Merriam-Webster’s clinical definition for professional is slightly incorrect:
pro·fes·sion·al / adjective
(1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
Professional behavior extends beyond the jobs in which we toil to survive–life’s everyday interactions requires personal professional behavior. An actor, whether household name, developing, or amateur is a public figure once they take to the stage or screen. Off-screen and off-stage manners are scrutinized by peers intensively. And often surreptitiously as does supposedly the NSA with our daily email interactions. The actor is always “on” whether they wish to be or not. Everyone watches your personal professional behavior. In an insular industry in which is often joked that only six people are working in it because everyone knows everyone via a connection… your image, persona, and personal and work ethic is being watched. And someone is waiting to take advantage of your misstep(s).
10 Tips On How to be a Professional [Actor]:
1. Approach Peers in Your Trade as Individuals—Not for What the Individual Does as Their Trade
When I encounter an actor unfamiliar with my work as a director and casting director often the next phrase from the actor is, “What are you casting and/or directing now? Anything right for me?” When arriving early to teach classes in New York I hide in a back hallway. If I don’t several actors in my class will ask for me to correct their homework; give additional instruction and/or both. This personal-time intrusion is as equally dismissive of me as a person as if in the civilian world when a doctor, lawyer, or any trade professional is routinely asked for professional advice by strangers and acquaintances during the trade keeper’s personal time.
Before engaging with trade peers beyond their work recall that like you the person is more than what they do to earn a paycheck.
- Arrive Prepared
Audition, interview, performance or class; if you’re not prepared due to lack of self-interest and/or self-time management the only person at fault is yourself. You’re not entitled to sympathy or re-dos for your inability to prepare. Showing-up is half of what is required of you. Showing-up prepared is the other 50% of attaining success.
- Accepting & Owning Mistakes
Not even the most persnickety perfectionist is immune to airor (pardon me: error). Colleagues and peers hold in higher regard co-workers who fess-up to misjudgment, error, or inappropriate comments and/or actions. A deflector or liar is rarely, honestly admired. Politicians are the worst actors for spinning fiction.
- Living Happily is Life’s Only Entitlement
Believing you’re right for a role, or believing that because you played a role previously prompts your entitlement to an audition and/or hire is behavior not worthy of a playground let alone a chosen profession.
Accept that nothing is inevitable. The inevitable is one of many possibilities.
- Good Manners is Responding to Emails, Voice-mails, Text and Inquiries
Just as you appreciate recognition so do the people reaching out to you. Silence screams a lack of respect and courtesy for others.
- Let Peers Participate
In group situations, rehearsals, class settings, meetings the lone attention-hog repeatedly asking self-serving questions is the person who’ll eventually be alone. Let peers and colleagues participate in group endeavors.
- Pitch. Don’t Bitch.
The backstabbing, snarky whisperer soon finds their pool of light diminishing. The Barter Theatre’s curtain speech quotes their founder Robert Porterfield: “If you like us, talk about us. And if you don‘t, just keep your mouth shut.”
If negativity is an admirable trait more children would aspire to be cable news commentators.
8. Focus on Your Duties, Desires and Efforts Not the Responsibilities and Career Advances of Co-workers
9. Spontaneous Compliments to Peers are as Welcomed as is Water to the Parched
10. Accepting Tough Love Criticism Equals That You’re Open to Improvement and Love
My ego and work is often thrashed. Once particularly from a woman I never met. But, if I ignored her tough love criticism you and I would not be sharing this conversation.
The gracious and generous Brian O’Neill nudged along my first book ACTING: Make It Your Business. He discovered a blog post of mine on an obscure website for actors. He introduced me to his publisher and editor. His editor read my work. She loved the book proposal, and was ready to begin offering a contract. She then tragically passed due to cancer. The publisher put all of the editor’s pending projects on hold. Mixed emotions indeed were mine.
I held out hope the journey with Brian O’Neill’s publisher would continue. Months passed—a nano-second in publishing—no forward movement with the publisher. I then put out to other publishers the same book proposal the deceased editor praised prior to her too-young passing. I received one response. Highly critical. A pass. What?! But this was the same material for which an editor was ready to provide a contract! How could my words and proposal fail elsewhere? I fumed. I vented (privately to my partner and cats… the cats licked their paws). My email in-box remained empty of returns from other publishers. Weeks passed. Still nothing. I re-opened the critical editor’s email. I began making changes based on the woman’s insight and critique.
I sent the book out to more publishers. Months later, a phone call came mid-day. “Have you sold your book yet?” asked an editor with Watson-Guptil (an imprint of Penguin-Random House). The editor sought to buy my book. The one based on changes I made. Changes prompted by the tough love criticism made by a stranger. Several days later Brian O’Neill’s publisher placed an offer on my pre-critiqued proposal. Which door should I choose?
If I had not listened to the tough love advice of a stranger I doubt ACTING: Make It Your Business would exist. Brian O’Neill’s publisher dropped their books on acting a year later. I was damn lucky I got over my ego and listened to tough love advice from a stranger. She was being a friend. A friend I have yet to meet.
Listen and your ego will subside.
The 10 tips prior on how to be a professional [actor] are applicable to a career in nearly any trade. More importantly, the tips on professional behavior are for life itself. When considering a future decision, discussion, and/or interaction reflect as well this: is the action you’re about to take one that you admire in others? Will your next step be equally admired by a majority of strangers and peers? If answered ‘yes’ then you’re being professional–both in career, and in life.
Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors
Love the Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:
This is your roadmap!”
— BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(NBC’s Peter Pan – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked, Sex & The City)
“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
— SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & Order, Unforgettable)
“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
— DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates
“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
— KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress
“Paul Russell’s words are not only blunt & accurate they zero in on all the questions every actor wants to know but is afraid to ask!”
— KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
— Dr. NINA LeNOIR,
Dept. Chair – Dept. of Thtr.
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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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