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How to Be a Generous Actor—and Succeed

Photo Source: Shutterstock
Photo Source: Shutterstock

Article by Joanne Baron & DW Brown – originally written for Backstage.

The desire to be the center of attention can be so single-minded that there are actors who will sabotage the work of other actors who are doing scenes with them. Yes, it’s horrible. Yes, it’s inartistic. But that craving can so dominate some people that it will misguidedly cause them to corrupt an entire production.

Actors should want everyone they’re acting opposite to be at their best so that it brings out the best in them. They should try to make every project they are in as fantastic as it can possibly be; whether that means helping every performance to be topnotch or helping build the set. If you want to be a showoff, that’s great, but if you are playing a supporting character and you don’t understand that your function is to set up the lead, you’re going to be sadly surprised by the final cut (if not outright fired). This advice can seem counter-intuitive but if you want to get the best attention possible, figure out how your character serves the entire piece.

The best way to ensure being seen and seen again is to have people want to continue to work with you. That guy whose performance you’ve undermined may go on to have great success or make important connections, and when he mentions his experience of you being a jerk to those folks who might hire you it’s not going to go well. The scary thing about acting work is that you aren’t going to be notified about the reason you aren’t getting called in for a part—you just don’t get called.

Halle Berry recently spoke at our annual alumni ceremony, and she made a great point on the importance of being generous with other actors. One of her keys to success is simply to be sensitive to whether others are having a comfortable collaboration. She said, “Worry more about their needs than your own needs and…your needs will be abundantly met.” Joanne experienced this first hand when she worked as an actor with Halle on “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” Joanne was taken aback by Halle’s generosity: when it was time for Joanne’s close-up, although Halle was offscreen her character was required to be incredibly emotional, and she brought the performance every time.

An unselfish collaboration creates great harmony and keeps all the attention on the work at hand rather than on any one individual. There is a sentiment that when one wins, we all win. So whether it’s the grind of memorizing your lines with your partner, or putting in extra rehearsal time because they want it, or explicitly and repeatedly asking everyone on the crew what you could do to improve their experience: together we rise, we rise, we rise!

by Joanne Baron & DW Brown

Artistic Director and Co-Owners of Baron Brown Studio

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