A successful producer once told me that the key to surviving this industry is how you handle the time in between gigs. “It’s easy when you’re working; it’s what you do when you’re not working that really counts.”
He wasn’t suggesting hiding under the bed with a pint of Cherry Garcia and a vision board and waiting for the phone to ring. He also didn’t mean you should focus solely on career-centric activities, networking your face off until you’re tongue falls out of your mouth. He meant, above all, you have to stay creative and enjoy a well-rounded life.
After all, wasn’t it your artistry that inspired a pursuit of this career in the first place? And what inspires all art? Life. Our creativity and ideas spring directly from the well of our life experiences. The more life we live, the deeper the well from which our creative souls drink like a bacchanal.
So how do we continue to fill the well? We live. Fully. Every single day. Here’s how you remain creative even when the industry/your career seems to be inhabited by crickets:
Stay curious. We human beings are so wildly complex and unique and interesting! Instead of just putting people in a box, stay curious. When you meet new people, chat with current friends, or even just hear a story about someone, don’t just scratch the surface of where they’re from and what they do. Ask questions that delve deeper into who they are and how they came to be the person they are today. Who, what, where, why, how?
Being curious leads to understanding. Understanding leads to connection – the single most important tool for a student of humanity (aka: artists). And all of that requires….
Shifting from Judgey McJudgester to Madame Empathy. It’s oh-so-easy to label a group of people you know nothing about as a bunch of douchebags. But maybe you’re the douchebag for being so judgey. Have some curiosity and empathy. Why do you think those individuals gravitate towards each other? What do those clothes allow them to express? What are they searching for and have they found it? What might you even have in common with them? (Hint: the search for a sense of belonging is universal.)
Explore! Trying new things expands your understanding of the world and yourself. Exploring can be as dramatic as jumping out of a plane or as intimate as eating sushi for the first time. Expand the types of stories you follow; read about people or communities you’ve never thought about before. Go to a new environment or city, even if it’s just next door. Watch TED Talks about subjects that interest you but which you know nothing about. And then watch ones about subjects you wouldn’t normally consider.
Discuss your exploration. I used to think that if I ended up in a relationship where we sat in front of the TV on most nights, then we were screwed. That would mean we hated each other and used the TV to ignore our crumbling union. But it’s quite the opposite. My man (also an actor) and I watch our favorite shows, movies and documentaries and then have passionate discussions about theme, characters, storytelling, acting, shots, what worked what didn’t — we learn from each other and from our attempts to communicate what we saw in that particular piece of art. So not only do we connect more deeply to each other, we connect more deeply to the types of human beings portrayed on the small screen.
But don’t stop with art (or your significant other). If you’ve stayed curious and explored humanity with empathy, you’ve probably made fascinating discoveries and will be eager to discuss them.
Remember: Curiosity, empathy, exploration and discussion in your daily life exercises your ability to connect to a character more readily, no matter how far from you they may seem.
Find other creative outlets. The Artist’s Way helped me find my voice as a writer, which was very helpful when I was between gigs as an actor. Writing didn’t require another person, so I could enjoy that creative expression, even when I didn’t have a gig or the cash for a class. Writing feeds me still, all these years later. I also sing (get coaching and jam with friends). And now, since acting, coaching, writing and singing all involve words, I’ve found new excitement and release in the the adult coloring book craze! Talk about rediscovering your inner child!
So what’s that hobby you always wanted to try or had as a kid and dropped later? You don’t even have to be good at it. From sports to gardening to hip hop class, anything that lets you play feeds your creative soul.
Create your own acting opportunities. Challenge yourself to 30-days of auditions, whether you get called for one or create one with your friends. Pull sides from online and work on them as if you have a real audition. Or have a script reading at your home of an old classic or a new one. Let your friends know you’re available as a reader for script development. (Writers and directors always need to hear a script out loud at least a couple of times as they massage it.) Join a theater company. If you’re a writer also, then heck, now’s the time to write that project for yourself. Even the shortest of videos – vines, even – keep you creative!
“Lead a well rounded life.” I’m stealing this from a Casting Director; those were her very words. Life can’t just be about your art and career. You must allow yourself to have relationships, take vacations, spend time with family, relax, make cookies, try new food, socialize, work out, travel, read, take a walk, dance, celebrate, laugh. All that down time is important for your emotional and spiritual renewal – and your creative inner life as well.
When you live your life fully, you fill the well of creativity and add more connection and complexity to your craft. So let your well runneth over and drink up!