Acting is Just a Job, Like Any Other

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

Calvin and Hobbes had some opinions about that

Whether that is true or not, Theatre is a world of it’s own, Film and TV more so. There are certain rules that apply in those worlds, and to violate them is to risk failure.

Seven Rules for Actors (and Others)

  1. Do Show up on time.
  2. Do know your lines.
  3. Do what the Director says.
  4. Don’t trip over the furniture.
  5. Don’t upstage other members of the troupe.
  6. Don’t insult the audience
  7. Don’t overstay your welcome

My original exposure to stagecraft was due to a deep shyness which plagued me up to my Sophomore year in High School. I figured that if I could stand in front of a crowd with memorized things to say and do, it would help with keeping me from being a fool in public.   At the time, I didn’t understand acting was addictive.

Perhaps it’s not the acting per se, but the applause that gets you.

In high school and college dramatics, I learned these seven rules the hard way. That I did not pursue it as a career was happenstance and life getting in the way while I was making other plans. But it has always fascinated me, because I am a bit of an over-the top fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and watching the old contract players in action is good for learning how things are done.

I found also there are those pretentious egomaniacs (you know who they are) who construe themselves as artistes.   They want to emote, to employ The Method, to send Messages, to Elevate the Consciousness of the Masses. They lack craftsmanship, and use these hoary proverbs as cover. As Frank Capra said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.

Most of the audience used to be working class folks, who already know Life is a Beach and the Boss Is a Sunnuva…

Sullivan’s Travels is a good rebuttal to the Message mantra.

It’s the whole movie, save it for later.

It is said that anyone can act. This is true. Following the rules takes one a long way toward success in the business. It is always wise to recall that there are other such in life. Anyone can cook, but few are chefs. Anyone can carpenter, but only some are master craftsmen. Still, even the Masters follow the basics, know their craft, their trade, and being masters, know when and how to break the rules. Unless one is a Master, it is inadvisable to begin as a maverick. Torn tee-shirts or not.

Online one can find many admonitions for would-be actors, including some of those who regularly get paid for the work. Of all these, they range from the Three Rules to the 33 Tips, but in essence, they all come down to these seven, whether for stage, screen, or TV (or YouTube?)

The kicker is, they are not specific trade secrets. These rules are much the same as for any profession, for any job a person wants to do well.

Number One: Show up on time. For rehearsals, or for the production, BE THERE when you are supposed to be. In a factory, there are timekeepers. In any job, there are people who notice if one is late, or if one is present only in body. It is rude to allow others to be there and you not to be there. And it will get you fired if you indulge too often (more than once.)

Number Two: Know your lines. Obviously, even for the “Improvisational Genius”, of which the world has really very few, it is just plain wrong to not know your job. An actor needs to know what s/he is supposed to say to give some other person their cue. A carpenter needs to know how to saw, to hammer, to sand. An actor needs to memorize the script and be ready to go to work, having arrived on time.

Number Three: Obey the Director. Unless you have a very, very, very good reason, like a cobra wrapped around your ankle, DO WHAT THE DIRECTOR SAYS TO DO!!! Follow the boss’ orders. He is supposed to have a better idea of the overall campaign than you do, and if you know more, YOU should be the director. For a play, the Director has a vision of how all the parts fit together. He is trying for an effect which may be only a glimmering ghost in the back of his consciousness. Give it a chance to be born. If it doesn’t work,. Then he might be amenable to a tactful suggestion. But see what he has in mind before throwing a Prima Dona fit.

Number Four: Don’t trip over the furniture. It is placed where it is for a reason. Know where it is, and skillfully avoid making a damned fool of yourself. Unless it is in the script for you to fall over it. Ditto for props. Don’t fumble, don’t drop them (unless you are supposed to.) Act as if you know what you are doing with them.

Number Five: Don’t cross up the other members of the troupe. A play, or a film, or a half-hour sitcom, is an ensemble piece. It is made by a team, most of whom never appear in public. If you go around acting big headed, like you are the sole Star, the Lead, the Big Cheese, be advised, you will stink. Even a neurotic line-counter like Steve McQueen couldn’t get away with being a jerk without consequence. And how many of Bill Shatner’s old cast mates think fondly of the Captain of the USS Enterprise? Take heed.

Number Six:  Don’t insult the audience.  Neither by offering a piece of utter crap to the paying customers, nor by acting like a big shot diva, nor by trying to “educate the masses”.  The people came for a show, a good show, to be entertained, to relax and enjoy themselves.  It’s their “beer money” they are spending on you. They are there for a good time. They don’t need you to be a jerk who thinks you are better than the “peasants”.

Number Seven: Don’t overstay your welcome.  The ham who can’t get off stage, the egomaniac who comes back for just one more round of applause, the aging “juvenile” who tries to be sexy when the grey hairs are sprouting.  (Think Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.) All the players have their entrances and their exits.  Know how — and when –to make a good one.

Even so, it helps to recall: there are no small parts, only small people; a bad play can be well done (and vice versa); and the higher your nose is in the air, the less likely one is to avoid a pratfall.

Acting Is Just A Job, Like Any Other.

That’s it.

There are, of course, other opinions.

One is Double Star, Robert Heinlein’s wonderful book on acting and politics and… (Hint, it is a very old plot.)

Two quotes from Double Star, where the narrator Larry Smith is ruminating on his craft.

(Oh yeah. The other reason I got into drama is that as I grew up, Heinlein was my surrogate adviser, via his books, and Double Star was still is one of my favorites. )

From chapter two:

“The show must go on” is the oldest tenet of show business. Perhaps it has no philosophical verity, but the things men live by are rarely subject to logical proof. My father had believed it – I had seen him play two acts with a burst appendix and then take his bows before he let them rush him to a hospital.

Sixty pages later is this:

“The show must go on.” I had always believed that and lived by it. But why must the show go on? –seeing that some shows are pretty terrible. Well, because you agreed to do it, because there is an audience out there; they have paid and each of them is entitled to the best you can give. You owe it to them. You owe it also to stagehands and manager and producer and other members of the company – and to those who taught you your trade, and to others stretching back in history to open-air theaters and stone seats and even to storytellers squatting in a market place. Nobleese oblige.

I decided that the notion could be generalized into any occupation. “Value for value.” Building “on the square and on the level.” The Hippocratic Oath. Don’t let the team down. Honest work for honest pay. Such things did not have to be proved; they were an essential part of life – true throughout eternity, true in the farthest reaches of the Galaxy.

But finally, I like my ham sliced rather thick.

That’s Entertainment like they don’t do anymore, sadly.