“So tell us; what’ve you been up to recently?”
As an actor, if you’re lucky, this question might form part of an audition process. If you’re lucky, you might get this brief opportunity to prove that you are proactive, hardworking, adventurous, well-connected, thoughtful, optimistic, intuitive and any other irresistible traits that you can try to seamlessly squeeze into a 30 second response. You might be gifted this small chance to find common ground with the audition panel increase your chances of them giving you their undivided attention for the next five or ten minutes. If you’re lucky.
If lady luck is playing hard to get, though, the more likely scenario is that you tell them your name and then the curtain is up on your monologue or screen test or spontaneous interpretive dance in which you are to imagine yourself as a soup spoon in a whirlpool (advertising castings can get pretty freaky). This then means that you have a very small window of opportunity through which to peddle your product – yourself – to the discerning panel. It’s a terrifying notion; to be your own product and to offer yourself up, vulnerable and unshielded, to a group of strangers who are there to pass judgement on your very presence in the room.
For the unprepared, it can feel disheartening and perhaps even offensive. But for many others it’s a challenge to relish. When a mere five minutes in a room will make the difference between getting paid to do what you love and going back to your rent-paying job, you’ve got to bring your A-game to every last millisecond. You’ve got to do everything in your power to ensure that your five minutes are the same five minutes that they end up revisiting in their minds after a four-hundred-and-twenty-minute-long day of sitting on that panel. It’s a challenge I like the sound of, a lot.
At drama school, aspiring actors will often be given full classes on how to navigate the audition room and to maximise the potential of Brand Me (has a more diva-ish phrase ever been coined?) It’s a process that is broken down into its most basic elements; from the way you enter the room, to the way you close the door behind you, to how to smile and when to smile, to where exactly to stand, to where precisely to put your eyeline, and on and on. It’s a detailed science, studied with the intention of making you the master of self-promotion. Sure, there’s no amount of formula or practice than can ever really trump raw charisma, but if Pythagoras’ theorem can be taught and learnt, why not try the same with unabashed self-assurance?
A salesperson will be told to build a genuine confidence in their product for the sales pitch to be a breeze. The same applies to the audition process for the actor; a healthy dose of confidence takes the effort and awkwardness out of self-promotion so that the main focus can become the work itself. And really, that’s the goal – not to be selling yourself at all, but to be selling the material. But the harsh reality of the industry is that you won’t get a chance to do the latter without first achieving the former.
Aside from the time spent in the audition room, the task of pitching Brand Me can very easily become a full-time occupation. In a day and age where sharing platforms are so readily available, the pressure to network can become overwhelming because the opportunity to network is always at your fingertips. Twitter in particular seems to have become something of an actor’s hub. If you haven’t summed up your latest audition experience or theatre trip in 140 characters or less, did it ever really happen? It’s important to take a step back every now and then – to let your career play out without feeling the need to validate your every move via live updates to the twittersphere and to feel safe in the knowledge that a day spent offline does not equate to a day of missed opportunities.
One of the hardest things about being your own product is having to have absolute conviction of your niche and your selling points. An actor needs to know exactly what their casting bracket is and to be able to talk about it freely and confidently. It’s no secret that self-awareness isn’t exactly the human race’s forte, so to build this level of objectivity about oneself can feel like an uphill struggle and is, I believe, the main reasons why an actor must have thick skin. After all, a rejection based on what you’ve truly and objectively decided is the best, most accurate version of yourself is a rejection that is bound to sting. The best way to overcome this, as with most things, is learning not dwell. Whatever the context, you do everything in your power to prepare and perform accordingly in the moment, putting the best version of yourself on the table, and then you walk away and let the powers that be do their thing.
Really, it’s no wonder that actors can get a bad rep for being egotistical little so-and-sos when so much of their time must be spent thinking about… well… themselves. But with a healthy dose of humility, objectivity and humour, the notion of Brand Me can be achieved without the onset of Brand Diva.