15 minutes a day
I ask actors I coach who are between jobs to commit to — actively! — acting 15 minutes every day, 7 days a week, for 6 weeks. I'm convinced that this seemingly little thing can radically reshape your craft & your confidence.
On the one hand, easy. 15 minutes is nothing. This is your life, your love, your living. What can't you do for it? On the other hand, like any discipline, it requires motivation, planning & resolve. And because it draws not just on skill, but your essential self, it takes courage. Yeah, even for 15 minutes a day.
It feels funny at first. Acting is a group sport. You paint a canvas & play the piano alone. Acting needs a team for it to feel real. Whistling in the wind, the sound of one hand clapping, eating at an empty restaurant, you choose.
It takes a mental shift. Actors don't always feel like they "own" acting opportunities. It's hard to take as yours what you don't think belongs to you. And, there are all those attendant pesky feelings always sniffing around the work – “will I have a career? / am I any good? / do I have what it takes?" Who wants to bump into those every day? The many joys of organizing drawers, beckons.
But every actor knows that work begets work. And work is work, in your living room or on set. Acting everyday, even alone, builds confidence for the times that count. Creates a feedback loop of information about your strengths & weaknesses. Keeps your instrument in tune & ready.
15 minutes actually is a long time. Lots can happen in that time. The actor who gets in the habit of working 15 minutes a day eventually allows that 15 to grow to 30 or even an hour, but that’s beside the point. Conquering the fear of jumping into the work is the stand-out perk. You're putting in motion a process that occupies your conscious & unconscious mind throughout the day, & lets you claim the work as YOURS. It's no longer something conferred occasionally from the industry-on-high. Working every day becomes what you do.
Are you rehearsing a play? Shooting a film? Taking a class? That takes care of your 15 minutes a day. Auditioning does not. An audition is conditional; your 15 minutes a day on the material of your choice is unconditional. Auditioning is accompanied by a "what do they want?" mindset. Your 15 puts you in the "what do I want?" state of mind.
Here's how it works. Make a list of roles you’d like to work on – they can be your dream roles, they can be the kind of roles you never get cast in, they can be silly things you fell in love with when you were a kid -- Scarlett O’Hara or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music or Capt. Picard from Star Trek. (Yes, you CAN work on these roles! Just writing this makes me want to start singing all the songs from Funny Girl). Characters from favorite novels. Poems by Matthew Arnold or Mark Strand. The op-ed column in the Times. The State-of-the-Union address. Heck, they can be scenes from comic books. Whatever plays with you / feeds you / ignites you.
Come up with about 8 or 10 different things. Get the scripts if you don’t have them. Buy them at Sam French, transcribe a scene from Netflix, find the lyrics on the internet. Put your "script" of personal material in a 3 ring binder. This is important. Get it off the computer, & into a physical space. So that you don’t spend your 15 minutes trying to find that thing you wanted to work on — you already have it ready. This is your ever-growing, ever-changing bible of ideas, prose, poetry & music that you're dying to express. The gathering of material happens outside of your 15 a day. This happens for about an hour first, & along the way as you go.
Decide what time of day works best in your schedule. & commit to 6 weeks, 7 days a week. (You know, invariably you’ll lose one day a week. So if you start with 6 then you’re down to 5, etc. So, aim for 7, but never less than 6.) Go to your Workroom, pick up that binder, & “feel” what you want to work on today. Set a timer. After 15 minutes STOP your work. 15 minutes a day & ONLY fifteen minutes, no matter how much you’re dying to go for more. Do it this way & you'll find you start to build a raging appetite for more. It takes a few days to get going. But before you know it, I promise, you'll be chomping at the bit.
Make sure you talk out loud, get up out of the chair & use your voice & body. Don’t sit & read silently. If you end up wanting to read a full script or a play, make that another part of your day; your 15 minute commitment must use your body & voice. Don’t be dogged, don’t be obligatory, don’t be programmatic, don’t be methodical. There is no right & wrong. Just suss out what you feel like working on, on any particular day, pick it up, go for it.
This is pure & unadulterated time for your creative being to make noise. It is not about homework. It is not about memorizing — although as you get jazzed about working on something, memorizing comes. Use whatever's going on in you in the moment. If you’re in a bad mood, you may feel like working on Hamlet, or if you’re in a good mood you may feel like working on Hamlet. Or you may feel like singing a Frank Sinatra song. Doesn’t matter what you do. Only matters that you do it.
I'd love to hear how it works for you. Post here when you've started, as you go...or on The Workroom Salon on FB. Go for it!
QUESTION: What discipline(s) keep you connected to the sources of your work? What works best for you? To you think you want to try 15 mintues a day? If so will you let us know how it goes?