The Single Best Piece of Acting Advice You'll Ever Get
Learn your lines. Don’t be late. Don't be an idiot.
None of us do it intentionally, but not one of us can say they’ve never worked with someone who appeared to be achieving it effortlessly, if entirely by accident. Idiots are everywhere. And as the rehearsal room wisdom goes, there’s a one in every cast.
“If you think there isn’t one or can’t work out who it is, then it’s probably you”.
Unsurprisingly, when I asked 500 of the Honest Actors listeners what advice they would go back and give their younger selves, nobody said “don’t work hard”, nobody said “don’t take risks”, and nobody said “be the cast idiot”.
Work hard. Take risks. Don't be an idiot.
There is a whole series of blogs just waiting to be written, with titles like ‘How not to be an idiot… on set”, “how not to be an idiot… on tour”, and yes, “How not to be the idiot in the rehearsal room”. Anyway, here you go: the definitive “How not to be an idiot” checklist, mostly gleaned from my own occasional inability to avoid it…
Turn up on time
We’ve all been there. You turn up half an hour early on the first day, have coffee, mingle and when the time comes, you wonder why nothing is happening. Ten minutes pass. You look around the room. The director welcomes everyone and then says there’s been a change of plan. You’ll do the read-through after lunch. You’re going to start blocking the first scene because someone is ‘running late’. And now you have to stand up in front of the marketing department and act, script in hand. Because someone else is late.
Do the work
Read the script, do the homework you said you’d do, be off book when you agreed to be. It’s a team sport and being lazy affects everyone else’s game. It’s a job. It’s your job.
Focus, listen and be ready
You know that actor who messes about in tech week, misses cues because they weren’t paying attention, and somehow didn’t hear the DSM reiterate jokingly that the toilet on stage wasn’t plumbed in and therefore shouldn’t be used?
Be positive no matter how angry or scared you are
Sometimes we protect ourselves and hide our own insecurities by badmouthing the job. The job that the person you’re complaining to is also doing. And may have been very happy to be doing right up until the point where you pointed out every inadequacy at every level of the production, the marketing and even the front of house coffee bar. Grow up. Keep it to yourself. Don’t. Just don’t..
Prank only when appropriate
Some actors love a prank. Others hate it. With most, it very much depends on the context. When Medea is giving her monologue over the bodies of her two dead children, having sweated for two hours to get to this point, probably best that you haven’t planted a drawing of a penis directly in her eye line. Only an idiot would do that, right?
Support your friends when they’re doing well
It may sometimes be hard to watch a friend soar while you flail. But try to be happy for them. Wholeheartedly celebrating the success of others is a very healthy thing. And if it means you can avoid discussing your own career or lack thereof for a few minutes more, it’s doubly worth it. Be a better person. I shouldn’t have to say the last bit by now.
Support your friends when they’re struggling
Sometimes things might work the other way. Your friends might not be doing so well, or be as busy as you. Or maybe they’re just having one of those weeks where they’re questioning their life choices and googling apprenticeships. We all need to look out for each other. This stuff isn’t easy. And if it is, it rarely lasts for long. Be a better friend.
Be honest about how you’re doing
Everybody needs help sometimes so don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t deny your friends a chance to shine. They love you. They want to help. But they can’t if they don’t know what’s going on. We’re actors. We tend to be quite good at inventing, believing in and maintaining false circumstances. Stop pretending everything is okay. It’s not. And that’s fine.
Think before tweeting about work
Social media can be a curse. I’ve written about it in the past. Before you tweet that you’ve got the gig, or Instagram that picture of you in a trailer, think about your friends who might not be working, or may even have auditioned for the same part. How would you feel? It’s okay to celebrate victories, as long as you show some balance. Stop obsessing over creating a myth of success, particularly if the only people who’ll see it are the ones that it’ll most likely depress.
Hang up your costume. Say please and thank you. Realise that you’re not the only person in the production.
There’s an idiot in every company. Look around. If you don’t know who it is, chances are it’s you. It’s time to open your eyes and pay attention to how your behaviour is affecting others. Write it on every page of your script. Get it tattooed on your forearm. Do NOT write it on anyone else’s script, or anywhere on their person.
Don't be an idiot.