The Actor’s Purpose

Matt Dearing

This is what it takes to have a “meaningful” career in acting – Ready?  

Define your purpose in all you do by the following criteria:

Growth, Discovery and Mastery

1) Growth

“When you stop growing you start dying” – William S. Burroughs.

We actors have to eat, pay bills and live our lives- so we do commercials, live gigs etc. out of necessity, which is ok. But paying the bills should never be your focus or purpose for working. In fact, I generally don’t consider doing a commercial to be Actor “Work.” It’s more like something fun my “Work” has allowed me to do. When choosing your acting class, student film or play to audition for – look for something challenging- something that is beyond your current skill level. Then put in the work necessary to play the role proficiently while focusing on your own personal growth. Set aside the vanity of “how good you look on film” or “what the reviewers thought of your performance.” If your purpose in finding what to work on is growth, you will continue to get better. Those actors who continue to get better with every project are the ones who enjoy lasting careers.

2) Discovery 

“It doesn’t matter how long one lives.  It’s possible to discover new things each day.” – Stacey Thunes.

Whether you are in an acting class working on scene, putting up a full-length play or starring in a movie, the “work” will never be done. Great actors continue to make discoveries within a script about their character and about the writer’s intended message until the piece has been retired. I say retire because you eventually move on from a piece (as you must) but you will never be done with it. There is no such thing as perfection, nor should that be your goal. Focusing on something unrealistic (like perfection) will lead you down a long and fruitless path. No matter what, commit to making new discoveries everyday until you are forced to work on something else.

 3) Mastery 

“Mastery is the path of patient dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results.”

I speak about this concept a lot because it is fundamental to becoming great at anything in life. Actors who have chosen material for the purpose of challenging themselves will have to dig deep into mastery of craft to overcome whatever obstacle is currently stifling their success. For example: As an acting teacher, I believe that in order to maintain credibility- I must be growing in my craft as an instructor. Therefore, I read plays and books about acting as often as possible. I look to discover new techniques and exercises to bring into class and I focus on mastery of the craft. My theory is that I should not be asking my students to “put themselves on the line” if I am not willing to do so myself. So I act. Right now I am trying to overcome the obstacle of learning a French accent. I watched a scene from the beautiful play, A Shot in the Dark by Marcel Achard, in Larry Moss’s class and the actors who performed the piece truly inspired me. The man in particular was a good- really good. While watching the scene, I knew that I was not currently in a place where I could take on the role- I had never learned a French accent. However, the role demands it. The comedy demands it. The play demands it. Will I put up this play? Maybe. But if I do- the main purpose will be to see what I can discover, how I can grow and ultimately; to take me closer to the mastery of acting.