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Actors, Get Back to the Craft

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All of us creatives are trying to achieve the nearly impossible: to make art that connects the world, to make our voices count, to affect change, to spread laughter, to create catharsis and belonging. We are sensitive humans with something to say.

We see the way the world is connected, and we want to reach out and touch as much of the world as we possibly can. Yet we are doing this in a reality where cat videos will be cooler than us every day of the week, probably for eternity. We are trying to get a foot in the door in the most competitive industry on the planet, because all of us, deep down, want to believe in magic.

When we succeed it is the equivalent of making the Olympics. We are competitive athletes, trying to become a brand into ourselves, hoping to gain influence. So we try to create more hours in the day, squeeze more out of life, develop our creative muscles, our productivity muscles, our networking muscles, calibrate our shit-meter detectors, grow our collaborative team-building skills, figure out internet marketing, and how to pay rent each month too.

I’m going to tell you right now that we are pretty much super-stars. The valiance of our efforts to produce something meaningful in a world filled with so much noise, is as valiant as slaying the dragons of yore. Our dragons are our own resources, our limiting beliefs, and for women, the true disadvantage of our sex in the creative industries. Somewhere in this maelstrom of the dynamic and explosively evolutionary entertainment climate we are living in NOW, we hope we are able to find and hold on to our artistic truth, and maybe make something worth watching too. That would be nice.

It is so incredibly easy to get caught up in the HOW of it all. And there are a million HOWS- that’s the good news. But at the end of the day, while you are fraught and scaling through a gazillion vapid roles on Actors Access, or dropping boco bucks on workshop after workshop, listening to another podcast, or schmoozing with industry gatekeepers, it can be very easy to forget the artist and become the marketing process.

At the end of the day YOU have to be competitive. You have to have something to say that people want to hear. You need to be compelling, or lucky. And when you are also working to support yourself, it can be really hard to prioritize the CRAFT, the actual artistry of what you are doing. Well kiddos, the truth of it is, that we have to keep prioritizing the CRAFT, EVEN when it doesn’t sound as good as telling your friends about all the new stuff you are learning about marketing. Craft, and story, is QUEEN. In a world that is getting increasingly louder in terms of media consumables, what gets developed, what gets chosen, is the best storytelling. And storytelling is the oldest art in existence.

That means that we all have to raise our game in terms of the quality of what we are creating. We have to do the reps. If you are an actor, a writer, a director, any lead creative of any kind: you have to be working on the CRAFT of what you do regularly. You should be acting, writing, or directing EVERY DAY (or at least 5 days a week), like, you know, any other industry. This reality has dawned on me in no uncertain terms as of late. If I want to be there, a leading creative person on this planet, I have to develop my instrument each and every day, just as a musician or a painter would. Right now that means that I am taking 3 classes (thank you Thrival job for helping get some flexible income), I am writing morning pages every day, I am flexing my creativity and following my urges to be creative with abandon. I am letting go of the internal sensor that used to judge the “play” of my passion, and I am awakening the clown inside me that revels in reciting poetry, monologues, and making a “scene” every day of the week.

If you aren’t getting auditions every day, get a team together that meets regularly just to put stuff up. Or get your at home filming setup together and just put stuff on tape for the hell of it. Make that series finally happen, or make a vine (it’s okay if only your 20 closest friends watch it). If you can’t afford a class, get an actor’s play group and a writing group together. Give yourself deadlines for things, and follow through. It is all this creative strength training that will pay off in the long run. If you stick with this path, you will most likely get SOME opportunity that could change the trajectory of your career. But you have to be trained to seize it. You have to be in top fighting shape. Become the quality that demands great representation, that demands opportunities for great roles, that develops a compelling and sellable concept, that produces a top-notch team of talent, and you will end up with creative opportunities. And YOU developed that, through hard work, good relationships, and yes, luck.

Human creativity is our most precious and unique quality as a species. And if artistically we get caught up for too long in the HOWS, we can lose touch with the creative source that feeds us. But the good news is, just like getting back into shape, if we do the reps, that creative pulse will come back. We can begin to color our entire world with it. We can expand our potential, expand our output, and grow in ways we never saw ourselves growing. We may tap into a new passion, we may reimagine our central thrust, but we will never lose our identity as creative beings.

Madeline Merritt

About Madeline Merritt

Actress, Freelance Writer - Madeline grew up on stage and has loved telling stories her whole life. From the Bay Area, California, Madeline received her degree in Theatre and Political Science from Northwestern University and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. She recently spent a year in Paris, France but missed the city of Angels and the entertainment industry here. She cares deeply about social issues, including women’s rights, indigenous rights, poverty and the environment. She feels the role of storyteller through entertainment is very important in opening dialogue and creating change in the world. You can see her in The Guest House (available on Netflix, Itunes, Amazon and Time Warner on Demand) and the soon to be released American Idiots, coming to a Redbox near you in June 2013. She is thrilled to continue her journey of collaborating with women in film and television through Ms. In the Biz.