How many times have people asked you what you do for a ‘living’ at a party, on a train, plane, automobile (isn’t that a movie?) It must be one of the most commonly asked questions, certainly a way of moving on from the ‘name’ part of the opening discourse, which is generally always forgotten!
I’ve found that in the eight years or so I’ve been acting, I am met with generally two very opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of reaction to the statement “I’m an actor”. Without exception, it’s generally either intrigue, which then leads to the inevitable "What have I seen you in?" which is almost a rhetorical question and normally garners the reply from me “Well…do you count short films and/or independent feature films as part of your viewing?” quite often, that will end the conversation, particularly when non actors - and let’s face it - most people of sane mind are not - shoot you the quizzical look, which in script terms (subtext) equates to “What the hell are you doing with your life?” At that point, I normally take the opportunity to move to the kitchen and grab another drink - if I am at a party of course!
The other response, is a more interesting and complex beast. Assuming you are not speaking with another performer and by that, I mean actor (stage or screen), musician, fire-eater, juggler, or whatever other art form you can think of - they will come back with “Oh, how interesting…tell me more”. Let’s admit it. This is the response that all actors, fire-eaters and jugglers included - feast on. A chance to re-cap the highlights (and sometimes low-lights) of your career and if you’ve been doing this a while, believe me, you will go right back to the very beginning.
The beginning for most would have been the time you played second shepherd in the school nativity at Christmas time. For me, this came at the age of 41, which I’ve found often heightens the interest of my conversation-partner.
Let’s also be clear, that this is not ‘blowing your own trumpet’ far from it. I have met some fellow actors who will easily pace themselves over the entire course of a social or entertainment networking gathering, to talk at great length about the time they had an audition for a blockbuster feature film, in a country far-removed from the one they reside in, only to miss out to star A, B or C (letters are used to protect the innocent).
A conversation between two actors takes it all to another level entirely. They could be talking for days on how they had one more role then you in a fantastic, funded feature film, but unfortunately their scene was cut because the running time was too long anyway, only if you buy the DVD or Blu-ray will you ever prove (or disprove) this, as their scene will be on the DVD bonus section, under 'deleted scenes'. Moving to the kitchen or bar in this case proves to be a much trickier proposition as they will normally follow you – still talking.
So, it’s a fine line between appearing too immersed in your own pompous self-importance and promoting what you do with a passion and dedication that burns bright inside you. I tend to keep to a middle-ground here, depending on the audience of course (no pun intended).
People from ‘normal’ walks of life - and let’s face it, actors and performers generally lead a very abnormal existence, sometimes not knowing if the evening meal is even an option – are intrigued by the performing life. Some people at that same party - may even introduce you later in the evening as “This is Sean, he’s an... (pregnant pause to heighten the gravity of what is coming) ACTOR”. Some Shakespearean fans might even announce you as a ‘thespian’, which I regard mainly as a theatrical term. I’m a screen actor myself by trade.
Just hope you don’t get someone who is hard of hearing as happened at a funeral several years ago. “This is Sean, he’s a thespian”. An aged auntie adjusted her hearing aid and then replied “a lesbian? Wow, I thought they were normally female?”
So, to all the thespians, lesbians, fire-eaters and jugglers out there, be proud of what you are. You are an actor who is not ‘trying’ to be an actor as the shy and more timid performers out there may say (there are some shy and timid actors I have worked with, yes - but boy, do they open up on screen!) You are an actor now and always will be. How much of your past acting life you reveal is entirely up to you!
Now, here’s the serious note to end on. Always carry some business cards with you. I was at a party once and the last person I spoke to that night was a producer of a small production house. This was not an ‘industry’ party, it was a small social gathering of friends. I ended up getting some paid promo presenting work through him. The business card was literally my calling card. So, if you don’t have any cards, get some! They are a relatively cheap investment that can prove to be a big difference when you're networking.
Take care until next time.
Born in England, Sean emigrated to New Zealand in 2004. He started acting in 2008 and quickly made the transition from background extra to professional actor after completing a year-long training in On Screen Acting at South Seas Film, Television and Acting School on Auckland's North Shore.
Represented by The Robert Bruce Agency, Sean acted in over 40 short films, several features, a few stage plays and a feature film project in late 2015.
His two gorgeous daughters are his inspiration and acting has provided a new perspective on life that he is privileged to be partaking in.
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