How to Survive As a Working Actor

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Photo Source: Hanna Barczyk

I would love to tell you how to succeed as an actor. I would love to, but I can’t. Because I have no idea how to do that. No one really does. There are a million ways to succeed in this business, and just as many definitions of success. I’ve had my own twisting, ever-surprising journey in this business—as a theater actor, commercial actor, sketch actor, TV actor, film actor, company member, solo performer, voiceover artist, improviser, writer, producer, director—changing hats and overlapping roles as the opportunities arose. It was, and continues to be, an unpredictable adventure, one that I could never have foreseen and would be useless to try to use as a “how-to” manual.

What I can tell you, from my experiences, is how to survive as an actor. This is something any actor who’s stuck around long enough has struggled with, and it’s the toughest part of being a working actor. Here is what I’ve gleaned:

You have to travel two separate paths: the Business Path and the Creative Path. And you must pursue both, simultaneously, never letting one take precedence over the other.

The Business Path is deceptively easy. Just do everything you’re “supposed” to do. Get your headshots done. Have your songbook/monologues/reel ready. Look out for auditions. Market yourself. Make connections. Take classes. But here’s the tough part: Do the work, but let go of the results. The Business Path is essential, but don’t make it the only thing you think about. You’ve got other equally (if not more) important things to take care of.

READ: “How to Take a Great Headshot”

The Creative Path is the reason you became an actor in the first place. Curiously, once you start getting paid for your passion, it’s also the first path to be neglected. But you must always remind yourself to exercise that creative muscle. Even, and especially, when you are feeling discouraged by your progress on the business side. Set aside time to do something creative. Every. Single. Day. This could be anything, from writing a song to going to a museum to sketching a picture. Mindfully studying a blade of grass can be as useful an acting exercise as you could learn in any class.

The further along you get in the business, the more people stand between you and doing the thing you love. First it’s just directors. Then casting directors. Then agents. Then managers, producers, executive producers, networks, artistic directors… and all of them must agree that you are the choice before you get to do what you love. The secret is you always have the power to do what you love. And it’s important that you never forget you have that power.

So remember to nurture both the Business and Creative Paths. If you’re persistent and a little lucky, they will join together. And that’s when your avocation becomes your vocation, and your passion becomes a career.

Stage and screen actor Kravits (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) is appearing in the world premiere of “Junk” at La Jolla Playhouse this summer.

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Need to do some Business Path work? Check out the video below to see if you’re using the best headshot format!

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