How To Become A Better Actor - Holiday Hiati - Beverly Hills Playhouse

Holiday Hiati

They’re baaaaacccckkk!

The holidays. Visible on the horizon. Now personally, this is my favorite time of year – the sun gets lower in the sky, the temperature falls (mostly), my fond memories of New England autumns stir, and I’m sort of a jacket guy, so I get to wear those jackets and sweaters. Normally I’m preparing my annual piano recital and, after 20 years of doing so, the changing light outside has its own associations with intense practice at the keyboard. (No concert this year, though – with a newborn at home, there’s no possibility of 4-5 hours of daily practice!)

But I probably speak on behalf of all administrators and teachers of acting schools in Los Angeles, (or for that matter, private artistic workshops everywhere) that the Holidays can spell impending disaster for the psychological health and artistic commitment of our students. It’s as if the entire last 8 weeks of each year is written off under the umbrella mass justification: “It’s the holidays.”

He has to take off for a few weeks – it’s the holidays.

There are no scenes on the books – it’s the holidays.

I’m in and out of town for the next couple months – it’s the holidays.

Or the all time classic: The business is slow – it’s the holidays. That’s kind of two whoppers in one sentence, but that’s how you get to all time classic status.

And then in January, it’s not as if everyone is hot and ready to go. There’s the new justification that January is the charge-up month, get back into town, collect yourself, pick up shifts to make money that you lost by giving up shifts to travel…. February. February I’m gonna fucking rock! 

I imagine the BHP is not the only place where in January we’re in an entire cycle to “recover” students – the ones who have gone just completely MIA, and those who have returned, but who are bleary-eyed, disoriented, mentally wrecked by too many questions like How long are you going to give it? and When will we see you on TV? and Did you hear your brother just made partner?! and Why don’t you come home and work in the store?

So beware the “It’s the Holidays” justification. If you find it creeping maliciously from your brain to your tongue in preparation for its escape from your lips and into the physical world of excuses, please stop. And don’t just stop saying it, but stop living by it.

“It’s the holidays” is an entire mechanism designed to slow you down, check you out, ice you cold. This doesn’t mean you don’t go see the family if that’s what you need to do. But I know I started out at 7-10 days out of town during the holidays, and before I finally had my own family here (the ultimate excuse for no travel to see family), I’d weaned it down to 3 days.  So just look at how much time is really necessary and be honest about that – Milton would often tell the story about how he realized his last trip home for the holidays had occurred when his mother asked him two days in to take out the garbage. If I remember the story correctly, he was gone the next day (or was it the same night?) and that was his last holiday visit home.

I looked in on an Orientation class last week, and a young actress who had just done a terrific scene talked about how passionate she was about the play – Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. She said she had just visited home in NYC to see friends, etc., and turned down most offers to go out so she could stay home and read the play again and again – she was so jazzed by it. I thought this was an unbelievable statement. I mean, how many actors are turning down social this-and-that to stay home and read a play? And then read it again?  Not enough by a long shot. And it can be easier when you’re feeling inspired for sure, but inspiration isn’t always the state of affairs, and when that’s the case you have to seek it, create it, hunt it down and fire it up.

So if you’re checking out of town for the holidays, don’t check out of your artistic life. Don’t ease up on the gas pedal, but floor it instead. Use that time to re-inspire: read plays, see great movies (not just the ones in current release), come up with a list of scripts you’re passionate about, roles you dream to play, develop a new line of attack on your career and your development. That way you hit 2011 running hard, running fast.

So – Happy Holidays in advance. Happy, Productive, Passionate, Recharging Holidays. May any Holiday Hiatus before you not derail the train.

And yes, have some spiked eggnog, too.

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