Today’s guest blogger, Beverly Leech, is a 30+ year acting professional of stage, film, and television. She studied with the late, great Stella Adler, and her film and television credits include series regular, recurring and guest star roles on Rizzoli & Isles,Criminal Minds, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, Judging Amy, LAX, Mathnet, and many national and international commercials including Jenny Craig, Soft Sense, AT&T, and Diet Coke. Her stage credits include Broadway, as Alaura Kingsley in City of Angels, Denver Center Theatre Company, as Sarah Bernhardt in Ladies of the Camellias, Cabrillo Music Theatre as Miss Hannigan in Annie, and at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as Trudy in Club Termina.
Prior to acting, Beverly worked professionally as a dancer, trained with the Houston Ballet Company, and studied under mdern dance companies including Bella Lewitsky, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Jose Limon. She has been teaching professional actors since 2000 at academies including The Stella Adler Studio, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and South Coast Repertory, along with offering private instruction through her company Actor Muscle. Beverly Leech is a current member of The Actors Gym, a professional writers and actors lab run by Academy Award winner Bobby Moresco. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Florida State University and is a member of the Association for Theater in Higher Education.
Beverly has also written a book covering the craft and business of acting: ACTOR MUSCLE: CRAFT, GRIT, WIT: A Professional Guide to the Business of Acting. She has also recorded a guide highlighting the auditioning process – ACTOR MUSCLE: Nuts and Bolts to Audition Technique. Both are available through Amazon. You can also visit her website at actormuscle.com.
My thanks to Beverly for bringing her skills and insights to the Stage 32 community.
One of the most frequent comments I get is, “Acting? Oh my God, I could never do that. All that rejection! The daily dust-off from pounding pavement is discouraging and I can only pass on the things I eventually learned to survive it myself. One of the secrets to tenacity is reverse psychology – I choose to look pragmatically at all facets of the cycle as opportunities. These things keep me grounded:
“ENERGY BREEDS ENERGY”
Energy breeds energy, it’s a law of physics. The business side of acting is a cycle. It runs in Seasons – Pilot Season, hiatus, Summer Season, hiatus, Episodic Season, Winter holidays. You work, you don’t work, you work, you don’t work. Either I accept the whole picture, or I will diminish my energies with unrealistic expectations. My sense of validation has to come from the actions I take to always feel like a working actor. In the times I’m not making money, I take a class, do a reading, learn a new skill (like fencing or a dialect), break down a play, or join an actors lab. My energy, my acting muscles stay fluid, ready, inspired, and most importantly, my attitude remains enthusiastic. When I’m blue or shut down because I’m ‘not working’, nothing happens and I’m a real drag. When I’m engaged in something that inspires my interest and enthusiasm, opportunities come. Sometimes the opportunity is a gig, sometimes the opportunity is developing into the soul the world needs me to be. Opportunity = hope = happiness. I just have to let go of the idea of what that looks like.
“I’M NOT LUCKY”
Fear says “I’m Not Lucky” (aka: A cursed man is one who thinks he is). I still believe that luck is not much more than preparation meeting opportunity. Sure, part of luck is something undefinable, random, out there, unexpected. BUT how many times have I had the chance to do something cool, but I lacked the skill and experience to meet it? I can get the audition, but if I can’t deliver, then I won’t be ‘lucky’. I once showed up for a theatrical audition of a Moliere play and, in spite of a lengthy stage resume that implied ‘ready’, I blew large, nasty chunks. Why? I’d never studied Moliere. Woody Allen said it best: “90% of luck is just showing up”. It’s not about showing up for the audition. It’s about showing up for myself. I know what my weaknesses are – be it vocally, physically, whatever. If my voice is weak, I show up to voice lessons; if I’m clumsy, ballet; frightened, a scene study or something I’ve never done before. I don’t have to know where it will lead, I just have to show up and turn those defects into assets. One year, I had some serious self-esteem issues. So, I chose to study Chekhov for several months with Russian master, and enrolled in a fencing class. Nine months later, I won a leading role at a Tony Award Winning Regional Company – the play was set at the turn-of the-century, the character a master swordsman. That wasn’t an accident, that was preparation meeting opportunity. If I hadn’t shown up for those classes, I wouldn’t have been ‘lucky’ at the audition. Just work to be better and let the universe open the road.
“DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GET YOU DOWN”
“Illegitimis Non Carborundum” is Latin for “Don’t let the bastards get you down”. With every career, life intrudes with heartbreak or corruption. Death, Divorce, Financial Troubles, Illness, Adultery, Drug Abuse . . . there are so many ways to shake an actor’s confidence and so easy to get off course. It’s even harder to get back on. I can’t count the number of the truly talented I’ve seen lose an agent, blow an audition, kill a show or leave the business because the love of their life had broken their heart. Here’s my set of survival skills:
- Agree to table the discussion (running obsessively in my head).
- Leave my bags (of trouble) at the stage door.
- Trust that the universe is watching your back.
Whatever my troubles are, they’ll still be waiting for me when I come home. I give myself permission to unplug instead of ruining those creative hours with unnecessary strife. At one point in my career, I was wonderfully engaged as a leading lady in a Broadway comedy. At the same time, I was drowning in fear with the last, toxic stages of a deteriorating marriage. Believe me, I wasn’t ‘feeling’ funny. My mind was very busy with my troubles, so every night, I made an agreement with myself to ‘table the conversation’ and ‘leave my bags at the stage door’. It was the only way to focus in order to do my job and do it well. Only then I was able to walk clear-minded onto the stage, (or into the audition or the class) and freely live the part I was hired to play. Only then did it give back to me – courage and freshness of spirit. I still practice this wisdom. It has never failed me and has allowed me not to fail myself.
LUCK’S NOT MAGIC. IT’S MATH.
Play out the Odds. Luck’s not magic, it’s Math. Within every gender, age range and level of talent, there are certain mathematical odds of you winning a part. No one books everything they go on. Let’s say you (the talented actor) have the odds that you’ll book 1 out of every 15 auditions. That means you’ll have to get through 14 auditions to get to 15. Therefore, every audition cannot be considered a ‘failure’ but part of the path you must tread in order to reach your goal. Flip your frame of reference. It is not a ‘rejection’, like you were tossed aside, but a push forward, propelling you to the next opportunity. Practice gratitude for every milestone met because that meeting might actually be the trigger for the gig. Over time, I learned that I rarely got the first audition. But, if I came in with an open & flexible attitude, if I showed up prepared with interesting choices, the same Casting Director would remember me down the line and call me back for another role. You’re not there to book the job, you’re there to make fans. Stay focused on your work and let it speak for you. Keep it simple for the audition – just Suit Up. Show Up. Throw Down. And Go Home.
YOU ARE THE COMPETITION
There aren’t 1000’s of actors competing to get ahead. There is only you. You are your competition. Many years ago I read an interview in a sports magazine on ‘the fastest man in the world’. The journalist said “You must train very hard to get such speed”. The runner replied, “On the contrary, working hard is a total liability. The harder I work, the slower I get. The more I relax, the faster I get”. “Interesting”, said the journalist, “but, what about the man from South Africa? It’s said he’s only behind you by a tenth of a second”. The runner said simply, “I never look behind me to see who’s catching up. In the time it takes me to turn my head, I’ve shaved a full second off my time”. I understood more clearly then that the best thing I could do for myself was not worry about the other actress, or the producer’s lists. Any time spent in fear or speculation would split my focus and cut into my edge. My edge is my craft and I am obliged to pay attention and BREATHE. I am only in competition with myself to be better.
And what about the other kind of competition? The jealousy and back-biting one sometimes encounters on the job? Let’s face it, more than once in your career, you’ll be booked on a job, and some member of the cast is counting lines, undermining your work, or having a hissy because they’re unhappy with you just being there. Well. If they’re that threatened, then I must be doing something right. It takes a lot of self control not to bite at the bait and go in to battle mode. It affects the whole cast. My teacher, Stella Adler, groomed her actors to think like Leading Ladies and Leading Men. Leading Ladies set the tone. It’s my responsibility to set the tone. Take the High Road. Take the Lead. You are the competition and you must be doing something right.
KNOW THYSELF, DON’T BLOW THYSELF TO BITS
Perfection and the Inner Critic. What actor is ever satisfied with their work? And there’s always this very fine line between discipline and perfectionism. The minute I’m spiraling downward into self-hatred, I know I’ve lost my thread on my work.
Self-hatred does not work.
Does not help you.
Does not change you.
Does not serve you.
“Good Dog, Bad Dog”. The story goes there’s a good dog on your shoulder and a bad dog on the other. All day long there’s a dog fight. The good dog reminds you you’re doing great, she’s proud of you and to keep up the good work. The bad dog says you’re worthless, hopeless, and without talent. All day long, there’s a dog fight . . . Who wins? The one you feed.
Remember that. Feed the good dog . . . and strive for Excellence, not perfection. It’s important that we discipline our focus to concentrate in such a way that we don’t burn out. You must protect the flame. My talent is small, vital flame that glows in dark, private chambers. Its virtue is the whisper that says “you’re beautiful”, “you’re doing great”, “keep up the good work, I believe in you”. The creative process is always one of hope. Cling to what is luminous in yourself. Victor Hugo said it best: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
THE TEN RULES OF SHOW BUSINESS
- Take the Money.
- Eat when You Can.
- Nothing Is in the Bag So Keep Your Day Job.
- Never Screw the Stage Manager!
- Never Turn Your Back on a Producer.
- Leave Yourself Alone and Work to Be Better.
- Never Share a Vast Idea With a Half Vast Person.
- Never Forget What They’ve Done to You but Never Show Them You Remember.
- Never Underestimate the Bad Taste of the Artistically Pretentious.
- Fame Is What Others Give You: Success Is What You Give Yourself.
Part II of Beverly’s guest series will run this Friday.
Don’t forget to check out ACTOR MUSCLE: CRAFT, GRIT, WIT: A Professional Guide to the Business of Acting andACTOR MUSCLE: Nuts and Bolts to Audition Technique on Amazon here: