As actors, we are given a lot of advice everywhere we go. Due to the nature of the industry and it’s unpredictability, we are constantly seeking “the answer”. Within the last year or so, the number one piece of advice I've heard being tossed around was "go MAKE stuff". If you want to take control of your career, MAKE stuff. If you have a cell phone, you have no excuse NOT to, it's SO easy. Why aren’t you writing your own roles? Etc. etc.
Okay, while I admit the intention behind this advice is positive, I have several problems with it. First off, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s NOT easy. Maybe for some it is, but for the vast majority of us it isn’t. Now allow me to explain…
Acting, by itself, is a sort of different art form than most. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just different. For instance, painting or writing requires you to come up with something in your brain and translate it to the page. It’s solitary, it goes in one direction. Imagination + skill set & tools + executing idea = finished result. If you’re a musician, you write songs, from your brain, and use your skill set and tools to create it. The list goes on. For actors, however, WE are the tool. But typically, instead of thinking up random dialogue in our head and saying it out loud to create a finished product (that’s Improv, which is different), we let other’s stories live THROUGH us. We are the vessel that brings to life people’s characters and worlds. Sometimes it’s our own, but usually it is not. That’s the fun of it, transforming ourselves to fit the world given to us. That’s the reason most of us entered this business; to insert ourselves into an infinite variety of stories. It’s a paradox of complexity and simplicity coming in and out of us a different way every time.
Now back to why I have a problem with this advice everyone’s giving to go “make stuff”. Assuming that every actor should be creative enough to “do it all” and “create their own content” invalidates the art of acting itself. Not everyone wants to be a writer. Not everyone wants to be a filmmaker, even if they love filmmaking and movies. Not everyone has the skill-set for this, or even the desire to learn it. That DOES NOT MEAN they aren’t talented, or worthy of being an actor. It does not mean they are lazy. It does not mean they’re egotistical or one-note. We don’t tell painters they must be able to sculpt and carve if they’re going to be taken seriously as a painter. We don’t tell writers they have to be able to write textbooks as well in order to get noticed. If they can, and want to, WONDERFUL. That’s amazing, and if you’re a creative multi-hyphenate who has a desire to pursue and make lots of stuff, go for it. I am not bagging on those of you who can and WANT to do it all.
But for everyone else, being given the “blanket advice” to go “make stuff” can be overwhelming. I have seen it disenchant many actors who are just starting. On top of everything they’re paying for, spending time on, and pursuing, they’re told they need to now be writers/directors/producers/social media maniacs on top of it if they EVER want to have a chance. But damn it, that thing you make must be good or else what’s the point! So then people never START and end up staying stagnant because they don’t know how to move forward.
Instead, I think we should be telling people to go FIND things. As an actor, YOU are your most important tool. Go FIND yourself. Go FIND opportunities to be in projects. Go FIND your passions, talents, and hobbies. Go FIND ways to be of service to other people and hone your talent. Go FIND relationships with people in the industry that will last you a lifetime. By shifting the mindset of pressuring people to be creative in ways they might not desire to be, to instead focusing on FINDING creative ways to live your art, it may produce more positive results in some people.
I completely understand that the industry is shifting due to the digital age. I see how in some cases, making your own content is helpful. But what’s NOT helpful to creativity is feeling forced to do something that only ends up hindering your progress in the very thing you chose to pursue in the first place.
So, for those of you who feel a pit of dread or anxiety every time you’re told to go “make stuff” if you want an acting career, chose to instead figure out how you can FIND stuff. And if your search leads you to inspiration, maybe even the desire to make something? Then you’ve struck gold.
The following is an extension of a two part interview series I did with activist and creator Allison Santos for Ms. In The Biz. Click HERE for PART 1 of the interview, and HERE for PART 2. (tba)
Please read the full interview for proper context for the content below.
The truly devastating attack that took 49 young lives in Orlando’s Pulse LGBT+ nightclub has left the community (and country) truly shaken up. America is no stranger to gun violence, but this was the worst mass shooting in US history.
What were your initial reactions to the news of the massacre, and how did you witness those you know in the community respond?
With the Orlando tragedy, we all got news of it at LA Pride with a bus full of Seniors. We’re setting up, in work mode, and suddenly the news breaks. Being on that bus full of seniors, it was amazing how calm they were. They told me how they’ve gone through this before, and it won’t be the last time. Of course they were devastated, but their perspective was much different than those who were my age. But none of them wanted to leave, they stood their ground, and that was really moving.
There was a lot of discussion about the shooter’s religious upbringing & sexual identity in the media. Do you think this is relevant & helpful to the conversation, or problematic (if so, where should we shift the focus to?)
Mainstream media is problematic already. It’s typically one perspective, not always true, and always skewed. The media jumped to conclusions, as it does, and I think it encourages a black-and-white type of thinking and looks to place the blame on one thing. It’s a way of people trying to make sense of what happened, but it’s going to vary greatly depending on each person’s perspective. At the end of the day, these are people hurting other people. We can’t regain those lives or change the past. We could spend a lot of time in the “what-ifs” and “whys”, but it needs to shift into taking action. There’s always a grieving period when it hits too close to home, but after that we can’t let it fade. We can’t stop at “thoughts and prayers”, we have to take action and follow up. That is where a lot of people get stuck, but we have to stand up and keep going. Pride did not originate from happy times, it came from our constant fight for human rights and acceptance. The devastating circumstances of Orlando reminded a lot of people that our work is not done yet. It’s important that we have people willing to take action, whatever that looks like for each person.
Is there a way that straight allies can be more helpful to the cause without accidentally making things worse?
Straight allies have privilege that LGBT people don’t. Use that privilege to help. You don’t have to go to every rally or post every article about the cause, but take stock of what you are able to give of yourself, and be proactive about it. There’s a fine line between that, and making it about you or subconsciously (or consciously) using it to look good; know that line. Pretending you know what it’s like to be LGBT when you’re not, or speaking on behalf of our community can be problematic.
At the end of the day it’s people helping people. Change takes time. The ruling on same sex marriage was a long battle, and required a lot of effort from many communities of people. Be prepared to run a marathon, not a sprint. People’s attention spans are short nowadays, and they tend to lose steam. It’s important to be reminded of our history so you can really understand the amount of effort and time that change takes, and why it’s rewarding. Use your voice, in whatever form it comes in.