And thanks for reading! This week I’ve put together some life hacks for actors!
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. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
What is a “Life Hack”?
Simply put, the dictionary definition of a “life hack” is:
a usually simple and clever tip or technique for accomplishing some familiar task more easily and efficiently
Some of what follows could easily be described as a life hack, and some may be closer to advice for actors, but nonetheless, all of these following ideas should help make your life as an actor slightly easier, more efficient, and less stressful. Odds are no one will be able to do all of these…I mean we all have our own unique set of life circumstances after all…but if even one of them helps you then I consider this a success!
I don’t know about you, but for me, one of the most stressful parts of being a working actor is memorizing your lines. Once you book a gig, there is a lot of research and analysis that goes into bringing your character to life. Who are you speaking to, find the beats, determine your objectives, where are you coming from, going to and how did you get there? This hack doesn’t take away any of that work, but remembering your lines? The best hack for that is: repetition. It’s the way we learn song lyrics: Listen to the song over and over again (and yeah, sometimes google the lyrics so you know what the singer is actually saying too).
Use an app or your phones recording ability
The absolute best and easiest way I’ve found to memorize lines is by using an app. I use Rehearsal Pro. This is not the only app for memorizing lines, but it works well. The gist is you upload the script, highlight your lines, and then record all the dialog (right in the app). Click play and the app plays the dialog over and over again all the way through. When you think you know it, re-record just the other characters lines and run your lines, out loud, with yourself. At first, just recite your lines out loud, and then add the dimensions you need from your script analysis. I listen over and over on my way to set…and you can split it into scenes so you can study lines for whatever scene you are about to perform.
Which brings me to: Be Off Book
Even for the audition. A simple audition hack is to be off book as much as possible. Being off book make your audition feel more natural; like you are living the scene, and not reading it. This is MOST important for in person auditions…hold your sides so you can refer to them if you get stuck, but as much as possible be off book.
And if you can’t be off book…
I get it. Sometimes we have a quick turnaround audition, and we just don’t have TIME to be off book. Thanks to the pandemic, almost all auditions (at least initially) are self-tapes, so you have a little flexibility and are able to do as many takes as you need to have a great audition. A simple hack I use for short turn self-tapes is: A teleprompter. Simply set up the teleprompter (I use the Neewer Aluminum Teleprompter) on a separate tripod behind and just off the lens of the camera. Then use the teleprompter as your eye line to your scene partner. It’s a little pricey at just over $200, but I’ve found it very beneficial.
Choose a “warm” background color
OK, so this one gets a lot of attention in the acting world. One thing is CERTAIN…your background should be a plain solid color with no distractions. Stay away from white if possible because it will affect your cameras light sensitivity and tends to wash you out. Most professionals lean toward a neutral grey or blue. I suggest blue, because while blue is generally considered a “cool” color, a mid-shade blue for a self-tape background looks warm (in my opinion). In any case, choose what you consider to be a warm background.
A few ways to get the right background
Without spending a ton of money, it’s important to have an appropriate background available on short notice. You can paint a wall in your house if you have a nice big blank wall available, but I choose to use a roll of photo background paper mounted to a background stand. It’s easy to set up and take down…and best of all it doesn’t need to be ironed like a cloth background would. OK, I think we’ve beat the audition hack horse to death now.
Know your “audience”
Believe it or not, your audience is not the people who will ultimately watch or listen to your finished performance. Your audience are the people who may hire you. You should get to know them! I’ve said it over and over: This business is all about relationships. The best way to impress someone and have them like you is to be interested in them. Get to know the people you are auditioning for, and learn what projects they have worked on, what awards they have won and be able to talk about them. You can research them through IMDB Pro, reading industry news like at Deadline, Variety or just do a Google search. Know your audience!
Find a Survival job in the industry
I’ve talked quite a bit about survival jobs in the past and usually recommend something that allows flexibility to pursue your passion career. This advice is slightly different though: Find a survival job within the industry you want to perform in. Can you provide audio engineering skills? Maybe be a set PA, work in props or wardrobe…if you have the skills try for an AD or gaffer job. These survival gigs help you stay “plugged in” to the industry and also exposes you to other industry professionals to make connections and to network.
Want to keep your acting chops honed and can’t afford to pay for classes? Why not teach others to act? Maybe you feel like you don’t have the skills to teach other actors, and maybe you don’t…but you probably do! I’m not suggesting opening an acting studio, but you can use YouTube and other social media outlets to teach what you DO know. This helps you by forcing you to think about the skills an actor needs, and then present them in a way that communicates how to acquire them. It’s like re-teaching yourself. You MAY even be able to monetize it in some way.
Yeah, I know you are trying to earn a living, but short of landing that sweet lead role or 1st AD gig it may be possible to volunteer on a production just to stay plugged into the industry. Relationships and all. Volunteer to help as a reader for auditions, or volunteer to proofread scripts…find some way you can help the production team then offer to help. Even if they say no, it sets you apart as a friendly, helpful person…and that’s who the production team remembers.
Use social media…Properly
We all know that as actors, social media is an important arrow in our quivers…but not all of us understand that social media is about a conversation not and advertisement. Sure, you want to use social media to present yourself to the community, and you definitely want to announce successes, but primarily the best use of social media is to (here it is again) start building relationships with others in the industry. Start a conversation by commenting on what others post, answer questions, and provide useful advice and generally get to know people. It’s like being invited to the after party at a premiere…work the room and get to know people…and more importantly let them get to know YOU.
Lastly: Stay humble – Confident, not cocky
No matter how far along you are on your journey, remember where you began and stay humble. No, not humble bragging, sincerely humble. Be confident, for sure…confidence is attractive…but cockiness is a definite turn off. Do your best to help people who are struggling or have questions and remember that you had some of those same questions or periods of confusion along your path too. Don’t be that “USE THE SEARCH FUNCTION” guy…be supportive and helpful, and yeah maybe also mention searching, but in the context of finding more information than you can provide.
And there we have it
Some simple life hacks for actors! Hopefully something here has been helpful for you and will serve to make your acting life a little easier or more efficient!