Have you ever been in the midst of doing something you love–a hobby, a pastime, or sport, whatever–and suddenly you realize you have a worthwhile insight, perhaps one that’s even life changing? All those activities you do in your spare time, can in fact, inspire your life and career. Let’s take surfing for example. What can an actor learn from riding the waves?
It might be a hassle when you have bills to pay, and countless distractions, to get your board in the Honda, don your wetsuit, trek to the beach, and get in the water. But in every worthwhile pursuit, you’ve got to accept the efforts as well as the rewards. You need to prioritize, and inevitably, something has to be put on the back burner. Acting is very similar, you have to budget your time, and there are elements in your life (family, friends, parties, other sources of work) that are bound to suffer. But once you get in that water and feel the tidal pull, none of the hassle and life’s megrims can touch you! Have you ever felt that way on stage?
Sure you might be able to nab some nice swells at your local spot, but to catch the choice waves, you’ll need to travel. Traveling long distances to bag big waves is a time-honored tradition in the surfing world–and indeed, surfers see travel as a way to make their bones. For most, it is a big part of the juice. Traveling requires a level of preparing and planning. So when you’re asked to fight through city traffic for an audition or travel to far-off towns, or even to cross state lines, see it as an adventure, and a way to make your bones. Once you get to the audition and drop in, remind yourself: you’re going the distance for the career of your dreams.
Any surfer worth his salt knows riding opportunities do not necessarily come in a steady flow. Rather, gnarly waves often come in sets. The seasoned rider has inhuman patience and impeccable timing; so when a good set rolls up, they are poised to drop in. The film and television industry works in much the same way: production runs in fits and starts. Roles are coming out right and left and then…nothing. You, as an actor, need to position yourself in the right place at the right time so you’re ready to go when your set rolls in.
Robert Frost wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” Ain’t it the truth? All those huge swells yesterday might well be pitifully small tomorrow. And there may be weeks and even entire seasons where the surf is just whack. Or sometimes your lucky spot in the water that you superstitiously cling to will run dry of luck altogether. A surfer can miss out on the changing trends of tides when he or she refuses to adjust to the transfiguring ocean. There’s no use getting upset over the capricious nature of the universe. As an actor, you can learn to expect change, and prepare to be flexible. Adapting to the ebb and flow of the world increases your chances of success. If film isn’t working, try TV; if TV isn’t working, try theatre–or voice-over opportunities, a new skill, a new look, etc.. Stay nimble, keep moving. And when your acting career is really cooking, and you’re in the gold, your sense of appreciation for such moments will be deepened.
Improve by exceeding your current personal competence
With all the different levels of a surfer’s skill set at any given point, one thing is constant: they all have to eat a lot of salt water in order to improve. They need to be willing to risk failure on their journey to succeed. Charging ever-greater waves is the only way to rip the surf at higher levels. As an actor, you need to challenge yourself constantly with difficult roles, tricky dialects, physical demands, and emotional boundaries, in order to break through. In the ocean, waves come continually, and the only option is to charge them. In the acting game, opportunities are rolling in all the time; you need to charge.
It’s inevitable. Some waves will overpower you no matter how strategic and skilled you are. If you’re seeking better waves, bigger opportunities, sooner or later, you will get hit. If you’re not experiencing wipeouts, you’re likely not taking enough risks, playing it too safe. In auditions and on your resume, don’t hold back on revealing who you are and all you have to offer. Be fearless in your performances–fearless of judgement, believing sincerely that no matter what happens on any given day, you will land on your feet and be all the better for the experience. Make sure you’re not seeking comfort at the expense of advancing your career.
Some days you’re on and some days you’re off. One day you’re ripping it up, the next you’re wiping out. Don’t beat yourself up because you’ve had a bad day. Work through it, focus on the positives, build on your dreams, and put it in perspective. Feeling embarrassed or ashamed is an option–as is feeling secure with yourself, your journey and your prospects.
Besides the surfboard, sometimes you need a wetsuit so you don’t freeze; sometimes you need a shorter or longer board depending on conditions. You need to understand currents and weather patterns. Always be prepared. As an actor it’s imperative you have current, professional headshots, a current and complete resume, a dynamic, impressive reel, your acting chops need to be finely honed, and you must be supremely confident every time you walk in an audition.
You are the talent. Ride that wave! Ride it with every bit of passion, love, style, and energy you have. On any given day, whether you ride it to the shore or wipe out in the foam, it’ll be an awesome, worthwhile ride. Ride on!
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