An *Artistic* Look Back at 2010

Jan 22, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Three Actors

My last post took a look at what my goals were for 2010 and how my year went both good and bad. Based on a comment from long-time reader Marci Liroff, however, I realized that I neglected to discuss the artistic side of my pursuit for the year. Some thoughts on that first, then into the year ahead.

The Benefit of Goals (a.k.a. a business plan)

It’s been interesting at the beginning of the year here to listen to people talk about goals, resolutions, and the like. I’ve heard many people who say that they don’t like setting goals or resolutions which surprised me until I looked back at a list of goals I made called “25 by 25.” A group of friends and myself had listed out 25 things we each wanted to do by the time we turned 25. On my birthday a couple months ago I looked at the list and had only maybe accomplished 5 or so of them. I explained it away that I had other priorities, that I didn’t want that goal, etc. And while part of my dismissal was simply feeling bad about not accomplishing my goals, I realized that almost ALL of the 25 things I listed were out of my control. I might as well have called the list “25 things that would be really cool if they randomly happened.”

The crucial distinction here is sussing out the things you actually have control over–“design and send x mailers/week”, not “get an agent”; “audit 6 classes in first 6 weeks of year, take a scene study class for 6 months of 2011, and take level 1 improv at UCB”, not “be a better actor”; “spend 15 minutes/day on IMDb Pro researching the casting directors of shows I’m right for and sending them a postcard”, not “get 6 TV auditions–and then creating a plan around those things (something else my ’25 cool things’ list didn’t have) and then–this is the hard part–actually putting them into your calendar More than that, I had no plan in place to accomplish most of the goals.

So what’s my point with all of this? Having now done this annual review 2 years in a row I cannot stress enough the importance of setting out a plan for yourself and building in accountability measures. Call the list/plan/document whatever you want, and do it at whatever part of the year you so desire, but I assure you that taking a look back at all you accomplished in a past 365-day span and having an (honest) conversation with yourself about what went well and what didn’t is incredibly powerful.

More than that, I would be shocked if you weren’t shocked at all you had really accomplished in the past 365 days. I hear actors talking non-stop about where they want to go, where they want to be in the future, and how they want to progress. I would bet my right elbow right now (that’s right) that the actor who has the best plan to get their will be the first (or at least close second) to do so.

A Quick Comment on Art in Los Angeles

If “all you want to do is act,” then don’t live in LA. In this city it is very much a business, and much of an actor’s life is spent trying to get work. If you truly just want to be on stage or on screen, then there are dozens of cities across the nation (or even internationally) where you will spend more time acting on stage or on camera far more than most anone in Los Angeles. There is absolutely no shame in either decision, but it’s a harsh reality that if you are pursuing a career in acting in Los Angeles, most of your time doing so will probably not be spent actually acting. With all that said, there is a core joy that (hopefully!) we all get when we’re acting, and it’s important to remain connected to that piece of you, especially in a city so focused on the business.

Looking Back at My Art in 2010

One of my primary focuses when I moved to Los Angeles, was honing in my on-camera acting skills. Having spent years breaking down scripts, reading plays, and spending hours on stage almost every single night, I felt very comfortable in the world of theatre. My senior year of college I took an acting for the camera class, and decided to “expand my horizons” as it were and spend more time in front of a camera. I worked on a number of short and feature-length films, got an agent, did a local Toyota commercial, and the like. While all of this gave me a good foundation, I knew that my skills were not where they needed to be. Since moving to Los Angeles I spent a lot of time focussing on being “natural,” with the specific goal of learning how to make dialogue sound realistic on camera. As I assess the acting I did in the last year, I will say that I have made tremendous progress in this area and am very pleased.

The epitome of this for me was working on the movie Decathexis (IMDb, trailer), that my good friend Quincy Rose wrote and directed. I absolutely loved the script itself, and had SO much fun on set. It was an amazing opportunity to execute on all that I had been practicing. Speaking of that practice, I highly recommend that you check out Secrets of Screen Acting, which is both a book and a podcast. The podcast is probably the best $10 I spend each month, as it is chalk full of incredible, practical advice for on-screen acting. I was also part of a group of actors from The Actors’ Network who got together each week to practice a bunch of the exercises set forth in the book which was very helpful in improving my on-camera skills.

In addition, I was able to get back on stage as part of The Actor’s Lounge, which was an absolutely incredible experience. I got to perform a comedy scene that I’m absolutely in love with alongside one of the more talented actresses I’ve ever met, Jen Lilley. There is nothing on this planet like making an audience of hundreds of people laugh…nothing.

Speaking of laughter, I also took an improv class at The Groundlings last year which I very much enjoyed. I had done a lot of improv in college both as part of a comedic improv troupe and as a member of The Interactive Theatre Project. What was interesting to me was how rusty I was. Definitely a good reminder that as with anything, if you don’t practice it your skills will wane. Improvisation was very much a challenge for me to get back into, which really pushed me as an actor. Lastly, I noticed a marked improvement in my ongoing class work with Brian Reise.

My Goals — How Did I Do?

Blogging

I had the goal of doing 100 blog posts, getting featured on someone else’s blog, and having 10,000 viewers of the blog. I technically got an F in terms of the number of posts I did, and was definitely disappointed that I was not always posting consistently. With that said, I was very pleased with the quality of my posts, and a number of them (my posts on SAG, IMDb, and Actor Resources particularly) continue to receive hundreds of hits a week and rank in the top results in google for the subject. I was also featured in multiple other blogs, have been asked to be a regular contributor to a number of other websites, and we’ve had tens of thousands of views of the blog (though are probably still a bit short of 10,000 regular viewers). :)

Writing

Beyond my blogging goals, I had started writing a book with my former college roommate that I really didn’t end up making a priority.

Acting

My acting goals were as follows, with comments on them in bold.

  • Perform in improv show – Didn’t perform in an actual show, but did take class at Groundlings
  • Continue acting classes – I did this throughout the year, and ended up taking a number of other ancillary classes
  • Level 3+ at Groundlings – Talk about not doing your research. It takes years to get that far in any improv troupe, and after taking level 1 I decided that I didn’t want to make improv as big a focus as I originally thought I might
  • 3+ Young Storyteller Big Show – I LOVE the Young Storytellers Foundations, and did indeed perform in 3 “Big Shows.” My theory on acting is that if you can entertain an auditorium full of middle schoolers, then you have at least a basic grasp of storytelling. Definitely got to practice that.
  • Be on actual television show (people in Colorado can watch it) – Going back to my own advice, this is the type of goal that I have NO control over. It was also perhaps a little ambitious, but who knows.
  • Be in SAG feature-film in at least supporting role – While again not a goal I actually had control over (bad Ben, bad!) I did indeed accomplish this, and wrote about it in my blog post, I’ll Be In My Trailer…

Other

I had also had a goal of practicing the guitar, but I never got around to replacing my old guitar which had broken so you can imagine how well that went.

Humorously, my roommate (unbeknownst to me) had written down “juggling” as a goal when he was taking notes last year, and it turns out that i learned how to juggle about 4 days later. Talk about the power of goal setting! :p

This post is already super long, so I’ll save my goals/business plan for the next post. As always, your comments let me know that I’m not just typing into a void and are much appreciated. :)


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.