Many readers have e-mailed variations of “How can I tell if I have what it takes?”
First, a warning: be very clear not to confuse this question with “How do I know if I will be a success?” “Have what it takes” refers to ability to act. Ability may or may not lead to success.
A story before we dive into “what it takes” vs. “success.”
A young child raised in the rural south dreamed of singing opera. Life just didn’t quite work out that way. But the dream persisted and the self yearned to sing its song. Then, years later all alone in a spotlight on a darkened Off-Broadway stage, sitting on a “boulder” night after night, she sang an exquisite song about the birds in Ireland. The dream was filled. The self was filled. No, not Casta Diva or Lucia’s Mad Scene. But her song. The idea of “success” was not compromised. It was just allowed to change. Let the self dictate the meaning of success. Not money and fame but the joy of the action.
The simple truth is you can’t tell if you have the ability. To repeat what has been said in these articles a dozen times: talent is not the sole element that determines success. You may have enough talent to be an actor, but even great talent cannot guarantee success.
Success is a fickle mistress. There are many working or even wealthy actors who really cannot act. There are many brilliant actors who never get work. The most anyone can say is that there are basics that are usually required in order to be an actor.
If this sounds like hedging, you are absolutely right. Why? Most of us are not going to make the Fortune 500 list by acting. Statistically the odds are stacked against anyone becoming a star, or even making a good living in this profession. Yes, we all know inspiring success-against-all-odds stories. But we know those stories precisely because they are the exceptions.
Wisdom dictates that if there is anything else in the world that interests you, then do that instead of acting. If on the other hand, acting is a passion, something you must do, then you almost have no choice. Let the joy of acting be the payment, if you never sign a million dollar film contract. Money almost doesn’t matter if the passion for the art is a volcano.
After all that tip-toeing, let’s now look at what I personally think it takes to be an actor. (Remember, this is just one person’s opinion.)
1. A GOOD EAR
Yes, to me this is the most important requirement. In order to make a sentence that someone else wrote sound real, an actor must be able to hear what people sound like when they talk naturally.
A good ear will eventually pull you up and whisper, “Hey, that sounds actory. This line needs to be said in a different way.” Yes, yes we all know about dipping inside oneself to search for emotions. But some of the best “dippers” do not sound real.
Sounding real demands a good ear and the good sense to know when what you have said doesn’t sound “right.” The minute a student says to me, “That didn’t sound right,” then I know there is hope that that person has the ability to become a good actor.
2. THE ABILITY TO READ, AND AN ACTIVE IMAGINATION
No, no, no–not read “Pat the Fat Cat” or “War and Peace.” The reading referred to here consists of seeing implications when you read, of seeing what a character is really like–based on evidence from the script, text, book. Learn to read!
Become dedicated to reading the words, phrases, the text and mining them for the gold that is there. Too many times we bump into an unknown word in the script and do not bother looking it up. Too many titles or even the names of characters are not Googled.
Subtleties are lost because a reader/actor without a knowledge of plays, poems, myth, novels, satire, allusions, themes, imagery, language connotations cannot deliver a line with all the undercurrents in his voice. Something as basic as parallels and opposites are missed, leading to misdelivery of a line. The inability to read/understand a line inevitably leads to a superficial line reading. Every day you hear on TV, on film, in rehearsals, in performances, an emphasis on the wrong word, the direct result of not knowing what is being stated in the text. Learn to read. Learn to research.
The very best undergrad training for an actor is to major in English and minor in drama. Your advanced courses in literature will both teach you about people and about feelings AND teach you how to read the undercurrents of what is not being written. Poetry will heighten your sense of language and rhythm, two essentials for an actor. The imagination, loosened by lots of reading, then helps you to see new possibilities in the meaning and delivery of a line in a script. Reading for implications, reading beneath the surface, stretches the imagination.
3. THE ABILITY TO HANDLE REJECTION
Depression, rejection, and insecurity reign in this profession. We do not get up every morning and have a secure job to go to. Some people thrive on that freedom and luxuriate in that insecurity. Most of us don’t.
So we need to have or to be taught to find a still, solid, total belief in self. Ego. Confidence. Self-assurance. Presence. Call it what you wish. But to survive we must have some shield to protect us from the constant rejection. The difficulty is to stay in touch with the inner self while protecting that inner self from attack in the form of rejection.
We have written many times of the need for energy, joy, vitality–all these find their roots in a solid ego. That ego, that belief in self, is the third element in the triad which determines if one has what it takes to be an actor.
GRAB BAG REQUIREMENTS:
These are almost self-explanatory, but deserve mentioning.
Be reliable (on time for appointments, interviews, auditions, rehearsals).
Be responsible (memorize your lines).
Learn to control your temper. In other words, be pleasant in spite of…
Don’t be “high maintenance.”
Take care of your health.
Eat and sleep properly.
Get out of relationships that drain and destroy. If your parents are sore spots, get over it.
If there are physical things about yourself which you don’t like, fix them or learn to live with them gracefully. Get in touch with your intuition and learn to trust it. Get good training and if the class or teacher makes you feel awful, get out of it!
Surround yourself with people who have hope and happiness.
Develop the traits mentioned above and you increase the possibilities of being a success because you have what it takes.
Well, as the great American philosopher Porky Pig said, “That’s all, folks!” Now who would have thought a stuttering pig would become a star????
By Ruth Kulerman
PS: To repeat: You can have none of these requirements and be successful (not likely, though, but possible). You can have all of them and never be a star. The question should not be, “Do I have what it takes?” It should be, “How powerful is my drive to succeed?” And that answer comes from the face in your mirror.