How to Break into the ‘Business’ of Show Business

It’s show business.

It’s not just show.

I think actors sometimes feel that if they focus only on the creative side, things will fall into place. But sadly, we’re not living in a meritocracy where the most talented or creative person gets the job. There are so many factors at play that influence why one person works and another doesn’t.

We can’t try to control the uncontrollable. That is, there are intangibles (height, age, hair-color, ethnicity, “type,” etc.) that also determine job bookings. We can’t worry about those things. We are who we are.

But what we can focus on to improve are the two things that we do have control over: our work and the business side of things.

Careers are really all about relationships. And relationships take a long time to cultivate. But if you don’t remember who you meet, who’s a fan of yours, who brings you in or recommends you for jobs…how can you cultivate something sustainable?

The business is hard enough. If you don’t know who’s on your side you’ll never be able to get there on your own.

Sometimes we slack on the business side because we get scared of our own ability to get out there in the world and generate success.

You see yourself not the way other people might see you: talented and sexy and gorgeous and amazing. But instead you see yourself through your own misperceptions of self—through your own negative self-dialogues. “Who am I to win an award?” “Who am I to be the lead of a show?” “I really am not any good.” “Why would anyone want to cast me?”

So we marginalize ourselves based on our own misperceived images of self-worth.

So fake it until you make it. In other words, if you think about huge jobs (and the business work it might take to get there) you might also simultaneously get scared because that goal seems so far away. Start with smaller, attainable goals. So if you don’t have an agent, let’s say, focus on that. Or maybe you have a number of co-star credits and now you want to be doing guest-star roles. You work incrementally based on where you are.

Big dreams often seem so far away (How, how, how will we get there?), so we start to doubt it. And when we doubt it, we keep it from us.

So to keep from being overwhelmed, take smaller steps. But you have to actually take the steps. You have to pick up the phone. You have to market yourself. You have to invite casting directors to see you. You have to call the agent. You need to take a class. You need to audition for a play. You need to get headshots. You need to remember who you met and who called you back and who wants you to come back and take a meeting six months from now. You need to take action.

Walk through the doors. Be brave. Many will be locked. Some will be slammed in your face. Some may appear closed, but by attempting to open them, you’ll get to the other side. And what’s magical about the other side is, well, everything. It may not look like you think it’s going to look—indeed, it never does—but if you just keep going, you’ll get there.

But are you knocking? That’s the real business of show.

*First published on Backstage

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What’s the #1 Answer to All of Your Questions?

Sometimes, half the battle in life—and in our acting—is to become aware of when we get scared and how fear actually stops us from really going after what we want.

I’m not talking about the kind of fear that one experiences while watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I mean more subtle forms of fear that show up in self-sabotaging ways that, if we’re not vigilant of, become habits of thought that really keep us from being self-actualized in our lives, in love, in our careers, and in our creative work.

It’s not always easy at first to identify the subtle forms of fear, because our egos do an amazing job in coming up with valid rationalizations of why our excuses seem true.

But they’re not; they’re just thinly veiled forms of fear.

When I procrastinate or negate, when I get cynical or annoyed, when I’m impatient or reactive, when I gossip or resist, when I complain or get triggered—that’s all fear.

“Of what?” You might ask.

Getting out there, getting seen, being heard, being rejected, putting yourself on the line, opening your heart, being vulnerable, taking the leap, trusting in process and that it will work out, not measuring up, letting events define us, thinking we’re going to fail, not really believing that we can do it.

So if we can start to catch ourselves in habituated forms of fear that are keeping us from taking that acting class, or getting seen by a casting director, or producing our own Web series, or writing our own book, or asking someone out on a date, we can get out of our own way and actually attempt to do these things.

When the subtle forms of fear start showing up in the dialogues in our head, what’s the alternative to combating them?

Love.

Ask yourself, “What is the loving choice here?”

How would your higher self react? Not with anger or condemnation, not scolding you, not shaming you and making you feel inadequate, not believing that you can’t do something, not making you stuck.

Love is the answer.

And it’s closer than you think—through a breath, a smile, a moment, seeing something from another person’s perspective, giving people the benefit of the doubt, realizing when people do things it has nothing to do with us, by not taking everything so personally, by acknowledging when you do get scared as opposed to pretending you’re not.

Simple, but not easy.

But in simplicity, it’s everything we can understand and also implement to make positive changes in our lives.

So try it. Watch when you react to something. Sit and breathe and see if you can ask yourself, “What am I really scared of here?” You’ll be surprised that you’ll know. And that just by recognizing it, you won’t be scared of it anymore. Or maybe you will, but you’ll forge forward anyway.

And isn’t that what an active life is all about? Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

*First published on Backstage

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2 Mistakes That Are Holding You Back

I don’t know where I saw a quote recently—in a magazine somewhere or online—but it was such a beautiful and simple life philosophy that can be applied to all areas of your life—in dating, creating, career, acting.

But I’ve actually found that every life philosophy also holds true to acting because what is acting, really, but just a cross section of life itself?

This author mentioned two mistakes that hold us back. They’re themes I’ve discussed lots of times, but I thought the simplicity of it was wonderful because it deals with Starting Point A and Ending Point Z. We worry so much about all the stuff in between A and Z when it’s really just these two things that keep us from making things happen.

A: You’re not starting.

Z: You’re not going far enough.

We don’t start things—that great novel we have an idea for, taking an acting class that’s challenging and scary, getting new headshots, moving to a city where acting and creating opportunities are greater, asking someone out on a date, calling an agent, taking a dance class, asking someone for help.

We let our intentions lie fallow.

Then if we do start, we don’t commit. We think we’re going far. But then we stop. We give up. Or we don’t try at all, i.e. you’re not starting! We come up with excuses or rationalizations about why something isn’t working. Or we half-ass stuff. So we take steps, but don’t really do the full dance. We write the script, but don’t finish it. We put the deposit down for acting class, but don’t show up for the first session.

I think those two statements really sum up the human creative quandary.

Start. Don’t worry about how; the how’s take care of themselves once you get going.

Go far. We don’t know how far we can go—or what’s on the other side—until we jump all in.

So what is it that’s keeping you from starting and then going far enough once you’re in?

Get rid of the defaults, the excuses you give yourself, so that if you take them all away you would have nothing left but to commit.

See how that completely, radically, and simply can change your life.

*First published on Backstage

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A Letter From Our Pre-Teen Selves

I received an email from a fan of a recent Backstage blog (“Get Clear in Your Intentions and Get What You Want”) and she expressed the most beautiful sentiment. In part, she had an “Aha!” moment about her high school self.

She was a chunky pre-teen and though she outgrew that “awkward” phase, as she called it, she also realized her attitude about her previous young self did not grow up with her. Her perception of herself at that age was based on the judgments and negative associations with that younger self.

So even though she was overweight, at the same time she was also a “badass” Hilarious, creative, and a performer. But as she got older, she didn’t identify with those positive qualities. She continued to see herself the way she thought others saw her: fat.

So she shut down a lot of the great stuff that came with the weight as well. She started worrying about what other people thought, became less creative and expressed.

I think the lightening bulb comes when we stop compartmentalizing parts of ourselves—especially the parts we don’t like or didn’t fully understand during our formative years.

The stuff that we judge ourselves for having is not only the stuff that makes us who we are as actors; it’s the stuff that makes us interesting. It’s what makes you you. 

We constantly blame ourselves for having parts that don’t seem to fit into the cultural “norm.” If we don’t fit in the way the media says we’re supposed to fit in (hot, young, perfect body, perfect tan, no lines on our faces) then we create a distorted association with not only what we think happiness looks like (driving a Lexus while drinking a Diet Coke while a Penelope Cruz-looking girlfriend hangs on our arm), but we also shame ourselves for who we naturally are.

So maybe what’s missing in our work (and in our lives) is the acknowledgment and celebration of our teen selves that were really outstanding, but we instead saw those parts of ourselves as freakish, ugly, or wrong.

Because those parts are still inside us, even if we’re no longer a teen.

Let’s embrace them.

Your chubby teen self whom you felt ashamed of? She was also dynamic and witty.

Your gay teen self you felt was a curse? He was also sensitive and intuitive.

Your nerd teen self who seemed so odd? She was also funny and caring.

In other words…they were all badass.

*First published via Backstage

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What Actors Can Learn From Their Reactions

Morgan Freeman says, “Acting is reacting in my book.”

That’s really what it is.

We hear someone say something to us under different circumstances and it makes us react. We cry. We lose our shit. We laugh. We express feeling. We follow an instinct.

Sometimes our reactions—when they aren’t planned and controlled—are surprising to us. The incredible honesty that being in the moment creates, triggers us in unexpected and very human ways.

This is where we want to go in our work. Always. 

But it can also generate a conundrum. React without thinking in our work. And yet as we evolve, stop reacting mindlessly in our lives.

Acting isn’t asking us to be messes emotionally in our lives. It’s actually healing us into working through sticky areas we may have never faced before. Dealing with pain. Learning how to express authentic feeling. Standing up for ourselves. Communicating honestly. Owning our power.

These things can’t be achieved when we live in chaos. Acting doesn’t support that kind of disconnect (or rather, it can), but in the kind of breakthroughs we want to achieve in our lives, acting is the catalyst to become more present with our feelings in a very active, cathartic way.

The challenge is that as we become more mindful in our own lives of how we treat ourselves and others, what we demand for ourselves and what we no longer want to put up with, it oftentimes can make us feel as if we should be inhibiting certain reactions in our work.

Don’t. The actual reacting to things without a censor is also what simultaneously gives us insight into how we can make healthier choices in our own lives. And even though we’re on the road then to becoming enlightened Buddhas, it doesn’t mean we won’t backslide in our own lives.

We will.

You’ll see someone on the street you had a bad run-in with five years ago. You’ll both pretend you don’t see each other. Or you’ll cross to the other side just to avoid him. You’re at the gym and run into someone else you don’t want to see. Eeeeek. You’ll pretend to be on your cell phone. Events like these will demonstrate to us where we’re still stuck.

If connection is what we’re all after, it’s not just sweet, fun, flirty connection. It’s also connection that’s forged through awkwardness and hurt feelings and forgiveness and letting go. It’s created by creating healing with someone or reaching out even though it would be easier to ignore the person. Connection is really about allowing ourselves to be fully expressed even in situations that, at the surface, seem to be about mis-connection.

Icky, weird, awful, confusing, sad, and painful are also experiences of connection just as deep as uplifting, joyful, intimate, loving, creative, and passionate.

Just like in our acting, they’re all, ultimately, reactions—to a moment, a person, a situation, ourselves.

Allow yourself to do more of that in your acting and your life, while at the same time, you’ll be able to become more aware of how you’ve evolved past habituated reactions in life so that you can choose to react differently.

And isn’t that what life is all about? Choosing to react differently to things that we have no control over? That leads to a healthier, happier, more productive, and paradoxically, less reactive life.

*First published on Backstage

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Get Clear in Your Intentions and Get What You Want

Why are we so scared to say what it is we want?

A student recently expressed what his intentions were for his career and he was unspecific. He said something like, “I want to get into rooms.”

Now we understand what that means at one level. He wants to get opportunities. He wants to be seen. He wants casting directors to know who he is.

But at a deeper level, that intention is general. He was standing in a room when he told me this. He already is in a room, so his intention had already been fulfilled.

You have to get specific. How else can the universe—and an extension of it—in the form of people, help you if you aren’t?

Getting clear on an intention helps us understand what an intention actually is. It’s just energy and information.

We know that at a scientific standpoint, our bodies are really a bunch of atoms (which are made up of 99 percent space) coming together to form you. So you’re empty space— which is alive wit-h information and “conversations” if you will, with the universe itself.

Think about the human body. At a cellular level, all processes of the body are in communication with other parts to complete their tasks. It’s all information, energy, and communication. Can you imagine if you had to tell your liver to detox itself after a hard night of partying at Soho House? Your cells already are communicating with one another to do that which you don’t have to be conscious of.

But you have to think of the universe itself as an extension of that information, because it is. As we become more conscious of what we’re thinking about and discussing and expressing, we start to get clearer in our intentions.

I understand why we don’t sometimes declare what it is we want. We hedge our bets because saying it makes us feel vulnerable or receptive to ridicule or puts us out there in a very real way. As another student told me, “It’s embarrassing.”

But you have to stay in relationship with the universe. If you’re too scared to say it, how can you achieve it? The universe isn’t judging your dreams. No one is actually. (Except for those people who are too scared to actually live theirs!) But if you don’t get clear, then what you end up with are lots of hits-and-misses, lots of confusion, and lots of mixed signals.

It’s like dating someone who’s into you one day and the next day they’re out. And then in again. It’s very, very confusing.

A helpful way to get over the hump until you get clearer is to work with intentions that don’t get you so worked up. All of these are more specific than continuously doubting yourself, while simultaneously make you feel better along your path.

This or something better. It’s all working out for me. It’s not about a job. I always ultimately get what I want. I’m really standing in my power now. Isn’t this exciting how it’s all unfolding? It’s safe for me to let go. I don’t have to hold the reins anymore. I’m letting the universe do the work. My work is to put out a clear intention of what it is I want—and then take action to get there, and then let something work out the details for me. 

Now that’s clear.

*First published on Backstage

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Stop “Acting” & Keep It Simple!

All we’re trying to do in acting is to stop “acting” and allow ourselves to be.

This is simple—but it’s not easy.

Just like most things in life, I have found. The basic truths and understanding of many things is born out of simplicity. Human beings overcomplicate to the point of rendering things confusing, pain-inflicting, and sometimes nonsensical.

What if we just started with this basic hypothesis that you’re enough. You are. We all are. But we distrust this, so we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to be someone we’re not and do things to keep us from revealing who we really are.

I get it. We live in a society that’s constantly comparing us to something else and we try to conform ourselves to whatever we feel is marketable or gets the job or is the hot look or is cast-able or popular.

When I look at the work of experts in other fields, I find that the same simple premises apply in all their research. That is, when we work with very simple and concrete expressions of who we already are…miracles occur.

Parenting expert Shefali Tsabary on a recent episode of “Oprah’s Life Class” really breaks down parenting in the most basic and simple terms.

If parents could set aside their agendas, stop trying to control things that are uncontrollable, stop trying to micro-manage and make things or people like they want them to be, the quality of their relationships with their children would improve. She gave this simple advice, “Simply listen to your children.” What is derived from this is the greatest gift: presence.

Like anything in life, it’s learning how to move beyond our egos and letting something greater unfold.

Simple, but not always easy.

TED speaker Shaka Senghor, who spent 19 years in prison, talks about giving ourselves permission to “expand and grow and evolve as human beings. That’s our nature.” And that anybody can have a transformation if we create the space for this to happen.

In prison, no less. Simple concept. Not always easy.

I recently read a Vanity Fair piece about pilot error and training pilots in something called cockpit resource management (CRM). I also spoke to a United Airlines captain who’s a friend of mine—and both the article and my friend talk about the idea that one of the contributing factors to airline fatality can often be attributed to non-communication among the pilots. So moving from an authoritarian, hierarchal system in which one person is the “boss” and has all the answers to the collaboration of everyone in the cockpit, engaging the captain or asking questions if they might disagree…creates a more honest, egalitarian and in this case, safe, environment.

So having honest communication, even when it’s hard. Simple, but not always easy.

It saves lives—literally and figuratively.

All these examples are what we’re not only trying to uncover in our work as actors, but as human beings. To me, it’s about getting back to the underlying simplicity of it all that’s been taught for thousands of years.

Zen Buddhism some 2,500 years ago created a term called Soshin. 

Beginner’s mind. Approaching all endeavors (even those we have done a million times) as if we’re beginners. Instead of working from a supposition that we know it all, try being open to the simplicity of the moment and what each moment wants to show us anew. The mind is then fresh and open and awake and eager to many possibilities.

Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, says this about Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Simple…and easy.

*First published via Backstage

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Why Actors Need to Believe

I was teaching at our New York studio a few days ago and had what I thought was a thunderous aha moment.

In this amazing, beautiful, miraculous universe in this incredibly energetic, dynamic, wonderful city filled with so many creative people doing their things…why don’t we believe that what we want is possible?

I mean, really believe.

If the universe can generate the correct nitrogen-hydrogen-oxygen combination to sustain us…

If a mosquito can find you and pluck you out of the darkness and do it’s vampiric work on you…

If you can think of someone you haven’t thought of in years and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, that same person calls you…

If you can take a flight from L.A. to NYC to Nairobi—or pretty much anywhere in the world…

If human beings can feel and emote and dance and sing and paint and act…

Then don’t you think the universe can deliver to you your dream?

The universe constantly wants to yield to us what it is we desire. The problem is, we get in the way of that happening. We doubt, we self-sabotage, we become impatient, we demand our dreams must look a certain way, we give up, we control, we don’t allow.

You don’t get what you wish for in life, you get what you believe.

This can get tricky because our belief systems are often manipulated and shaped by what we continuously experience in our worlds. As actors, this can get magnified because of the nature of the business. We put ourselves out there, we get rejected, we struggle to find representation, we compare ourselves to others and we start to see evidence that what we’re wanting isn’t coming.

The insight here is this: Adapt your circumstances to the belief, not the other way around.

This is hard. We think we have to have all the other stuff before we can actually believe in the belief. In other words, we think we have to have an agent or be booking jobs, or get a callback or book a role or have lots of credits to support the belief.

We have it backwards. The belief comes first. It doesn’t matter if you have never worked a job in your entire life. If your belief is strong enough, your circumstances will change to fit that belief.

Don’t worry about the details. Just work on your beliefs. Sometimes we get scared of what we want. We begin to worry and think, Can I really do that? I don’t think I can pull this off.  When that happens, just work with smaller beliefs to get you to the big ones. In other words, work with beliefs that don’t seem to require a quantum leap and eventually you’ll work your way up to bigger ones. So if doing a movie with Steven Spielberg, let’s say, really triggers doubts, first work with getting a role on a TV show that you feel is in your wheelhouse. After you’ve accomplished that, your belief system will rise to meet its new goal.

Science calls it fake it ’til you make it. 

Spiritual texts would say, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I’d just say it’s both. If you can dream it and believe it. You can have it.

*First published via Backstage

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How To Generate More Fields Of Possibility!

If you’re going to think thoughts you might as well think big ones.

First off it’s free. Second it feels better to think in terms of possibility and creativity, rather than thinking thoughts that are tethered to our conditioned way of seeing things. That is, incorrectly. Third, that’s how science works.

Scientists call their experiments fields. 

Fields of study.
Fields of research.
Fields of discovery.
Fields of possibility.
Fields of dreams.

It’s open. Wide open spaces. If it weren’t—if the conclusions were already made, if there were nothing to explore, if everything was predetermined—there wouldn’t be a reason to partake in the adventure. Science would cease. Thankfully, scientists don’t see science as a closed box—as limited; as finite. It’s all about experimentation, discovery, possibility.

At a molecular level, possibility exists because of atoms and the fields of potential they create. If you think about life, everything is atom-based, from the tiniest cell to the infinite cosmos itself. So to move possibility from the world of particles and quarks to actual substance requires us to take action.

In the field of possibility, in order to make something happen, it’s up to you.

Possibility begins with you.

Assume something isn’t going to happen if you don’t take action. Because nine out of 10 times it won’t. This isn’t to make you depressed; this is fact. You meet someone at a café and want to say hello but are too scared to do so. The girl pays for her coffee and leaves. The possibility of connection is missed. You were too scared to say something and she may have felt the same thing.

Assume it’s up to you. If you do, you’ll increase your chances of creating more possibility. And more possibility simply means more.

The agent you met at a party a few weeks ago? He might call; he might not. Why not create an active possibility where it lies latent? Convert the dormant potential into something tangibly real.

Life’s not about getting concerned with the outcome or the end result. The girl you ask out at the café—you might discover she has a boyfriend. The agent you finally decide to call—he ended up just signing someone else who’s similar to your type.

The point is that you become empowered by doing. You end up feeling more excited about actually taking action than how it turns out, because you actually start participating in your own life.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what getting activated in our own lives is all about? It’s about trying, taking action, showing up, being seen, risking, putting yourself out there. Stop hesitating, overthinking, and doubting.

When we do take action, it can often lead to the most extraordinary experiences we could’ve ever imagined. Or sometimes, it leads to failure. Who cares?

Either way, you’re no longer merely watching—you’re actually on the playing field. And that’s where possibility exists—not on the sidelines, not in the stands, but in the fields. 

Of possibility.

*Originally published via Backstage*

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The #1 Way to Become More Confident

VIDEO LESSON HERE

Confidence. What is it? How do we get it?

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 Hours Rule and that it takes around that amount of time until you become an expert at what you do. Just by putting in the hours, you will naturally become more confident because you’ve been doing it.

Another social researcher, Amy Cudahy, talks about the science behind “faking it until you make it.” Her research shows that if we allow ourselves to fake our way into things we’re not entirely sure about (and who ever is?) then just by that act alone, we can generate amazing accomplishments in our lives.

I’ve lectured on and practice both principles. They both work.

But what if there’s a sort of in between way of generating results that perhaps allows us to take the quantum leap? It builds on putting in the hours, but at the same time also asks us to fake when we need to.

Confidence. Even when we don’t feel it.

Confidence isn’t being pumped in artificially from the outside. To me it’s almost the contemporary equivalent of the late Latin word enthusiasmus, which comes from the Greek word enthusiasm, which is to be full of, or inspired by, the Divine. Source. Energy. Intelligence.

So we gain confidence by being filled and we get filled by doing. Because the more we do, the more we start to believe that we can do this thing called acting—or writing or singing or dancing. You get there by doing that thing, even if at times it feels like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing at all.

So confidence is born out of our lack of confidence when we first embark on something new. And different experiences and jobs also require different skills. So sometimes things you feel confident in won’t be required in other areas. So if you’re great at comedy, let’s say, and feel confident, you may need to borrow some of that belief to punt your way through drama or classical work or asking someone out on a date or calling that agent you met three months ago.

Confidence is also about making choices that serve us. We often walk around thinking thoughts that make us feel badly. And yet, to shift those thoughts into something that supports us isn’t hard to do. The energy requirement is the same, plus it feels better, but we often don’t do it. We’re lazy thinkers. We get accustomed to believe the things we’ve been taught to believe, even if those thoughts don’t serve us. And weirdly enough, also undermine our confidence!

The thoughts we think aren’t even our original thoughts. They’re thoughts someone else told us that we’ve taken on to become our truth, even when they’re lies. Walking around saying things to yourself like, “Life’s unfair,” or “I suck,” or “I’m stupid,” doesn’t help you. You’ve just been saying it because that’s what you’ve been taught.

So what if for a week, you just tried to mantra “I’m confident,” or “I am capable,” instead of your general go-to. Watch how it will make you feel, well…more confident!

Jessica Chastain in an interview with CBS News says, “I’m still navigating my way through this life. . . I’m not, like, super confident and feel like, ‘Oh, I own my place.’ I do feel a little bit like, well, who knows how long this is gonna last? But I wonder if that will always be the case with me.”

It’s not just her! It just goes to show you: Everyone is a work in progress figuring out confidence as they go along.

*Originally published via Backstage.

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