I taught a Bunraku Theatre unit in an advanced acting class many years ago. The goal of the topic was to walk actors through the creative process of creating a story from scratch, experience the stage craft of building a life-size puppet, and then performing the story operating the puppet along with a team of three other puppeteers. It was a lesson in play-writing, stagecraft, and collaborative performance all in one. The truth is, the actual art-form of the Japanese Bunraku theatre comes only after puppeteers have devoted their entire career and a lifetime of study to the performance art-form. They begin learning as children, attend school for two years and then follow a 10-year long apprenticeship to learn how to operate just the puppet's leg! Then another 10 to 15 years to learn the arm movements, and eventually they are invited to learn to become the lead puppeteer operating the head of the puppet. Like these Bunraku career artists make their stories look beautiful, seamless, and effortless, you as an actor aim for the same in your performances. And that comes with time and experience.
A lifetime of experience counts in our industry, and actors must view their careers as a marathon and not a sprint. We like “rags to riches” stories where actors hit the jackpot by suddenly being discovered. Famous actors seemingly pop out of nowhere and it looks as though they hit the big time literally overnight. A closer look into their journey usually shows a minimum of a decade long struggle to get cast. Celebrity actors often have years of training, thousands of rejections, and have worked every survival job imaginable to make it as a paid actor.
Activity Challenge #1: Make a list of your roles (big or small), people you’ve met, classes or workshops you’ve attended, and auditions you’ve had (include the ones that didn’t get end in a job). As you plot out your journey, use it not to dwell on what you may view as going nowhere, but instead, view it as accomplishment toward your goal! You have been working! With each step in your journey, you have made progress!
Activity Challenge #2: Research your favorite celebrity actor. When did they start acting? Did they study acting? Look for interviews or articles where they discuss their audition fails. How long did it take them to land that big role?
Have you been working at it a month, a year, two, or maybe three? If you have logged a decade of experiences so far, congratulations, you now have mastered the leg!
For more reading about how our experiences feed our artistry, check out my article: “A Lifetime of Experience Counts” on LinkedIn.