I have had numerous agents and casting directors instruct me that if I want to be a successful actor, I have to really market myself as a product. This means: clearly decide what - not who, but what - I am, and make sure I really do fit that; that way, everyone else can see Product Zelda and say "ooh, I want that" and know immediately the entirety of what they're getting, and if they use their Visa Check Card, everyone's happy [editor's note: Visa did not pay for this mention, and has no relationship with this blog. However, if they're looking for their next adorable spokeswoman, look no further! ahem].
Even ignoring my inherent RagingObjections issues with this declaration, which I'll get to in a moment, I think it's in all honesty only half of what a successful actor (or a successful anyone) needs to be. He also needs to be a damn good salesman.
First, the Product issue. Opening caveat: yes, I get it. We need to be enough of something recognizable that they "get" us. But. Cookie Cutters do not make interesting and varied artists that can collaborate on interesting and varied projects. They just make more cookies. To walk into an audition lab and declare "I am an engenue," and have that be the end of the discussion is um boring. Equally boring, frankly, is to walk in and say "I am a charactor actor," and think that that is the complete discussion. Character actor, by the way, has become an annoying inclusive catch-all descriptor that basically boils down to Not Engenue, as far as I can tell. For more discussions on special and unique snowflakes, see the Hamlet entry.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they (they being agents and casting directors) DON'T want to see a parade of Miley Cyruses or what have you, I'm deciding here and now that what they actually want is much simpler but for whatever reason, harder for them to articulate: Know Thyself. Walk into the room knowing who you are, what you are, what you can do, what you can offer. And be that. Do not try to be Miley if you're actually Rumer Willis*. Very different dads.
Because if you don't know who you are, there's no way anyone else can figure it out for you (except your therapist).
This segues nicely into ... SALESMAN. Which, strangely, is not the conversation agents and such have had with me thus far. But actors/writers/artists, particularly the unknown and so-far-unpaid variety, have to be good salesmen. We have to be. We have to sell sell sell you on the idea that you want to know us and like us and pay us to be us.
An actor has to walk into an audition room and convince you in 15 seconds that he is the person you're most dying to work with because he's just so durn likeable and cooperative. And then he gets to start acting and make you go "wowza!" at his talent. This is in fact an entirely separate campaign than his necessity to look stunningly perfect for the entire interview. And of course, he has to pull all of this off without your quite realizing you've been taken in by his salesmanly charms.
An actor has to sell you the product of himself and not have you notice that that's what he's doing. Just like a salesman, except the product isn't in an adorable leather suitcase. There's a reason actors used to be prostitutes. [from the peanut gallery: Better money!]
How does this relate to A girl named Zelda's brain today? friendRosemary who visited this weekend is, among other things, a saleswoman, and she's quite good at it. She just talks to people and they want to buy her product (okay, it's not that simple, but she really is good at it). And so I got to thinking how much of a harder time I have with that aspect. It's partly because I don't like to beg (the more desperate actors' auditions can often be confused with begging), which I'm not good at anyway. It's also because I'm not terribly comfortable with the concept, as it sits in my head, of trying to convince people to do something they might not otherwise want to do on their own. Which I'm rationally aware is not what good salesmanship or even good actor-marketing-ship is, but my irrational brain still balks.
So that's clearly something I need to continue to work on.
And with that in mind, it would be truly awesome if those who can would come out to support and show the love as I present my solo show Evidence, this coming Sunday and Monday (May 1st & 2nd) at 8 PM at Shetler Studios. I'll be performing alongside three other solo artists as well as a singer-songwriter in the Plus One Solo Show Festival. You can purchase tickets here.
(see what I did there?)
Thank you for listening, and to my fellow salesmen/products out there, keep pounding the pavement!
*special thanks to friendMarissa for the comparison