Acting vs. Being an Actor: The #1 Reason People Leave LA

Sep 20, 2012 by     22 Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Los Angeles, The business

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for three years now, and I’ve noticed an incredibly important distinction: Acting is not the same thing as being an Actor. In fact, they can be worlds apart.

Allow me to clarify. “Acting” is the actual performance by a human being on stage or on screen. “Being an Actor” (and here I mean a professional actor, one pursuing financial gain from acting), means not just performing, but marketing to actually create acting opportunities and jobs. This means marketing, networking, researching, taking meetings, self-producing, and myriad other business endeavors. Being an actor also includes acting (and here I include auditioning and class), but honestly, if you’re pursuing a professional career as an actor, the percentage of your time spent actually performing is relatively low.

This distinction, in my opinion, is the #1 reason I see people decide to stop pursuing acting as a career. Particularly for those of you who went to college (even more those who majored in theatre, or even did a lot of plays), your experience in school was probably dozens if not hundreds of hours of rehearsals and performances, maybe two hours of auditioning, and zero time doing business, marketing, or financial work. We’re looking at a foundation where 90% of your time is spent acting, and maybe 10% was being an actor.

In LA, the percentages are close to the opposite…10% acting, and 90% being an actor. So what does that mean? I think the key is that if you’re thinking about, or currently are, pursuing a career as an actor, then you must find a way to love the actor part of everything. That also means being proactive about finding ways to be creative. Making the time to nurture your creative side.

But I just want to act

If you just want to act, then don’t move across the country and work to pursue a career in acting. A career in acting (i.e. being an actor), means you don’t just want to act…it means you want to get paid to act. Two very different things. If you truly just want to act, that is AWESOME. Seriously. Stay in your hometown and do community theatre. Perform for children. Act all the time! There is absolutely no shame in that. In fact, for me, I admire that love of the art. And lord knows our communities can use you. Would that all cities were filled with people dedicated to artistic expression. Moreover, you will perform more than any movie star.

If, however, you do want to get paid enough to pay your rent through artistic expression, you get to think like a business person. You get to market, and find the joy in being an actorpreneur. Building any business takes time–normally far more time than we initially anticipate (believe me). The reward, though, is like nothing else. Tallyho.


Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.

22 Comments + Add Comment

  • Well said, Mr. Whitehair–as always!

  • Ben – this is really good. Actors are trained in art. But the business of being and actor is commerce. You point out the difference fabulously. Niiiiice,

  • i have been a street performer (which is a form of actor) for 8 years 3 of those i was not making anything worthwhile till i started to actively promote my self. now i pull in gigs every day high paying gigs

  • Really interesting and insightful, Ben! Thanks for this! Should we consider ourselves rare and lucky if we have an equal interest in the business admistration side of an acting career as we do in the creative and performance side? I am sometimes astonished to find actors who have been in the business for a decade or more have not developed any correspondence skills to effectively communicate their value to the buyers of their product. Even their love of the craft is not enough of a motivator to learn these other skills in order to move their careers forward. I’m fascinated by the psychology of this type of actor. Do they think they can somehow get away with not doing this aspect of the job and still book work? Is it a superiority complex of some kind? Or is it an inferiority complex – a mental paralysis that stops them from communicating to other industry members because it all stems from a fear that they do not possess the skill and talent that would deem them worthy of communicating their worth?

  • You may well be right. I remember someone delineating in school how any creative undertaking differs from a creative career since a career is not simply doing the creative thing when inspired, it is doing it no matter what, when the work requires it. Acting as a career requires acting still when it is not comfortable. As Peter De Vries said about writing:

    “I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.”

    And further, Hugh MacLeod’s Sex And Cash Theory in thinking along the same lines you are; you’re in good company.

  • Well said. I love this post. As someone who spent 3 years in an MFA program where I got to act all the time–for 40-60hrs/ a week–entering the “business of being an actor” was a hard transition. A year and a half later, I realize that I do get joy from being an actorpreneur. You mention creating your work and taking the time to nurture your craft, and I think that is key to sustainability. Thanks for the insights!

  • Ben, great article, my man! I am going to make a post on my website and include this!

    Good stuff!

  • You nailed it on this one; a really great job.

    I was just talking to someone this weekend about the fact that drama schools need to include the business aspects in their training.

    This way, performers/artists will graduate with a better skill set to seek out work and a hybrid art/business degree.

    I’m digging the phrase “actorpreneur.”. You should trademark that term ASAP. :-)

    Thanks for sharing such a solid article.

    Cheers!

  • A-freakin-men, dude. Thank you for this – and for all the incredible work you do.

  • Yes!! I love this post Ben. What I’ve come to realize and appreciate, at least for myself, is that there really isn’t a way to teach the business of acting. It’s kind of like trying to teach your child how to be in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or what it’s like “out in the world.” They simply have to experience it, you don’t know how to do it by reading books about it or someone telling you how it is. Definitely helpful, can get your mind in the right place, but acting school is to learn how to act, how your instrument reacts to circumstances, etc. It’s not a place to learn how to be in the business, after school is where you learn that, and I’d prefer it that way :)

  • Well said sir.

  • Thank you for writing this. You have clearly articluated the stuggle I experience on a daily basis, between my LOVE for “acting” and my pursuit of “being an actor”! And after viewing it in this light, I feel much better about my passion & my career!!!

  • Hi Ben-

    I’m preparing to create my website and stumbled across yours. I love it! It’s creative, funny, and unique. Looks like we both started in science in college and immediately switched to acting. One quarter of Organic Chemistry was my deal breaker as well. You are so spot on in this blog post. It’s unfortunate that most of our career is 10% acting and 90% being an actor. Hopefully, as we stay in the game, those percentages shift so that we can perform more. This career that we have chosen is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a numbers game, and the longer I stay in it, the more those with less fortitude than I will drop like flies…and I will be left standing a.k.a working!

  • Actorpreneur – love it!!

  • I love this. This is so true. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Ben,

    This is great insight for anyone pursuing their dream of making it in L.A. or other acting markets where having a good head on your shoulders and being prepared for the reality of it all is so important.

    Thanks for sharing and supporting your fellow actors with this knowledge.

    Michael Patrick Bruen

  • “Actorpreneur.” I can’t believe I haven’t heard that before. Amazing. :)

  • Thanks Ben,

    I am a IMBD top 5000 actor and found your explaination of the IMDB starmeter on this site useful, well a lot more useful than the 147 ‘spam the starmeter for a fee’ sites that came up in the search. You are right it is not worth worrying about, but it is something to know. I was reading up as I have a movie coming out shortly that could be rather a big deal and my placing in the name ranks currently fluctuates between #2 and #4 in placings. Nearly all the movie sites only rank the top 3 names – for this reason I was interested in seeing if there was anything I could do to make sure I was in those top 3 names for the additional exposure this would bring.

    Then I saw this article, which I liked a lot, mainly because I wrote about the very same thing on my website several years ago (http://www.conanstevens.com/acting-movies-tv-film/tall-actor-blog/difference-between-a-good-actor-and-good-at-acting.html) but it is a very important difference that many actors do not see, well many of the junior talent at any rate.

    Thanks again for the information without the BS.

    • benwhitehair

      Conan,

      Thanks for the comment! LOVED reading various posts on your site. Definitely reflects a lot of what I’ve posted here…nice to see someone else posting information without the BS. :) Keep it up!

      Thanks again,
      Ben

  • Love this article Ben, sorry I just read it. Yes, this is exactly how LA is!

  • Thanks very much for your wise advise. xx

  • Nice article.

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