1 Question Will Make or Break Your Acting Career
January 2nd, 2018

Want to have a long, satisfying and life-changing career in theatre? It’s only going to happen if you ask yourself this one question: why theatre?

Before you can figure out what’s leading your character’s actions, you have to figure out what’s leading your own. An unmotivated actor is just as easy to spot as an unmotivated character.

Casting directors are going to be the first to notice. There’s a palpable difference between the actor who walks in the room just to get a job and the actor who walks in because they’re on a mission. As a casting associate told me earlier this year, “oh yeah, you can tell when they’re desperate for anything…you can smell it.”

I started seriously exploring my reason for working in theatre in 2011 after about nine months without an acting job, and my entire perception of the work changed. In short, I realized that I could never serve myself in this industry because the whole art form is built around serving others. That’s why we bow at the end of a play—ever notice that? That’s what servants do.

Once I realized that it wasn’t about me, the doors flung open to a whole trove of opportunity. For one thing, I recognized that it was okay to do more than perform, especially as a young artist (I was 23 at the time). My mission became less about getting me onstage and more about getting the show in front of the audience.

I chose a specific company that I valued (I had spent a summer there as an acting intern), and after signaling to the Artistic and Casting Director that I was in town and interested returning, I reached out to the company’s Director of Production and said, hey, I’m available and I have this handful of random skills, and I hate not being busy. Turns out, there was plenty for me to do.

These were jobs that I would never have considered when my goal was exclusively to get on stage, but I went after them like the world depended on it. I started out with small odd-jobs, like driving actors or crew to a run out; at one point, I was given a credit card and keys to a van and sent on an emergency search for a whole pineapple in a city that I had never been in before. As jobs opened up, they were offered to me. They were short a production intern for a month, so I filled in. Just as that show closed, the PA for two other productions broke her wrist, so I jumped into that. The casting director knew I was working on those shows, so she offered to have me understudy the three big male tracks in one of them, A Tale of Two Cities.

After seven months of giving everything and a pineapple to help the shows go on, frequently learning my jobs on the spot and always performing them with pride, I accepted a yearlong tour with another company. Then, on the final day of my contract, the lead in A Tale of Two Cities went out and I went in. I had started out those seven months driving a 15-passenger van and, in a poetic twist of fate, I ended it with a curtain call.

The very next day I was packed and ready to hit the road when the casting director offered to walk me to my car. She thanked me for the work that I had put into the company since coming to town. She remarked on my selflessness, on how I had been so committed to making these shows happen without regard for what I was getting out of it. And then she offered me a job.

I was about to leave for a year so she didn’t know what that job would be, but I was invited to return at the end of the year and we would figure it out. It ended up being as an actor, for 32 productions. I start the 33rd later this week. And those new technical skillsets I had developed? They’ve helped add another 9 productions on top of that, interspersed over my time here.

It’s important for me to clarify that I didn’t accept the odd-jobs and the production work because I thought it would result in an acting offer; I did it because it helped make the shows happen and it served the same needs that I wanted to serve with my acting. I learned in tremendous detail and from many different angles how a theatre operates, with a depth of practice and understanding that no internship or 4-year school can began to replicate. The new and varied skillsets that I developed are serving me—and ultimately the audience—to this day.

To put this revelation into short terms, I started out my acting career trying to serve myself and got next to nowhere until I started doing it for others.

Hundreds of thousands of people will walk into this theatre over the next year whether I’m here or not, and they’re coming in because they want their lives changed in some way. And when you walk into the rehearsal room motivated by the desire to serve the needs of those hundreds of thousands of people, you get a lot more accomplished because a lot more is riding on it than your ego. The truth is, your ego will never be enough because no matter how big it gets, it can never match the needs of those people.

Get out there, develop strong reasons for doing this, and serve something greater than yourself. I promise it’s enough, and I promise that it will carry you to where you want to go.

Join the conversation by adding to the comments below!