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Colleenby Colleen Wainwright

How to have far more fun on stage (and off)

Five lessons from a return to acting.

Was it seeing one too many great pieces of theater that triggered the urge? The happy feeling I found myself with on every shoot day for my friend’s web series? Or was it finally letting go of the wrong reasons for wanting to act and embracing the sane, healthy ones?

Whatever it was, 2013 was the year I finally said “Yes! I am not (quite) done with acting!” In addition to ramping up my participation on the aforementioned web series, AVE 43, I reconnected with my old commercial agent, went on a few calls (most, but not all, for “cancer roles”, which I confess to being a bit superstitious about), and, most significantly for me, returned to the stage to take a small-but-pivotal dual role in an 18-year, holiday theater tradition.

The net result? I scared myself, enjoyed myself, and grew in my understanding of myself: three great reasons to keep it up in 2014, I think. Here’s a handful of more concrete takeaways from my big, tiny comeback.

1. A headshot doesn’t have to break you…

Re-entering the market as a middle-aged character actress with a shaved head and virtually no resume to speak of was a big question mark, market-wise. Given these circumstances, rather than a full-service photo shoot, I opted to try my luck with a single, no-frills shot from my friend Vanie Poyer’s ingenious (and fun!) headshot party. I figured that at worst, it would end up being a $55 lesson. But I love my new photo, as does my agent. (By the way, Vanie has a terrific, helpful blog for actors, where you can get on her mailing list to stay in the loop on other offers she may have in the coming months.)

2. …but you have to get your expectations lined up properly…

Before you say, “Hooray! I will bypass this prohibitively expensive pro-photography thing entirely, and shoot a selfie with my smartphone”, remember: no matter what you pay for it, that headshot is still your emissary. By which I mean, before they get a taste of your brilliance in person, gatekeepers assess not only your fitness via your photo, but your savvy. I would look like an idiot submitting for serious, dramatic roles with an intentionally goofy shot like this, and no one wants an idiot mucking up their show. On the other hand, I have zero problem with it representing me for anything comedic, because it’s a quality shot, by a photographer who knows what she’s doing.

3. …along with your ducks.

Going in, I knew what I wanted from the photo. I also knew what parameters I had to work within: I’d get exactly this much time, exactly one “look,” and against a white cyc. So in addition to going in knowing I wanted one comedic, character shot, I did my makeup and chose my wardrobe accordingly. This is a good micro-lesson in the biggest difference between how I approached acting before, and how I’m looking at it now, i.e….

4. Control what you can

I stepped into a small-but-pivotal role in a holiday show that’s a longtime tradition here in Los Angeles. Before I did, though, I almost turned down the audition, I was so sick at the thought of not doing as well in the role as Ann Randolph, the amazing actress whose performance in this part brought me back to the show as an audience member year after year. Fortunately, as a wise colleague reminded me, I had no control over how well I would do, let alone whether the producers would even let me do it. The only thing I could control was accepting the chance to try out for what I supposedly want to do—act. So I auditioned. And when I got the part, I had to let go of things all over again, and just focus on what I could do: learn my lines, work my bits, and find a slammin’ wig that would do some of the comic heavy-lifting for me. Fortunately, all went well—I have objective proof! (Please note that I did not read that review until after the fact, though: if you believe your good press, you also have to believe the bad, and who needs that during the run of a show, especially during the stressful holiday season?!)

5. Let go of the rest

When I asked him how things were going on a particular play in rehearsals, a director friend once said to me (with a big sigh), “Everyone always thinks every show is going to be their big break.” Yes, this audition might lead to signing with that agent, and that agent might lead to landing that role, and that role might lead to an award. But it might not. You just don’t know.

And if it helps, it really doesn’t matter. As the much-awarded Bryan Cranston famously said at some party last year, your job is to do the audition. Period. Don’t worry about reviews, money, awards, or the love of millions. Just do the hell out of the audition, and let go of the outcome.

Book of the Month

At the ripe old age of 52, I’ve found that most self-help books repeat essentially the same advice, and that reading them can often be a substitute for the action that actually does help. That said, I am a big fan of the way that motivational writer/speaker Steve Chandler phrases things, and of his well-rounded take on what a successful life looks like (hint: it’s not just sunshine, roses, and Academy Awards®). I read Ten Commitments to Your Success, one of his many (30+!) books, in bits and pieces over the holiday, and it got me fired up in a more sensible, sane way about changing some things in 2014. It’s slim (just around 80 pages) but it covers a lot of ground, because it’s about using balance—all the many aspects of life, from fitness and friendship to work and money—to achieve happiness. It’s not a prescriptive, how-to book that lays out a detailed plan for living, but it is rich with hard-won insight that’s easy to read and digest. Pick it up from Amazon or get a used copy from Alibris!

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeakerperformer who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.