Workshops have become a necessary part of the acting business. Whether or not you feel strongly about them (for or against), everyone admits that they are a permanent fixture in the life of an actor. I had the opportunity to sit down with the inspirational, Ajarae Coleman, the founder of Workshop Guru, and discuss how she saw a problem with the system and set out to find a solution. As an actress, producer, and entrepreneur, she has created an invaluable database compiling all the workshops information into one place and supporting actors as they strive for success.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you started Workshop Guru
I have a background in teaching and in the corporate world. I did Teach for America for two years and then operations management for a few years before getting into the entertainment business. When I first started, I was looking for some help with the marketing side of things and I studied with Dallas Travers. She focused on the importance of targeting. I knew that I had to be very specific about how I spent my money and I was doing a lot of workshops but I was finding that it was difficult to find workshops with the casting directors on my target list. I would set up google alerts on those casting directors, and scour workshop studio calendars, but I thought that there had to be an easier way to check the schedules from all the different studios. I was baffled that there was no one-stop solution.
And that is how the idea for Workshop Guru started to take form. I also thought about how it would be great if actors could see which studios were great and which casting directors were receptive, and taught helpful workshops. It was scary to think about rating casting directors but I also knew that it was important because some casting directors give great feedback and you really feel like you are learning about the audition process, and with others that is very much not the case. It was a leap for me to think about starting this business and becoming known as more than an actor, but it has done nothing but enrich my life and relationships.
Q: How do you define success? Both as an entrepreneur and an actor?
I think that success is the ability to feel happy and fulfilled on a daily basis with what you are doing and constantly feeling like you are moving forward. For me, that has a lot to do with my businesses and my career but probably more to do with my inner work. I meditate daily and that is very important for me. We can be doing so much and still not feel successful. We can be booking jobs and growing our businesses by the numbers and still not feel successful, even though other people view us as successful. It is all about how you feel and how happy you are.
Q: Is there a concrete way that you track your successes?
I have a gratitude journal, and I don’t journal every day but when I am starting to feel like things aren’t going well, I have a gratitude journal session and think about what I am grateful for. And every week when I am planning my week, one of the things that I do is look back at the previous week and look at my wins. I do that on a monthly basis as well. When I do my monthly planning, I use one of those huge post-its that sticks to the wall, and before I write my list of things I want to accomplish over the next month, I look at what I accomplished last month. I also recognize that there are things on my list that don’t get done, but I am ok with that. I focus on the successes and build from there.
Q: Do you have a schedule that you stick to?
My schedule is a little crazy but I get up at 6am to meditate. Then an hour in the morning is reserved for daily tasks for Workshop Guru. I respond to customer emails, brainstorm new ideas, or whatever else is on my to-do list for that business. Then I have an hour to clear my email inboxes. At 8:30 I have a call with my accountability partner in which we discuss our goals and plan for the day. Then I work out, have breakfast, and prepare for the day. The rest of the day is devoted to auditions or whatever else needs to happen for my acting business and my other business (I’m a brand ambassador for Rodan+Fields, a prestige skincare company). Then in the evening I have acting class or workshops or social gatherings. Basically, my schedule is planned in blocks, but that morning time is sacred. I don’t plan anything before 11am and Sunday is my day to do whatever I want; go to brunch with friends, the beach, catch up on Netflix, etc.
Q: How did you find your accountability partner and what check-ins do you do together?
I met my daily accountability partner when I was working with Dallas Travers. We spend no more than 6 minutes each weekday outlining specifically what we plan to accomplish that day. I sometimes have a monthly meeting where six of us (actor/entrepreneurs) meet for an hour and each have ten minutes to discuss our current goals and brainstorm ideas for each other.
Q: Do you have any books or resources that inspired you when you were creating Workshop Guru?
First of all, The War of Art is amazing. It really applies to writers but also speaks so clearly to entrepreneurs. When I started the business I always felt so behind, and sometimes it was hard to stay motivated, and The War of Art helped me a lot. I love Marie Forleo and follow her online. I had a business plan when I started but I actually haven’t looked at it in two years. Now I re-evaluate my long-term plan on a quarterly basis. That includes goals, big projects, and how I want the business to grow, but there are always things that are evolving as I get new ideas and incorporate feedback from our members and my employees.
Q: What does the future hold for Workshop Guru?
We are about to go through a big site revamp and I am planning an actor summit for the end of the year, which will be all about helping actors create their own audiences. I see the company evolving through growing our membership and encouraging people to contribute and review their workshops after the fact more often. It will be a huge repository of information about casting in town.
Q: What is one of your favorite quotes?
One of my favorites is something my grandmother always said, “If you’re always giving what you have, you will never want for anything.” I think about that with all my businesses and especially with Workshop Guru, where I am serving my peers in the acting community. I am always trying to think of more ways that I can add value for others.