After training and studying for years, you’ve earned a degree: now what? How to get a job and have a career as an actor is the number one question facing emerging artists and one this book answers for you.
While performing arts schools do a great job of teaching how to act, most don’t teach you how to launch and sustain a career. Acting is your Business: How to Take Charge of your Creative Career addresses this fundamental aspect of your creative journey, delivering a precise formula to help you organize the next chapter of your life. It helps you to find work and proactively build a career by providing the tools you’ll need to connect with working professionals within the industry.
If acting is your business, you must run it as a business. Positioning you as CEO of your own company, this book uses a boardroom table as a visual model. At that table are 7 key positions, each representing an area of action and expertise that you must understand to build a successful career. With worksheets and tools, supplemented throughout with interviews with industry professionals from North America, the UK and Europe, and Australia, and further supported by a companion website, this action plan will empower and equip you to achieve your career goals.
The excerpt below offers a peek into how to make acting your ‘business’ and be the CEO of your career. Check out our additional resources here.
The CEO is the name and face of the company. The persona that’s created around that title tells the world who you are and what your company stands for. You have chosen a public career. Representing you and your “company” are synonymous. If you want to give priority and structure to what you want to accomplish, naming it, giving it either a real or fictitious LLC status will encourage you to think differently about acting as a profession. It makes it professional. It makes it a company you are running and are proud of.
Therefore, it’s important to create a CEO Image that is singular to you and your style. The way you present yourself, the interests you have, and your artistic sensibility are all tied together and part of the image you are projecting to your audience.
It is crucial to dial into a very real and authentic representation of how you walk through this world. This means giving serious thought to the details of your personal image, paying attention to your quirks, habits, varied interests, world views, passions, etc . . . They are reflected in the way we style ourselves and the way we interact with others and instill interest and confidence. Some people are very adept at this concept and others struggle to define themselves. When it works, there is no stopping what can be achieved.
We have all been in meetings before when someone walks into the room and we make an assessment or evaluation of that person based on our perception of image, persona, or style. What kind of energy comes at us? What is in their image that gives us visual information? Tailored, bohemian, rocker grunge, and kitschy all tell us something. Trustworthy, competent, interesting. We make these decisions in a split second and those decisions either inspire us or warn us. If they are not clear and we can’t figure it out, we tune out and don’t invest or lean in. We want and tend to trust our visual assessment and first impression.
If you present strongly and honor who you really are through your sense of style and self, it will inspire others and project confidence. Whether you are a jeans and baseball cap kinda person or someone who is up on trends and fashion, there is an opportunity to create a strong sense of recognizability. Think of artists in the music business and how they give us a view of their unique selves. Their senses of style are an iconic part of their personas: Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Elton John, Beyonce, H.E.R., Harry Styles, Lady Gaga . . . you get the point.
After all, part of being a FIGUREHEAD means looking and playing the part and if an actor doesn’t understand that analogy, who does?
Knowing your CEO Image is only part of being a figurehead. Imagine if the CEO of a startup company sat down to pitch an investor and said, “My company doesn’t want to pigeonhole itself yet—we can provide any kind of service or product you need!” That would be crazy, right? Yet artists do this kind of thing all the time: they fail to specifically express what they want to do. Mind you, you’re just trying to articulate where you want to start. You can change your path at any time. But you have to start somewhere or else the industry won’t know what to do with you.
Most artists are multi-talented and layered. In fact, different seats at your board table will be pursuing different aspects of your talents at different times. But the CEO’s job is to turn those many layers and talents into one cohesive vision. The CEO does not get distracted by possibilities. The CEO asks and answers two questions: What do you most want and how are you going to get it?
The first question relates to your vision—think of it as your company’s vision statement. The second question relates to your game plan—think of it as your company’s mission statement. The CEO job requires the creation, strong belief in, and unerring commitment to the goals of your company and the game plan you’ll use to get there. As artists, we are always tempted by opportunity the moment it comes our way. The trick is to stay committed to the vision we established and only take advantage of opportunities that fit into our plan.
How do you determine your vision? For most artists, when pressed to articulate a statement, the answers are vague and nonspecific. They will state the objective is to simply be working within their industry, to have a long career in which they are supported by their craft. But when you are emerging, where do you start? There are so many possibilities, but which are realistic at this phase of your career? Where do you initially put your focus and energy in order to reach the point where you are making a living as an actor, musician, or artist?
The vision statement helps clarify this. It is your dream destination. Whether that’s doing Shakespeare in regional theatre, becoming a member of a repertory company, working in TV as a sketch actor, carving out a niche in the sci-fi or fantasy world, becoming a voice-over artist, or developing a career as a creator. The vision is the bedrock of your company and all decisions are weighed based on whether or not they support your vision.
Then there’s the mission. Every company with a good idea or dream needs to imagine how these goals will be met. It’s the creative how—how you’re going to get there (and the attitude you’ll have while you are getting there!). This “how” requires defining incremental goals. If you wanted to make a living as a musician, would you start out by touring with the band, trying to record an album with a band, or building up your credits as a session player? The idea is to pick incremental and specific goals that will lead to success.
Your mission might also affect where you choose to live (if you want to work in regional theatre, it doesn’t really matter where you live because you’ll take a job wherever the regional theatre hires you). Your finances might dictate where you live, and therefore affect your vision (most aspiring film and TV actors want to be in Los Angeles, but the cash-strapped might prefer an emerging production market such as Atlanta or Albuquerque, which offer lower costs of living).
The path to your objective is determined by whatever puts a fire in your belly. The power behind your passion is what will drive you forward and define you. Since nothing is a guarantee in any artistic industry, why try to emerge on a path you don’t want just because you think it’s easier? All that does is breed discontent and lower self-esteem. There is virtue in pursuing what you want and supporting the goal in any way that works. Remember the joy. Let that be your guiding force. It’s what you can’t imagine living without.
Along with identifying joy and passion, you have to focus passion toward one objective and then drive the company toward it. Specificity is the key. A lot of artists say they want to do everything. But if you’re pursuing goals on many different paths, then those goals are ultimately competing with each other. You only have so much energy and time (and money!), and now you have split that energy and time between two (or more) paths, instead of going farther along down one path.
Often, actors tell me they are afraid to focus on only one vision and mission, because they think they won’t have an opportunity to explore other options down the road. Not only is that not true, but if you don’t initially define some kind of vision and mission, you are unlikely to ever get far enough down the road to even have a chance to pivot. No one gets more attention or response than the artist who can succinctly articulate a career vision and mission. This doesn’t mean you can never question them. You will have doubts and fears. And sometimes you should act on them! But the time to question everything is not when you’ve scored a meeting with a producer or have an opportunity to pitch yourself or an idea to a fellow creative.
The reason is twofold: first, no one will think you’re capable and confident if you don’t think that of yourself. More importantly, industry contacts can’t give you help or advice if you don’t offer them a plan they can latch onto, add onto, or fit into. As artists, we often feel beholden to all of the gatekeepers who move us forward or backward with a thumbs up or thumbs down. I don’t want actors and performers to feel that way. You are just as viable, creative, and strong as any other person in the industry. You have ideas. Take chances on them. The people who succeed are the ones who act on their impulses.
Embrace the great satisfaction that comes from acting on hunches, instinct, and talent. Is it a risk worth exploring and fighting for? Then do it! As CEO, you’re the boss and you can make any decision that drives your creative company forward. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s nod of approval. As the boss, know that the buck stops with you. Yes, in an artistic career, there is a lot outside of your control. But one thing you can control is the expression of and commitment to your artistic vision and mission, and your image. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, your lack of momentum will be no one’s fault but your own.
Even though you’ll ultimately be driven by a trust in your creative impulses, you will still need to create schedules and make priorities. Once there is a clear vision for the company, launch a mission that will get you there. All directives can revolve around that and your company can look for and generate projects that support that vision, one at a time. Defining incremental goals in this way will also create purpose.
It’s OK for your goals to change—the most successful companies, of course, are the ones that can adapt. Still, you must have one overarching objective at all times. This is your Northstar. Move toward that objective with incremental goals.
Acting is your Business: How to Take Charge of your Creative Career is now available at Bloomsbury.com