reasonable excuse not to be. It’s like being a professional athlete and not consistently working out and running plays or drills. You’re going to get rusty, and you will be at a disadvantage in a field where success at the highest levels is a game of inches, not yards.

Our greatest enemy is laziness: complacency, a lack of discipline, and a shoddy work ethic. Your focus needs to be on bringing your best effort to every single acting activity, from classwork to your first network co-star to your lead in a studio feature.

For tips on choosing a place to study, or if you feel underserved by your current class, read my previous article series “The Importance of Training” Parts 1, 2, and 3, and “Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough.

For an example step-by-step process to follow for your work prep, refer to my “12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances” Parts 1, 2, and 3.

A Solid Strategy for Success
Already laid out for you in my article series “A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A.” Parts 1 and 2.

Tools
I can’t tell you how many actors are missing basic tools essential to perform at a high level. You are, yourself, the business and the product, so you need the right equipment to run your office and operate in the field. Refer to Chapter 8 of my book,“Get your sh*t straight, son. What you need to begin your journey,” happily provided, my amazing readers, as my free gift to you, so that you can never say I never gave you anything.

The camera setup I use at home is a Canon T3i, a Rode VideoMic Pro, Transcend SD cards, Ravelli tripod, and simple Cowboy Studio Light Kit. You can get all this stuff for around $1500.

Community
Nobody succeeds alone in this business. Acting is a collaborative art form. We need each other in every aspect of our personal lives and our craft, from prep and rehearsal all the way through final performance. If you don’t have a supportive, family-like community of loved ones that have your back, you need to prioritize it ASAP, because those who do have a huge advantage over you. There are many ways to find these people: acting class, workshops, auditions, church, work, online, and just being social and out in the world meeting and talking to people. (See my previous articles “We Are Each Other’s Greatest Resource,” and “The Importance of Treating Each Other as Family.”)

In closing, by building your acting journey upon these four strong pillars, you will be the architect of your own success. You will have all the key elements necessary to pursue success in acting from a joyful place. Then, it’s just a matter time until you’re successful—a matter of when, not if. What can make you happier or give you a stronger sense of purpose in acting than that?

Enjoy the ride, baby, not just the destination.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

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Shaan Sharma
Shaan Sharma is a session director, on-camera acting teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.”
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