Wisdom for Aspiring Actors

A Discussion with Professor George Muschamp

Q: What is the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring actor?

Develop yourself in a one-person or a two-person show. 

Q: How does a professional actor differ from a non-professional one?

Although there are many essential points in common between professional actors and non-professional actors, there are some superficial, yet absolutely vital differences between the two.  I sometimes say that the accomplished, experienced professional actor's basic job as an actor in the 21st century is to audition and self-promote.

A professional actor should continually:

  • Look up agents and producers
  • Soak up "the trades" and "the breakdowns"
  • Continually communicate with colleagues
  • See as many plays and films as possible
  • Have a wide and very varied community of friends and colleagues
  • Be sure not to become 'out of touch' - and always write thank-you notes!

If a professional actor who is taking these actions is actually lucky enough to land a paid acting job, this is to be regarded as a bonus. If the check clears the bank, consider that gravy on your potatoes.

Q: If a paid job is the "gravy," what are the basic "potatoes"?

Just as life tends to be "what happens while you're planning to do something else," so these days do even the most talented and promising professional actors realistically expect to support themselves over time through occupations other than acting. These occupations, of course, are often in, or allied to, the entertainment field.

With so many highly talented, evenly matched competitors for acting jobs, luck, plain old, dumb luck, appears to be very much on the rise as the key determiner in who gets those jobs. True, persistence still pays off, and "good luck" is often the "residue of design."

Q: What would you say is the best preparation for a professional actor?

Get the best education and best physical actor training you possibly can and, then, to get an acting job, forget your degrees.  

Degrees and even good professional actor training have little or nothing to do with how and why actors get hired. Seeing advanced degrees, for example, on an actor's resume can make those who run our industry nervous, to say the least. Unless they're previously familiar with your work, an advanced degree can provide them with a disincentive to hire you.  ["Uh-oh, here comes trouble."]

Q: What qualities have you observed in the best actors?

I've worked with thousands of actors, stars, celebrities; the good, the bad, the famous, the infamous, the great and the near-great. I find there is, over time, no objective comparative standard where quality of acting is concerned.  There are, essentially, only two kinds of acting:   truthful and untruthful.

And, aside from things like charisma, 'Q-factor', 'sex appeal' and such, I must say there is really but a single, rare element shared in common, in my experience, by ALL the very greatest actors with whom I've worked. That quality is concentration

It may be innate. It's a mystical kind of magnetism, not external, having little to do with one's outward physical appearance.  No; this is a truly powerful, almost palpable, highly focused, riveting, coiled-spring, laser-like, "dangerous" intensity. Without tension. I've encountered this type of concentration more often in my work with film and TV actors than with stage performers, whose concentrative energy is of a different sort or is, by custom, differently directed.

Another half-dozen qualities that I experience in the very best actors (in descending order):

1.      Courageous, childlike freedom of imagination (a particular kind of intelligence)

2.      A very specialized type of relaxation

3.      An infectious sense of fun and the outrageous

4.      True humility and vulnerability

5.      Stamina  (i.e., indefatigability and the capacity to take infinite pains in endlessly rehearsing the tiniest detail or effect until it works)

6.      Prodigious love of the craft (reflected in the above, naturally)

Q: Any final thoughts or advice?

Yes. Try to find your people. Uncover a group of like-minded theatre artists, perhaps an amateur or a professional company where you fit in, and then commit fully.  

And lastly, build a reliable social and psychological support system of people (theatre people and non-theatre people) who believe in you and your talent.