Updated: Feb 4, 2021
There are many ways in which actors take the things they learn on set, on stage, and in preparation for a role, out into the real world for everyday use. From learning how to improvise at the drop of a hat, to joining the National Guard to prepare for a role, you'll see just how well acting skills translate into everyday life...
Don’t think acting translates to real life? Wanna bet? Tom Cruise did. The actor’s research gave him everything short of a TIPS certification. To prepare for his role as a topnotch bartender in the 1988 film Cocktail, Cruise interviewed 35 bartenders and spent days practicing the skills he displays on set. In fact, he had a bet with co-star Bryan Brown as to who would break the fewest bottles during filming. This may seem mundane, but if you’ve watched the film and the bottles flipped behind the back, the glasses tossed high into the air, end over end, you’ll understand that Cruise had to build the chops of a real bartender to pull off his role. Cruise’s five broken bottles ultimately lost to Brown’s four, but he carries with him a useful life skill should he ever find himself in need of work (yeah, right!).
Hollywood is full of amazing (and sometimes weird) stories of actors and the skills they learned: Shia Laboeuf joined the National Guard to prepare for his role in Fury; Margot Robbie trained to hold her breath for five minutes for Suicice Squad; and, perhaps the strangest, Daniel Day-Lewis learned to put a record on a turntable with his toes for his role as a writer with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot. But it doesn’t take the specific demands of a script to bring the real out of trained actors. The skills they learn on the set or stage are often skills that are valuable to real world settings.
Let’s say you’re a hotel manager who is working with a business client, and you show up on a Saturday morning to discover that the breakfast meeting he’s arranged didn’t make it onto the catering books. You have no wait staff and the cook hasn’t shown up because he thought there was nothing pressing to do. What do you do? An actor would know. Actors spend years training in improvisational skills and in thinking on the fly. They also know how to quickly shift from one role to another. So what does the manager with acting training do? He grabs a co-worker, becomes a short order chef, and starts hustling food out from kitchen to meeting room (this is a real-life story).
This sort of creative problem-solving is only one of the many finely honed skills actors can bring to bear in the real world. Another obvious ability is actors skills in communication. Because they spend years in front of audiences not only presenting themselves as poised and comfortable but also clearly communicating through both language and body, actors are some of the best communicators in the world. Business presentations, teaching, sales pitches all fall easily within the actor’s wheelhouse. And they’re used to learning a lot quickly (lines, blocking, character’s emotional makeup, etc), so you can count on an actor to work well under the pressure of tight time constraints and to present information correctly and clearly.
In a production, actors must work both as integral members of a team, but also function efficiently on their own. Actors must work closely with directors, stage managers, costumers, props people, and technicians, but they must also learn lines on their own, research and develop characters in their own time, and balance home life with a demanding schedule. This dual ability is valued for many job situations in the real world.
Finally, actors live their lives under the direction and critical eyes of others. A good performer knows how to take the harshest criticism, how to deal with disappointments, and get right back to work. Such flexibility is the trademark of the actor and is, perhaps, why they are unafraid to accept responsibility for successes, for failures, and for challenges others aren’t willing to take on.
William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” If that’s the case, then aren’t we all playing roles? Then who better to slip into those roles? Who more likely to have the skills necessary to transition from one “set” to another than an actor?
Based on your interest in this article, we think you should check out these programs ATC has build for students just like you:
Whether you're going to be auditioning for college theatre programs or just a have penchant for The Bard...this class boils down and explores the heightened language, reality, and metaphors that many actors fear when approaching Shakespeare. Students will learn to enjoy finding clues in the text that help build character and strong relationships.
This 4-week workshop welcomes guests from Chicago's top Storefront Theatre companies: Red Orchid, Boho Theatre, and more. Each week students will gain a deeper understanding of each theatre through q+a sessions. They'll get to keep the audition skills sharp by presenting material and workshopping it with Chicago's finest theatre makers.