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10 ideas on how to build your personal armor to survive ‘The Biz’!

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Eyes narrow

She’s told that the audition is different than what she had done at the first call – and she is next to go in

True story.

Guess what? The callback went awesome. I was funny, engaging, had a director who seemed really interested to work with me. He and the clients just seemed to like everything I was doing. None of my earlier frustrations had entered the room with me.

I didn’t book it.

This is my life as an actor and it made me want to write this post.

The media portrays acting as glamorous: Movie and TV stars, YouTube celebs… all living ‘the life’: money, fans, excitement, glamour. Even some of us non-celebs active on social media publicize the ‘fun stuff’– — photo shoots, meetups, conventions, a pic from our trailer from the gig we booked. But the reality of an acting career is different.

At the beginning, when you are waiting tables or slaving away at your ‘survival job’, the industry doesn’t give you respect. They hope that you fail so there is one less aspiring artist in town. You race around town to every audition you can grab, your bank account is drained from classes and headshots and your parents are just wondering what they did wrong.

And even when you start working, you are still ‘hoofing it’ like my experience recounts: material changing on a dime, last minute calltimes half way across town, your personal commitments at its mercy. And there are the ups and downs with your emotions – as your hopes and dreams (and livelihood) rest on these jobs that you are up for. You go through more rejection in a month that most people do in a lifetime. And then, when you actually book the job (yay!) and work on set – there is a whole other set of challenges that can befall you, especially being the new face on set.

So if the world of acting is a three ring circus, how do you keep a level head? How do you not lose your mind… and your soul on your way to a steady gig? Build your own personal badass set of armor to navigate the battleground… these are some of mine:

1. Have a badass mantra: You are a professional artist. You are not an aspiring actor or a starving actor. Whether at an audition or on set, you must think of yourself as a fierce trained actor who is there to solve a problem with your skill — bring to life a character that currently only exists on the page or the story board to sell a narrative and / or a product. Not everyone can do this. Create your own mantra that inspires you and fills you with purpose.

2.  Have an inspiring book or a kindle with you at auditions. ie. Not TWILIGHT. If there is a long wait at auditions, or if fellow actors are doing the ‘what auditions have you been on?’ chatter, read material that inspires you and reminds you of why you are an artist and storyteller. This also helps when commercials and co-star auditions/work tip into the demeaning realm — because you are playing certain stereotypes, bored waitress, bimbo beer babe and thus you are often treated as such. But you are not that stereotype. Having a book that engages your brain and soul is a good personal reminder.

3. Know who the frak you are meeting and working with! Contextual information… I’ve preached this before – Hollywood is a business. You would not go into an interview without doing some research on who you are meeting with.

a) Auditions: If you are at a TV/ Film audition and have not met the CD before, research them. They may not always want to chat, but research allows you to not only find out the shows they cast, but their social media presence or their other talents. CD’s don’t get the respect they deserve from the industry (and actors being sycophants does not equate respect) — so value what they do and engage with them as human beings, not gate keepers to an audition with the director.

b) On set: research the call sheet before you get there. Know the names of the key crew and creative members – see what the director and DP have done before—commercial directors shoot movies as well. You never know when being familiar or even a fan of the director’s other work can allow you to strike up a conversation, ultimately giving you the opportunity to create a more dynamic relationship with him/her, and even discuss the other projects you are working on — which makes you fascinating.

4. Be fascinating. People gravitate towards people who are passionate about things in their life other than acting. As most of you reading this post are ‘multi-hyphenates’ – don’t be afraid to share your other focuses if the opportunity arises. And indulge your passion for non-related topics – you never know what may spring up because of it

5. Dont go to an audition with the sole purpose of booking it. Yes that’s what we want to happen but it’s an outcome that is beyond your control. Seriously. No matter how great you were. Pick one goal that you can work towards in the audition that you can actually have a shot at controlling. Such as, “this audition I am going to work on my ‘wise mom character’ and own what that means to me – even if I don’t have kids.” “Or this audition I am going to register everyone in the room and not let the camera guy rush me.” That way, when it’s over, you will feel accomplished — not focused on the outcome – and you probably gave a better audition.

6 – Follow up — with yourself. You are your own walking and talking business. Take yourself out for coffee or fro-yo and be analytical about the audition or shoot you just had — especially if it didn’t turn out well. But don’t beat yourself up — try to find the constructive criticism and learn from it. Then implement it the next time around. (See #5)

7.  Visualize Visualize. There is so much chaos in the film business that auditions and film sets can be tumultuous places. It can throw you off your game, especially if you are not regularly working or auditioning (auditioning is a muscle!) People who work all the time have a certain comfort level both in the audition room and on set. Those who are desperate, who are newbies, or just rusty stick out like a sore thumb. Anytime I have a big audition, I visualize the entire audition, from getting into the car to walking out of the casting building. I familiarize myself with every emotion that could wreck havoc with my performance – I experience it – the discomfort, the nerves — so I don’t have to in the room. Even if you don’t work all the time, it will help you feel like you do.

8.  Have faith that your talent and hard work will pay off. This might sound trite but you have to have a sense of spirituality to survive as an artist. There is no linear equation to success, there is often no rhyme or reason why you do or don’t book something.  But I believe that if you take action, pour you heart and soul into your work, that it will pay off in the long run. Just sometimes not how or when you imagined. That’s all I can say. But I can almost promise.

9.  All these things will start happening naturally if you control your own career by creating your own characters and content.  If you wear the hats and create the stories that you want to tell – the acting hat won’t feel so heavy, so precious.  You will see the purpose for your character and serve the story — and it will no longer be just about being good. And in doing so you will surround yourself with collaborative and supportive people. (See our Ms in the Biz founder Helenna’s list of resources when it comes to making a webseries. It’s fantastic.)

10. Give yourself a break. Sometimes it is ok to cry, scream or laugh at yourself. Sometimes it’s ok to be snarky to your agent’s assistant because what they are relaying is ridiculous or frustrating. Crawl into bed, down a bottle of wine or a pint of ice cream and binge watch 10 hours of Supernatural. Seriously. It’s a crazy business and we are temperamental artists who can’t always wear the armor. Sometimes we like Doritos stained flannel.  But as a producer once told my acting class, “this is the life you chose,” and usually I’m pretty darn grateful for it…

… even if I sometimes feel like a dancing monkey magician .

What things is your personal armor made up of? A trusted group of actor friends? Making the time to perform in a play? Certain books, acting text or plays/ movies that you will re-watch to reboot? I would love to know.

photo by The Bui Brothers

photo by The Bui Brothers

Taryn O'Neill

About Taryn O'Neill

TARYN is an actress, writer and new media producer originally from Vancouver, Canada. A competitive figure skater for 12 years, she graduated from Duke University. She has appeared on the TV shows ‘Vegas’, ‘Navy N.C.I.S.’, ‘The Inside’ ‘Lie to Me’ and plays a recurring role on the BYUTV family drama ‘Granite Flats’. She has acted in over 20 webseries (winning Best Supporting Actress at the Indie Soap awards for her work on ‘Compulsions’) as well as producing two series (including the Streamy nominated scifi series ‘After Judgment’.) She added writing to her repertoire after starting a blog in 2009, and in 2010, her first comedy script, “The Very True Adventures of the Madoff Girls,” was a Finalist in the NYTVFest FOX Comedy Pilot Contest. She has since written a full length series for ‘Stan Lee’s World of Heroes’ and has numerous web and tv projects in development, scifi being her genre of choice. In her spare time she studies all things science and trains in martial arts. Her quest to be an onscreen badass was first chronicled at her tumblr Operation BABE (Badass Alien-Fighting Body Endeavor), and has evolved into being a blog about being an inspired badass in all areas of life.