And thanks for reading! Slumps. Don’t you hate them? I do, and I am in one now. No, this is not a post to whine about not working, or how hard it is to get cast, or…well…whine about anything. This week let’s talk about what things you can do while you’re in a slump to keep you from deciding to just throw it all in. And if you’ve been with me for a while, you know I wrote about something similar before: The Doldrums.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting. And this week (just to see if you read this every week) it applies to a lot of areas in your life, not JUST acting.
This too shall pass…
I once had a friend who would ask me how I was doing every weekday morning (we worked together). I’ll just point out that this went on for THREE YEARS. No matter what I said, “I’m doing great!” or “Man my life sucks right now”, his response was always the same: He’d look at me solemnly and, with gravitas, say “This too shall pass.” I’d love to tell you this wasn’t frustrating (which is probably why he kept it up so long), but I grew to hate it. These days I’d say he was one pretty smart individual.
Honestly, it will…
Pass that is. Truth is no matter how good or bad things are in your acting career (or, well, life really) the odds strongly favor them changing before too long. The message here is: Don’t get discouraged when you experience a slump, because a very large percentage of the time, let’s say 99.9% (almost all percentages are just made up on the spot. This one was) of the time, the slump ends. Oh, and if you are riding high? That’s likely to change too. So, keep your head up, keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it it’ll all be different.
And I am in one now…
It’s not a bad one as slumps go…not yet anyway. I haven’t worked (well, I haven’t been hired by someone else to work) for three months. THREE MONTHS! Yeah, not horrible. And I’m not complaining either because I know they are common, I know it will pass, and I figured out how to keep myself busy, so it at least seems like it is passing faster. And to be fair, part of this is my own fault. You see a lot of “life stuff” is happening so my availability is limited. One thing this has allowed me to do is to start producing a podcast. Episodes should start rolling out late Spring/early Summer. I’ll let you know as we get closer to launch.
A slump is just part of an acting career. EVERY actor has experienced them, so if you are in a slump, you are in pretty good company. I believe you can probably name some big ones right off the top of your head. If not, then I’m going to talk about a few actors whose names you may recognize here.
You’ll know her better as Pam, from The Office. Ms. Fischer was lucky enough to land a series regular role on a hit television series that lasted for eight seasons. Even with her notoriety she hasn’t acted in much since 2018. For you math wizards out there, that’s 8 years. Puts my three months in perspective. But even before her role as Pam, she struggled. If you have some time, read her book The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide (I get nothing if you buy the book). In it she talks about her time living in a small one-bedroom apartment, working full time, and getting to the point where she considered giving up on her acting dream. And then, one day, PAM.
Not quite the same story as Jenna Fischer, but similar at least early on. Of course, you probably know him best as Walter White on Breaking Bad (seriously, if you haven’t watched this, you really should). And, if you look at his IMDB page you’ll see that he stays quite busy. But that was not always the case. As a young actor trying to land a good role, he, much like Jenna Fischer, struggled almost to the point of giving up. If you haven’t read his book, A Life in Parts, then you should.
Yep, we loved him as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, and the Archangel Michael in Michael. Even before that in Saturday Night Fever, Grease and as Vinny Barbarino in Welcome Back Kotter (I loved that show as a kid!). Yeah, he stays pretty busy these days according to his IMDB page. But you’ll notice that his career has been somewhat cyclical. Between his heyday in the 1980’s and his next hit in the 90’s, almost a decade passed before he was offered a big role. He hasn’t written a book about his struggles as an actor that I know of, but if he ever does I’m sure it’ll be a fascinating read.
Part of the “problem”…
And I put problem in quotes because we think of this as a problem, but it’s really not a problem at all, at least for most of us. A part of why some actors wind up in long slumps, and certainly in Mr. Travolta’s case if you research his career, is appearing in some…less than noteworthy…projects. This is a really bad idea once you’ve “made it” but not a bad idea for us “normal” (ie: Not famous) actors at all. It’s acting even if it is in a “bad” project…and you never know which one will be your breakout role.
What to do…
I don’t know about you, but during slow times, slumps, I tend to get down on myself. Impostors’ syndrome is bad enough on its own, let alone during a slump! Sometimes, I start to feel like I am chasing the wrong dream. Without some positive action on my part, I would spiral down to the point where I’d just…give up. But I find there are things I can do that make me feel less slumpy and keep me working.
One of the best things an actor in a slump can do is continue actor training. For one, it keeps you up and acting even if it is just for the class. For another, it helps you continue to hone the craft of acting, which should make it easier to land a decent gig. If you can manage it, I highly recommend an in-person class where you get up and perform scenes. If nothing else, it will occupy some of the time you would normally spend bemoaning the fact you are in a slump.
Reading about what other actors, especially actors who have achieved some level of fame, have or are going through helps a lot. For me, anyway, knowing that someone who is a household name experienced the same thing I am is encouraging. I feel a lot less alone. A lot less like it is my fault for being a horrible actor. And if you (or I) are a horrible actor, refer to the last paragraph – Learn.
That’s right…act! “But how do I act if I’m not getting cast?”. There are a couple ways to remain active as an actor without getting hired by someone else. First, there are acting/coaching classes, also every audition is an opportunity to act. Then, particularly if you are networking with other actors, you can work on small indie projects for your friends, or even create something on your own.
If you’re not creative and have no friends?
If all else fails head on over to Google and search for Script Archives (click the link, I did it for you). Pick a script, find a reader, and tape yourself (you DO have a self-tape setup, right?) performing scenes from a project that interests you. Also consider community theater. They are usually begging for people to audition.
What not to do…
Telling you what TO do without telling you what NOT to do isn’t really fair, is it? Here is the big thing to not do: Give Up. Giving up guarantees you’ll never “make it” as an actor (no matter what your definition of making it is). It won’t happen overnight, but if you quit…it won’t happen at all. Lots of clichés around this idea, but the simple fact is that if you give up, you fail. Look, you may fail anyway, but the only surefire way to make sure you fail is to not keep trying.